Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions

Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions
Spring time always inspires me...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Biodiversity in Words, Pictures and Music


I kept a written text from Slow Food on my bulletin board for many years pertaining to the subject:

Today, thirty plants feed 95% of the world's population.

In the past century, two hundred and fifty hundred thousand plant varieties have gone extinct, and one plant variety disappears every six hours.
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Europe has lost more than 75% of its agricultural biodiversity, whereas the US have lost 93% of their crop species diversity.

One third of native cow, sheep, and pig breeds has gone extinct or is on the road to extinction.

Three quarters of the world's fishery reserves are at risk of extension.

In winter, lettuce travels from California to London and carrots are flown from South Afric to Sweden. In the US, a product on a supermarket shelf has traveled on average 1288 kilometers.

These figures show what is wrong with the hyper-productive agricultural model that is common today. This approach has not succeeded in ridding the world of hunger, actually, it is responsible for widespread pollution, and it has made the variety of food available around the world sadly limited. This model has also facilitated the destruction of the cultural and gastronomic identity of entire populations, and has dramatically reduced the diversity of available food.

This is why Slow Food is fighting for a new model of sustainable agriculture: one that focuses on quality products. This is why Slow Food defines itself as a movement of "eco-gastronomes", individuals that believe in that the ecological defense of our planet and the defense of traditional agriculture are links and that to enjoy the pleasure of fine food one must be cognizant of the environmental impact of its production.

These are very serious words not to be taken lightly....

Biodiversity exists in Lebanon too. We have a duty to safeguard every aspect of it. Here are but a few, in photos of course...

The plains of the Bekaa Valley
Street merchants from Tripoli
Traditional bread-making

The cedars of Lebanon

Harvest of olives
Grapes for wine in Bhamdoun

Fishermen teaching the young

A woman from the south of Lebanon

Farming the old-fashion way
Traditional lifestyle

Youth, our only hope
Apricot season

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Barbara Abdini Massaad - Part2

Barbara Abdini Massaad - Part1

This is an interview conducted with Karen Boustany on MTV, we had a great time. I came home soaking wet because of the storm...
Forgive my Arabic, I shall work on it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Different Kind of Story

I was asked by a Brazilian journalist, Olivia Fraga from  S. Paulo to participate in "a different kind of story. It's like a secret Santa, but the person can choose his/her friend, telling us why, and what the gift she/he would like to give.

Anayde Lima, a chef here in Sao Paulo who belongs to Slow Food Movement, has chosen Alice Waters. She really admires her work. And now, Alice Waters has chosen you, which made us very happy. So now it's your turn. It's very simple, indeed: you just tell me somebody (could be a chef you admire, related or not with Slow Food), what dish you would like to give, and why. I chose Paula Wolfert." We will need to have a photo of yours 'offering' the dish.

photo taken by Raymond Yazbeck
Lebanese Peasant Salad (Fattoush)

Fattoush is a peasant salad made with the produce of the harvest of a peasant’s land. The main ingredients always include a mixture of different fresh vegetables and herbs, flavored with sumac to give a tangy note with the addition of a simple dressing made of lemon juice and olive oil, often seasoned with crushed garlic. This salad makes use of stale bread which would alternatively be wasted.

1 head of lettuce
1 onion finely chopped
4 sprigs of green onion finely chopped
1 lbs (1/2 kilo) chopped cucumbers
2 lbs (1 kilo) chopped ripe tomatoes
A few pieces of chopped radish (optional)
1 chopped green pepper (optional)
1 bunch of fresh mint leaves roughly chopped
1 bunch of fresh flat leave parsley roughly chopped
1 bunch of fresh purslane (optional)

For the sauce:
1-2 cloves of garlic finely crushed
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup of olive oil
1 tablespoon of sumac
Salt to taste

For the bread:
Arabic bread also called Pita Bread (about two pieces)
Oil to fry (optional)

To fry the bread, break into small bite-size pieces. Deep-fry and leave to drain on a kitchen paper. You may simply toast the bread in the oven for a lighter taste. In a large mixing bowl, add all the ingredients together. Sprinkle with sumac. Cover with the bread. To prepare the salad dressing start by crushing the garlic in a mortar, add the lemon juice and the olive oil. Add salt to taste. Pour the dressing on the salad and mix thoroughly using your hands (this is the special twist that will make all the difference).


Good News!

Mouneh has won in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2010. The book will qualify for the "Gourmand Best in the World"competition in the category BEST MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE BOOK. In other words, the winner in each country will compete against winners in the same category in other countries for the Best in the World. The results will be announced on March 3, 2010 at the annual Awards event. It will take place in Paris at Le 104, the new Artistic Center of the City of Paris, on the first day of the Paris Cookbook Fair at the same location.

If I finish all my printing debts, I'm taking the first plane out with my husband to GAY PARIS!!! A second honeymoon filled with tons of cookbooks, who could ask for better? In'shallah, as they say!

I received a press release from Gourmand announcing winners from all over the world:

This year 154 countries participated in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, entering books in 53 categories. The competition is free and open to all. No other sector of book publishing has the benefits of such an international platform. All countries, authors and publishers, big and small, have the same equal opportunity.

The major trend this year is the rise in quality in Asia and Latin America, the « New World » of cookbooks, while the crisis is limiting the investments of many publishers in the West. The sector is in good health, with the number of cookbook titles increasing from 5 to 10% in the West, such as 9% in France in the first nine months of 2010 in spite of the crisis. In Asia or Latin America the increase is 10 to 20%. For wine books titles, it is even higher.

Here is a selected list of the best cookbook of the year for 57 countries, according to the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

Argentina : Siete Fuegos, Mallmann, Kaminky (V-R Editoras)
Australia : Bentley (Murdoch Books)
Austria : Sacher (Styria)
Bangladesh : Sasto Sochaton Ranna, Keka Ferdousi (Anannya)
Belgium : Dix Petits Doights Pleains de Chocolat, Pierre Marcolini (Racine)
Bhutan : Foods of the Kingdom of Bhutan (Bhutan Foundation)
Canada : Glutton for Pleasure, Bob Blumer (Whitecap)
Chile : Gastronomía del Mar (Gourmet Patagonia)
China : Official Health Food, Master Chef Du Guang Bei
Colombia : Secretos de la Parrilla, Bernardo Gómez Cortazar (Gama)
Costa Rica : Saberes y Sabores de Boruca,  Leila Garro Valverde (Gama Print)
Czech Republic : Czech Home Cook, Jitka Rakoskikova (Mlada Fronta)
Denmark : Paul Food, Paul Cunningham (Politiker)
Ecuador : Cocina de Autor, Santiago Chamorro (Sesos Creación Visual-Unimarket)
Finland : Olo (Teos)
France : 1 Canard, 2 Daguin (Sud Ouest)
Ghana : Ghanaian Cook Book, Sophia Manu ((Adaex Educational Publication – Accra)
Germany: JW4 (Wissler Group)
Greece: Every Day, Argiro Barbarigou  (Liberis)
Hong Kong : Grandma, Grandpa Cook (MCCM Creations)
Hungary : Segal Viktor – Colours and Taste (Book Publishing)
Iceland: Silver of the Sea, Volundar Snaer Volundarsson (Salka)
India : Byriani-Pratibha Karan (Random House India)
Ireland: Catherine’s Italian Kitchen, Catherine Fulvio (Gill McMillan)
Italy : Food Designing, Marti Guixe (Corraini)
Japan : 12 Roads and Stories of the Foods, Chieko Mukasa (Heibonya)
Latvia : Est Ir Tava Daba (Zvaigzne)
Laos : Food from Northern Laos - The Boat Landing Cookbook (Galangal Press)
Luxembourg : Henri Schumacher  Pâtissier (Guy Binsfeld)
Lebanon : Mouneh (Barbara Abdeni Massaad)
Malaysia : Kulit Manis, A Taste of Terengganu’s Heritage. Puan Rosita Bt Abdullah (My Viscom)
Malta : Pippa’s Festa , Pippa Mattei (Miranda)
Mexico : Los Top Chefs de Mexico (Larousse)
Morocco : Le Figuier de Barbarie (Alwifak)
Netherlands : Toscanini Venticinqe (Toscanini)
New Zealand : Me’a Kai, Come Eat, Robert Oliver, Dr.Tracy Berno, Shiri Ram (Random House NZ)
Norway : Ekte Mat, Andreas Viestad (Cappelen Damm)
Peru : History, Anecdotes, and Some Recipes from Peruvian Cuisine, Berit Knudsen (Iandu)
Philippines : An Invitation to Malacañan (Art Post Asia)
Poland: Nature of Polish Cuisine – Woicieh Modest Amaro
Portugal : 2780 Taberna (Bertrand)
Russia : Larousse Gastronomique (Chernov)
Singapore : Above and Beyond, Singapore Airlines (Marshall Cavendish)
Slovenia : Ljubezen Skoz Zwloswx (Vale Novak-Gorenjski Tisk)
South Africa : Koekemakranka Khoi-Khoin Kultuurgoed en Kom-Kuier-Kos Renata Coetzee (Lapa)
Spain : Las Cocinas del Camino de Santiago (Al Gusto)
Sweden : Syrat –Sour (Informationsförlaget)
Switzerland : Fusion Pur (Betty Bossi)
Trinidad Tobago : Ah´Len – Welcome (Syrian Lebanese Woman Association)
Turkey : Tadi Damagimda Kaldi, Mehmet Soykan (Food in Le Gastronomy)
UAE : Arabian Dreams, Aaron Maree (Motivate)
Uruguay : Gastronomía de las Costas de Rocha, Juan Antonio Varese
(Cruz del Sur)
UK : Noma, Rene Redzepi (Phaidon)
USA : The Essential New York Times Cookbook, Amanda Hesser (WWW Norton)
Venezuela : Las Recetas Olvidadas, Gamal El Fakih Rodríguez (Speedread)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Recits et Recettes

I went to the book signing of Walid Mouzannar yesterday to buy his book.  I simply loved it! He describes life in Beirut in the 1940s and 1950s with all the local habits of the time including the lifestyle in his hometown Gemayzeh. He describes the ancient souks of Beirut. I particularly love this book because of all the culinary connotations with details of how the Mouzannar family ate during the whole year (including all religious feasts). It's a must-read for all nostalgic Beirutis and those interested in our culinary heritage + much more. Thanks Walid! 

The book is illustrated beautifully by Mouna Bassili Sehnaoui. She signed my copy with a drawing of a carrot.

The book is available only in French, published by L'Orient le Jour - here is what is written on the back of the book.

L’auteur est issu d’une famille ayant habité Gemmayzé depuis plusieurs décennies, il est né et
a grandi dans ce quartier. Licencié en droit, il a choisi de suivre la lignée familiale dans la
joaillerie depuis des générations ; de ce fait, il a bien connu les anciens souks de Beyrouth et
le souk des Bijoutiers en particulier.
Gastronome émérite, il est secrétaire général de l’Académie libanaise de la gastronomie. Elu
«1er Cuistot du Liban» en 2001, il a gagné plusieurs prix dans les concours de cuisine à

Dans les «récits» de la première partie du livre, l’auteur décrit la façon de vivre beyrouthine
des années 40 à 50, les habitudes de tous les jours, la vie à Gemmayzé et dans les souks de
Beyrouth. Il parcourt l’année en décrivant les traditions ainsi que les habitudes culinaires
propres à chaque fête, dont les «recettes» constituent la seconde moitié du livre.

Le livre sera vendu au bénéfice de l’Association du centre Mar Semaan
et en soutien aux oeuvres de l’Association Libanaise des Chevaliers de Malte.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

About Terra Madre Day

I remember Carlo Petrini speaking about Terra Madre Day last October in Torino during our meeting at Terra Madre. He spoke about Terra Madre Day saying that  it's not so much what you do on that specific day that matters, it's the fact that you gather around a table with your family,  friends or the people you work with to enjoy a special moment which reminds us of our goals, the one we all work for as a Slow Food Member. The goals of keeping our culinary traditions alive, of caring for the earth, of respecting the people who work for us who put food on the table, and especially the goal to treat our fellow humans in a fair way. 

I have been invited to a friend's house that night to inaugurate her new home, I shall bring them the message of Turin that has touched me so profoundly that I have based my life's work on. I hope they understand, I hope we can make a difference. On this particular day, I believe, it's not about selling products - It's about reflecting on the future...It goes much deeper than that...

I wish you all a Happy Terra Madre Day! I would like to especially thank all the people who helped me make the book Mouneh a reality, especially all the farmers and food producers mentioned in the book. I will continue to work for all of you... In fact, there is more to come very soon...exciting news!

From the Terra Madre Day Website   

In 2009 the very first Terra Madre Day organized by Slow Food saw more than 1,000 events take place across 120 countries in one of the largest collective occasions celebrating food diversity and the right to good, clean and fair food ever achieved on a global scale. Slow Food convivia and Terra Madre communities brought the voice of small-scale farmers and producers, responsible cooks and concerned consumers to their regions, expressing how our global campaign for better food begins with local sustainable economies that make our lives more pleasurable. This year we have the opportunity to demonstrate not just the diversity of our network, but its connectedness and resolve, by supporting the Thousand Gardens in Africa project. Many actions for Terra Madre Day will incorporate fundraising to adopt a garden or make a contribution, and others are organizing diverse activities to promote the project locally and strengthen the Terra Madre network together with the African communities. 
Once again we invite you to highlight the importance of eating locally on December 10, using your creativity to spread our message and promote better food systems; creating a global revolution with local roots. 

Carlo Petrini
Slow Food International President

A message from Carlo Petrini on You Tube   :) One of my heroes...

If you want to organize something, here are a few ideas posted on their website:

Terra Madre Day could be celebrated by organizing a....

• Celebratory Communal Meal
Meals shared in schools or universities, restaurants, on farms and in public settings can bring the pleasure of good, clean and fair food to a wider audience. By inviting producers to attend, diners will expand their knowledge and appreciation of local food. These occasions also help us remember that food means enjoyment, culture and conviviality, and the act of eating can influence our values and attitude.

• Excursion to Producers
From a bicycle trip in Canada to a train journey in the French Alps and a school excursion in Morocco, tours to carefully selected farms and producers from a specific region offer an excellent way of bringing consumers and producers together, providing an enjoyable hands-on educational experience, where people sample products and learn from producers.

• Film and Cultural Events
Music, theater, oral traditions and visual arts can all play a role in creating a critical awareness of food culture. For example, a cinema program that focuses on food-related issues, the agricultural and food industry's repercussion on society and the environment, and our gastronomic heritage.

• Campaigns
The key principles of Terra Madre Day can also be demonstrated through focusing on a particular issue. In Spain, convivia have been holding cooking demonstrations in marketplaces to promote sustainable fish choices. In Morocco events have been organized to urge the government to make a clear statement on the cultivation of GMO crops.

• Thematic Activities
Dedicating an event to a specific food, issue or tradition can be a way to focus attention on something important to your community or convivium. In Uganda, an event focused on hunting down rare varieties or fruit and vegetables to protect biodiversity, while in Canada, participants celebrated their native blueberries at a local farmers' market.

• Food and Taste Education Activities
Food education activities take a wide range of approaches and can be organized for varied audiences: children and adults, teachers, farmers, members and the public. An activity may involve school gardens, guided tastings, providing a forum for a guest speaker or local producer, knowledge exchange between older generations and young people, or practical workshops.

• Local Terra Madre Gatherings
Meetings between producers, cooks, researchers, young people and consumers provide an opportunity to strengthen the local good, clean and fair food network, to share information and present ideas for the future to the public and governments.
Terra Madre producers could come together with your local Slow Food network in conferences, workshops, markets, or excursions.

Let us be grateful for Mother Earth's Offerings and not Abuse of her Generosity

Monday, December 6, 2010

Food and Feast - Soukl el Tayeb's reference on the Annual Holy Calendar

I am like a little ant who keeps all types of documents and find herself with a load of papers and other stuff... I have decided to put away all my papers (and stuff), to class them in a proper way in order to continue my quest and begin a new project (baby blues again)! Upon returning to Lebanon, decades ago, I was always intrigued by how the Lebanese eat a specific kind of food during a religious celebration. One important document that I kept was a calendar written for the Souk el Tayeb newsletter, I'd like to share it with you. I feel it is essential that we know that these traditions exist. Our children need to live through these same traditions in order to keep them alive. A few days ago on the 4th of December during the feast of Saint Barbara (yes, my name) I bought some Atayef which are half moon shaped rolls of dough stuffed with curd, flavored with rose petal jam). It's festive, traditional, and part of our Lebanese identity. I shall copy word for word the article I kept to share with you this information.

Ashoura: Marks the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, at the Battle of Karbala on 10 Muhararram 61 AH (Oct, 10 680 AD). Tradition has it that every day during the 10 days of mourning, a different family cooks hrisseh, also sometimes called qamhiyeh, for the whole neighborhood. Hrisseh, a stew of overcooked wheat, is a typical dish in Christian tradition too. It is cooked for a very long time in huge copper cauldrons, on hot coals or wood fire, so by the end, the meat and wheat has dissolved into a thick porridge. Among the Christians, it is cooked in honor of the village patron saint (usually the Virgin Mary), or during summer feasts in the mountains.

Easter: The period of Easter lasts about 50 days. There are considered the holiest in the year. As in other religious celebrations, Lent, a 40 day period of fasting and penitence, is observed in preparation for Easter. The rituals of the Catholic Church differ from those of the Eastern Orthodox one and the dates of the two Easters only coincide once every 4 years. During Lent, the fast is observed until midday, when a frugal, often vegetarian meal is consumed. In the past, no joyous occasion could be celebrated during Lent and even today weddings are still not permitted.

Specific dishes are cooked in different parts of the country, like kebbet hommos (chickpea kebbeh) in Zgharta; kebbet yaqteen (Pumpkin kebbeh), and kebbeh hileh (Potato kebbeh) elsewhere. All these different vegetarian interpretations of kebbeh - virtually a national dish - were developed as a solution to not eating meat in Lent. Traditions says, that in the early days when Christianity was still forbidden and Christians were persecuted, a Roman officer sent his troops from house to house during Lent to see who was eating kebbeh and who was not so that he could find out who was Christian. The Christians got news of this strategy and developed their own, by preparing vegetarian kebbeh, so wherever the soldiers went, they found kebbeh and people were safe. Hence the name kebbet hileh, meaning trick kebbeh.

Another common dish eaten during Lent is cooked wild bitter herbs dressed with a little vinegar, in memory of the drink offered to Christ on the cross.

All desserts were free of butter, milk, and egg (vegan in fact) especially among the Orthodox Christians who did not consume anything of animal origin, even honey, during this period. sfouf b'debbes, a molasses cake, saved those craving for sweets.

When on Easter Sunday the bells ring to announce Christ's resurrection, people light candles in celebration and eat maamoul, prepared well in advance. This Easter biscuit is made from semolina and butter, flavored with orange flower water and stuffed with dates or ground pistachio, walnuts or almonds. In some areas instead of being stuffed, the biscuits are sweet and are flavored with thyme and marjoram.

Wheat, a symbol of life, is also used to convey the theme of rebirth with wheat-based dishes served at midday, as wheat soup with meat or as a dessert made from boiled wheat, pine nuts, almonds, dried fruit and orange flower water.

Eid el Fitr and Eid el Adha: Mloukhiyeh is the main dish found on the table during these holy feasts. It is often accompanied by chicken and rice, and depending on the location, we also find mashawi or kebbeh and the inevitable fattoush salad.

Many families serve "white" dishes based on yogurt or milk during the first days of Ramadan, including fatteh, koussa blaban or shish barak. These symbolize better days to come. Some desserts are specific to this holy month like osmalyieh (from osmali or ottoman) mafroukeh, qatayef, karbouj and of course kallaj Ramadan - a fine dough filled with special crea, fried in oil and dipped in syrup, almost a sweet version f a Tunisian brik. The cream filling is a sort of thick custard made with milk, sugar, a little flour and starch, gently cooked and scented with rose or orange blossom water. In some areas Kellaj is eaten unfried, soaked in orange blossom and rose water.

Druing Ramadan even the drinks are special when people serve qamareddine and jallab.

Before sunrise, there is souhour - a snack that helps sustain people during the day long fast. Some people eat nqouu, alo known as khshaf, a mix of melted dried apricot, dried fruits and nuts thought to help quench the thirst during the day.

Eid el Mawled and Seneh el-Hejriyeh: In celebration of the Prophet Mohammad's birth and during Muslim New Year, white dishes like shish barak, koussa and desserts like milk rice, mhallahbiyeh are eaten. Some families still perpetuate the tradition of boiling milk on the door step to make good days in the future. Dates are distributed and in some areas, special pastries called kaak el-abbass, a very basic biscuit made with flour, samneh, milk and sugar.

Saint Barbara: Saint Barbara's feast is the local Christian version of Halloween when children dressed in costumes go from door to door asking for treats. Saint Barbara was said to have lived in 3rd century AD, and she had to flee from her Roman father who refused to let her become a Christian and threatened to kill her.  Among the miracles that saved her was the wheat that miraculously sprouted to hide her progress as she fled barefoot across the fields. Saint Barbara's day is celebrated with sweet qamhiyeh - boiled wheat served with sugar, orange and rose water, almonds, pine nuts and raisins. Other sweets include qatayeb - half moon shaped rolls of soft dough stuffed with walnut cream; and the qawwamaat - balls of deep-fried dough soaked in sugar syrup.

Christmas: Christmas Eve is celebrated with a laden table. The place of honor is usually reserved for a delicious oriental stuffed chicken: filled with rice, chopped meat, almonds, walnut, pine nuts, flavored with pepper and cinnamon. Another dish is stuffed chicken neck.

Years ago all the typical sweets were fried in oil and the family would gather around the stove where a pot of oil bubbled constantly ready fro frying the awwamaat (imbued with a hot sugar syrup), zlebyieh (long strips of soft dough, fried without sugar), and maakrun (fingers of dense dough, fried and immersed in hot syrup). These same sweets were prepared for the Epiphany (6th January) and it was the habit to fry them every evening after Christmas leading up to that day. These nights were named "Frying Nights" and the tradition remains until today. Note that on the 6th of January, flour and water was mixed together to make sourdough to be used as leaven to make bread throughout the year (a bit of mouneh knowledge there). Christ is said to come and bless the mixture, traditionally hung on a tree late at night.

It is also worth noting that some celebrate Jesus' birth by preparing meghleh, a rice based dessert with crawiah spices traditionally served to celebrate birth.

This article was published in the Souk el Tayeb newsletter Aug. 09, author is unknown.

What is Mouneh?

Mouneh is an old food tradition still produced in rural Lebanon involving the annual processing of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and animal by-products. It is done naturally according to availability during each season. The foods are later stored away in the pantry or "oodet el mouneh " —which translates to the mouneh room and these preserves are consequently consumed all year long.

Nada Saber's Mouneh Jars

Another words, it is the season's bounty in a jar—ensuring winter's survival (in the past)—the rewards remain, packing the vivid flavors and preserving traditions of our ancestors. It is of value and very much worth perpetuating. It is a food with a social root, a sanctuary of tradition. It is a story of the land and its history. 

By all means, let us not follow only the recipes but let us live them and define our lives according to what we put into our body—it is a way to feed the soul, not just the body. 

Happiness is homemade, and never forget that—for we can find ourselves no further than a simple meal with one's family filled with a dish flavored with a mother's or a father's love.

And finally, let's educate the woman of our society, it is their that lies the answer to a peaceful nation (I'm a bit worried about our poor nation). Remember that we are all a product of our childhood—plenty of good food and good communication can wipe all kinds of misery. As our dear friend Carlo would say, "let us focus on the good, the clean, and the fair".