Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

1st day at Horeca 2011

I've come to the definitive conclusion that it's not only about the food, but about the person making the food. Yesterday the Horeca workshop started with food prepared by the restaurant Mayrig. A group of ladies came on site to prepare the recipes. I had a taste of "Pandjarov Sarma" - handpicked Swiss chard leaves stuffed with a special blend of rice, spices and tomato with olive oil, "Vospov Keufteh" - red lentil kebbeh served raw topped with fresh tomato salad, "Mante" -the traditional Armenian crispy dumpling topped with tomato soup and fresh garlic yogurt. It is equivalent to the Lebanese "Shish Barak". The whole is sprinkled with sumac.For a quick dessert, "Tahinov Hats" were carefully prepared. They are cookies made with tahini, flavored with cinnamon. Mayrig is proud to share these recipes which have been passed on from mother to daughter for generations.

The second group, headed by Jean D'arc, from Sofil Catering served an Armenian Kebbeh recipe called "Yahnili Kufta", "Patatesove Kufta" which is kebbeh made with boiled potatoes, "Manteh Roseh" - which for me was out of this world, and a delicious dessert called "Zardah" - rice pudding cooked with grape molasses. Again, I stress on the character of the person involved in the cooking. I was very much impressed by Jean D'arc's energy and talent. I admire a tough, talented woman like that - surrounded by her whole family who was rooting for her.

I learned a lot, tasted a lot...It confirmed the importance of this cuisine in our society. I will work on getting it out there!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Horeca 2011

The Lebanese Culinary Heritage Workshop at Horeca:


I shall be hosting the workshop this year, here enclosed is the schedule:
Armenian cuisine workshop: Master the secrets of traditional Armenian dishes by Mayrig restaurant
Armenian Cuisine Workshop: preserving and reinventing Armenian dishes by Sofil Catering
Tahini workshop: Discover new recipes with Tahini
by Chef Joe Barza, Consultant Joint Operations Expert
Tahini workshop : Learn how to prepare Sweets with Halawe
by Chef Charles Azar, exectuive pastry chef, Four Seasons Hotel
Mezze workshop: discover Citrus and Sea food mezze with Chef Karim Haidar, modern Lebanese cuisine chef and consultant chef of many parisian restaurants
Mezze workshop: adapting Lebanese Cuisine to International tastes"  special menu of Lebanese dishes and ingredients mixed for western tastes and palates
With Reem Azoury, US-trained chef supported by  USAID and LBLI in collaboration with the federation of the Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Lebanon
Kebbeh workshop: "Kan ya ma kan Kebbet Loubnan" by Souk el TayebDiscover different interpretation of Kebbeh from North to South, Coast to Bekaa; from Zgharta's purest Kebbeh, to the South most fragrant " tehwishit kebbeh" to the vegeterian versions or event Armenian vospov kofte.
The rich culinary heritage of Lebanon goes under the spotlight at HORECA 2011 as famous chefs and local producers highlight many classic Lebanese dishes using traditional recipes and the best locally-sourced ingredients.
Visitors to these daily cooking demonstrations will be eager to discover some of the recent innovations that have added a new dimension to this renowned cuisine. Lebanon is rightly famous for its wide range of dishes that merge Middle Eastern traditions with a touch of Western influence. With fish from the Mediterranean, good quality meat and fresh fruit and vegetables from its farmland, the country has created a rich variety of delicious fare to delight the palate.
During this year’s show, a team of talented chefs will show how new culinary developments can be used to complement traditional techniques and add a new vitality to trusted Lebanese favorites as they utilize the bounty of Lebanon’s rich culinary heritage.
Home cooks and professionals alike are sure to discover something new when they explore the Lebanese culinary heritage at HORECA 2011.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Article by Michael Karam on Lebanon

Read Marketing Lebanon is fine, but some things need fixing by Michael Karam, author of Wines of Lebanon.

"Indeed, the edgier side of Lebanese cooking appears to be very much in demand by global consumers. Anissa Helou, the London-based Lebanese-Syrian food writer and tour guide, has done wonders to spread the word through her books and blog to make the dishes of the Levant desirable. In Lebanon, Cherine Yazbek and Barbara Abdeni Massaad have written books championing rural Lebanese food and rituals, just the sort of thing that would make people swoon, from Hoxton to Tribeca."

How I Write - Time Out Beirut March 2011

Printed in Time Out Beirut March 2011.
I remember when I started writing my first book Man’oushé, I showed my husband the initial text I was scribbling. He looked puzzled and stated, “are you writing a book on the man’oushé or are you writing a biography”. He simply could not understand how my personal story was linked to this Lebanese thyme pie. He was not the only skeptical on the matter. Yet finally, years later, readers still acknowledge the fact that it’s the personal story that made my first book so special and therefore successful.  Writing about food is indeed something very personal to me. It’s about how one relates to food—its identity, how it becomes part of who I am, who prepares it, how it becomes part of a larger community, the society we live in. 
Writing is a virtual reality for me. I enter into a world where nature prevails, free from man’s superficial commodities and destructive artifacts. With the photographs I take, I paint the perfect picture of how I would like the world to be portrayed. I write the words to emphasize the image to make sure that the message has been conveyed and understood. Food and its preparation are connected to humanity, people—the best part of the specie, the chosen ones. It is linked to those who farm, cook, create, invent, process, and finally feed us. It is they that inspire me again and again to write. It is they that I want to spend time with, far from the ones who live a meaningless and shallow life.
I write to portray the lives of those who would go unnoticed among the clutters of our present heroes, who are only a deceitful fragment of our imagination. In jotting these words, I’d like to leave a small trace which could have a positive influence on the future generation, primarily the one where my children will flourish into adults. It is them who constantly stimulate me to move forward to reach out towards something more substantial and beneficial.  Everyone feels they want to change the world. When I write, I feel that I am doing just that. In my own way, I am constantly working on making things better. It has become a therapy, a simple way of life.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Happiness is Homemade

I just finished mixing three batches of dough to make homemade bread. I made three different kinds of bread today. The first batch was made with green olives. You simply cannot beat the taste of Lebanese olives, tangy with lots of zest. Unbeatable! The second batch was mixed with nigella seeds, just the right flavor for a salmon sandwich (just an idea). And last but not least, brown bread made with wholesome brown flour. It feels like home, perfect. Did I mention I just started a diet? When I start a diet, I cook and bake 24/ 7. If I could realize one tiny little wish in life, it would be to EAT as much as my heart desires and NOT get FAT! As I was mixing the dough, I told myself how lucky I was to be able to fulfill my inner joy with the mere mixing of flour, salt, and water. Why does cooking and baking make me so happy? Is it perhaps that the final product will be the element that will unite our family around a table for a good time... Or is it simply the smell and taste that I cherish the most? Whatever the case, it's nice to know that one can find happiness in the comfort of his / her own home.

Seek and ye shall find...

Can you smell it?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bread Starter Lessons

Exert taken from the book Mouneh:
(For detailed recipes, buy your copy now!

Purely traditional bread making begins with a starter which can take up to a week to ferment and become established. A starter is a flour and water mixture that collects wild yeasts from the atmosphere. It is created by simply combining flour and water allowing it to ferment by airborne yeast. The starter is used to leaven breads. A small amount of the dough is then kept back and used for the next batch. With time, starters improve, so with a few attempts, your bread will develop a very distinctive flavor and texture.

To produce bread in the past, one had to harvest the wheat, separate the grain from the husk, crush the grain into flour, mix it with water, leaven the dough, and finally bake it. Peasant families, usually women, would bake on a fixed weekly schedule. The bread was baked on a convex disc (saj) in a sheltered spot or it was taken to the communal oven (forn).

For Christian villagers, the initial starter was made on the 6th of January, Feast of the Epiphany. A small mixture of flour and water was formed into a small piece of dough. This dough was hung on a tree on the eve of the feast. Villagers believed that Christ would come late and bless the dough and everything outside including the crops and the animals. The tree would bow modestly at the moment of Christ’s benediction. The small piece of dough would be hung on various types of trees, with the exception of the fig tree. According to legend, the fig tree was shunned because Judas was said to have hung himself on this tree. This starter, called khamiret al-Massih – meaning Christ’s yeast - was then used to make bread. Before the bread was baked, a small piece of the risen dough was set aside to leaven the next batch. This process continued throughout the year and would sometimes last indefinitely.

To this day, you can still find households in Lebanon who make their homemade starter to be used throughout the year. Unfortunately, it has become a rarity mostly done in villages. There are, however, some enthusiastic bakers (like my mother and her dear friend Mrs. Marcelle Aboussouan) who believe that using one’s starter makes the whole experience of bread making a ritual worthy of safeguarding, along with other ancient baking techniques and precious cultural culinary traditions.

Bread baked on the saj

Measuring the water to make the starter

Helweh wa Moora, everyone at work!

The final step, hanging the piece of dough outside for 10 days

Massaya - An Inspiring Article

I was really touched by the story of Massaya written by Brad Haskel. There is a particular part of the story which really hit home, and I quote:

"The Tanail Estate was acquired by my parents Michel and Amal in the early 1970s. We grew up there, playing in the fields, riding horses, chasing our dogs and pets, hunting, enjoying endless festive mezze and barbeque lunches with homemade arak. In 1975 (civil war had erupted) we were forced to evacuate from the Bekaa Valley estate when shooting started. We rushed away in my mother's white Volvo... uprooted, in tears and fears, leaving our childhood memories and dreams behind. I was eight years old, and my brother Ramzi was six.

This incident never left me, neither through my years studying in Paris; where I studied architecture, nor later when I had moved to the U.S. working as an architect in LA first and then NY. Early in the 1990s as my parents were pressingly approached to sell the estate, I went back to the Bekaa, leaving my green card behind at JFK (not to be tempted to take a U-Turn back to the US) and evacuated the squatters from our estate...

I was about 27 years old at the time and guess they (the squatters) saw and felt the drive and conviction in my eyes and guts. It was either them out or me, but with my feet horizontal. I made my choice clear, and they had made theirs. In the meantime, I had built a shelter on the rooftop of the house, slept next to an AK-47 before they finally were persuaded to evacuate. This is now history."

And here I say, what if ... The Ghosn brothers inherited not only a land, but a way of life.

Please continue reading the article, it's valuable.

Women from the Bekaa baking manakish
for the Sunday lunch

Monday, March 21, 2011

Food Inc - Official Trailer

This is absolutely incredible! I watched the movie last night. Two important authors: Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food) commented on the food industry in the USA for the film. How did men become so out of touch with what he / she puts in his mouth. I hope that this movie, among others, is making a difference. What can one person do? In Lebanon, organic farming is new but it will become important.

At the end of the movie, the following words are written to give you the essence of the movie.

Hungry for Change? I highly recommend that you visit this website takepart.com/foodinc

You can vote to change this system 3 times a day.
Buy from companies that treat workers, animals and the environment with respect.
When you go to the supermarket, choose foods that are in season.
Buy foods that are organic.
Know what is in your food.
Read labels.
Know what you buy.
The average meal travels 1500 miles from the farm to the supermarket.
Buy foods that are grown locally.
Shop at farmers' markets.
Plant a garden (even a small one).
Cook a meal with your family and eat together.
Everyone has a right to healthy food.
Ask your school board to provide healthy school lunches.
Ask your government to do something .... (ha!)
If you say grace, ask for food that will keep us and the planet healthy.
You can change the world with every bite.

More from the website, in other words - to reinforce the above:

1  Stop drinking sodas and other sweetened beverages.
You can lose 25 lbs in a year by replacing one 20 oz soda a day with a no calorie beverage (preferably water).
2 Eat at home instead of eating out.
Children consume almost twice (1.8 times) as many calories when eating food prepared outside the home.
3 Bring food labeling into the 21st Century.
Half of the leading chain restaurants provide no nutritional information to their customers.
4 Tell schools to stop selling sodas, junk food, and sports drinks.
Over the last two decades, rates of obesity have tripled in children and adolescents aged 6 to 19 years.
5 Meatless Mondays—Go without meat one day a week.
An estimated 70% of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to farm animals.
6 Buy organic or sustainable food with little or no pesticides.
According to the EPA, over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the U.S.
7 Protect family farms; visit your local farmer's market.
Farmer's markets allow farmers to keep 80 to 90 cents of each dollar spent by the consumer.
8 Make a point to know where your food comes from—READ LABELS.
The average meal travels 1500 miles from the farm to your dinner plate.
9 Tell Congress that food safety is important to you.
Each year, contaminated food causes millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths in the U.S.
10 Demand job protections for farm workers and food processors, ensuring fair wages and other protections.

Food for Thought from Michael Pollan:

"Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."
Michael Pollan

"When chickens get to live like chickens, they'll taste like chickens, too."
Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

"Shake the hand that feeds you."
Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto)

"Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds."
Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Now that I know how supermarket meat is made, I regard eating it as a somewhat risky proposition. I know how those animals live and what's on their hides when they go to slaughter, so I don't buy industrial meat.
Michael Pollan

People in Slow Food understand that food is an environmental issue.
Michael Pollan

When you go to the grocery store, you find that the cheapest calories are the ones that are going to make you the fattest - the added sugars and fats in processed foods.
Michael Pollan

Friday, March 18, 2011

Creating the Perfect Lebanese Pantry

I got the idea of registering all Lebanese pantry items from this blog writer who writes the essential elements to creating the perfect pantry, American style. I've posted on Facebook for my friends to answer, which items would be important to them. I will post the answers later.

Amal Harb's organized pantry
  • Josette Noujaim Debs el rumman can't live without!
    Friday at 7:25pm ·
  • Anne Valluy zaatar!!can be used in so many dishes .
    Friday at 7:48pm ·
  • Michelle Moussan Those for baking...whole grain flour (or a variety), yeast, salt, vanilla, baking soda and baking powder. Rose and orange blossom waters.
    Friday at 10:25pm ·
  • Fouad Kassab pomegranate molasses, allspice, salt, grape and carob molasses, tahini, egg noodles, burghul, dried chickpeas and beans, qawarma, ghee, sumac, sesame seeds, pine nuts, raisins, cinnamon quills, Saturday at 11:31am ·
  • Sylvie De Clerck Hanna debs el remeen ,kechek, haal, habbet el barakeh ... belle journee et bises a tous. Saturday at 12:10pm ·

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Eating & Baking Laham bi Ajin at Ichkhanian Bakery

Text taken from the book Man’oushé : Inside the Street Corner Lebanese Bakery.

Another person with determination and strength whom I met while I visited different bakeries in Lebanon is Mrs. Coharik Ichkhanian. Her face inspires trust and wisdom. I met Mrs. Ichkhanian at her bakery on an early morning and asked her to talk to me about her famous Armenian meat pies. The discussion took another turn, and before I knew it, we were discussing memories of a lifetime.
“I am the youngest of five children. My parents were Armenians living in Syria. I did not finish my schooling because at the time, it was not appropriate for a woman to be educated. My husband and I met through relatives and married in Beirut in 1975, just after the war began.”  In the year 1984, Coharik’s husband died at the age 44, leaving her with three young children. She started working at the bakery in 1985. Business was at its best during the war. The bakery was full of clients. People had to eat. “Food was a therapy for all.” In the neighborhood, she has become the food expert, the reference. Coharik personally goes to the market to handpick the ingredients that will make her distinct meat pies. She explains that they have a unique taste; unchanged since the bakery opened. When I asked her why she didn’t make any other kind of pies, she answered: “The other recipes are not Armenian!” Coharik generously shared her life stories and her precious recipes with me. "

Can you taste it?

I hope this sign still exists after the fire, nostalgia!

A lovely photo of Coharik taken by Raymond Yazbeck

Sylva Konialian commented on your link.

Sylva wrote: "This brought me right back home as I was born and lived for the first 24 years of my life in the apartment just above the bakery before leaving to Canada. I knew Cohariks in laws and late husband very well. This was touching."

"I will be very happy to share. I might not remember everything but of course for one we bought all our bread from them and like you showed yesterday we took our prepared meat for the lehmajoun and they cooked it for us. Especially during Easter time, My mom use to take all the cookies and Easter breads and so were many ladies of the area and prepared the doughs into cookies and the bakery would cook it for us. One special moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life and I will pass it on to my kids is the day I obtained my Visa to come to Canada, I was so happy. I came running to my Mom to give her the good news and she was baking the Easter bread that day in the bakery. I was young and adventurous of course wanting to go to a new country and escape from the civil war in Lebanon. when I told my Mom the good news she smiled and i saw almost tears and the pain in her eyes. that meant for her being separated from me. i was her first born. those moments are still vivid in my memory. Of course my Mom is no longer with us she passed away this past December......"

Friday, March 11, 2011

Chez Nada Saber , The Making of Bitter Orange Jam

Nada Saber and her husband started making mouneh and selling local traditional foods when their children encouraged them to sell their foods many years ago in a village fair. Instantly, they well received by customers! This paved the future to a small successful  family business. You can find them every week at the farmers' market, Souk el Tayeb, now located opposite the Beirut Souks in the open air tent area. I absolutely love the bitter orange product range and stock up every year. I suggest you do the same.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mezza at Fadel's with French TV Spokeswoman Julie Andrieu

Last summer, when I was "en plein" with the book, I was asked to have lunch with Julie Andrieu, French
TV spokeswoman for a TV show called " Fourchette et sac à dos".

She was on a Gastronomic tour for the show in Lebanon. My eldest children were preparing for their exams, so I took Sarah, the youngest with me. We arrived to Naas, a beautiful village in Bikfaya to a restaurant called Fadel. Apparently, the restaurant is reputed for its extensive mezza. I arrived early to discuss with the chef and owner before we started our meal and the actual shooting. I wanted to be sure that I had the exact list of menu items that were going to be served for our lunch. The team arrived but was a bit disappointed that our table was not full of people, as a mezza lunch should be. Cherine Yazbeck, the organizer, immediately called up friends (Joumana Rayak and her family with Joumana Jamhouri) she had seen on the road up and they accepted to join us for lunch. Very typical! It's the Lebanese way of life... So our table was now filled with hungry people ready for a Sunday mezza with Julie Andrieu. We sat down with Julie and the plates of mezza started to arrive slowly, but surely... I particularly liked the bite-size tabbouleh served in large basil leaves.The menu consisted of the following: a vegetable and pickle platter, hummus (chickpea dip), foul medammas (fava beans), moutabbal (eggplant dip), a rocca salad, a thyme salad, shankleesh (spicy local cheese), artichoke, tabbouleh, labneh - with and without garlic (strained yogurt), local white cheese, fried potatoes with a spicy sauce, balila (whole chickpea with cumin), raw liver, kebbeh nayeh (raw kebbeh), sujuk (dried spiced meat sausages), makanek (meat sausages cooked in lemon), an omelet with wild asparagus, and finally an assortment of grilled meats. We drank glasses of arak which made the ambiance very convivial. I was really impressed by Julie's professionalism and her natural way of animating the show. The staff who worked with her were very professional too and they joined us after the shoot to eat. It was a nice experience and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to introduce to Julie all these interesting dishes from our country.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Prix de la Littérature Gastronomique

Lebanon has clearly proven to be active this year! 

Winners of 2010:

« Congumelos do campo até à mesa », Maria de Lourdes Modesto & J.L. Baptista-Ferreira, Ed. Verbo
« Mouneh »,  Barbara Abdeni Massaad
« Récits et recettes », Walid Mouzannar, Ed. L'Orient le Jour"
"La cuisine libanaise du terroir" Chérine Yazbeck
Royaume Uni"Nutmeg and Custard", Marcus Wareing, Bantam Press
Syrie"La grande cuisine arabe du Moyen-Age", Lilia Zaouali, Ed. Officina Libraria

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cooking from the Heart said with "Heart"

I found this wonderful  website called Cooking from the Heart tonight and instantly recognized the lovely woman who insisted on buying my Mouneh dummy at the Salone del Gusto. She wrote a touching opinion about Mouneh, "Mouneh by Barbara Abdeni Massaad. Those who know me also know I’m a sucker for a good food book. So whilst perusing the stalls at Salone del Gusto in October I came across Mouneh on a stall from Lebanon, after instantly falling in love with the book I tried to purchase it only to be told it was to be released in November and this was an advance copy. After writing down the name I searched for it on the internet and came across the website This book has stayed beside my bed now for weeks and I wax lyrically about it to anyone who’ll listen. It is a truly original work from which the author conveys cooking from her culinary roots that is near and dear to her heart. Another reason to buy the book is that each copy sold will contribute to an Arabic version being produced which means the people of Lebanon will have a record of their own food culture, which as with most traditional foods is being diluted or lost. So buy two copies as they make great gifts."
Rodney Dunn of The Agrarian Kitchen

Baking Bread at Home on a Rainy Day

This episode is special to me. That day, we were suppose to go in search of pine nuts with a producer, but it was raining heavily. I called LBC and told them to simply come over my house. I needed to bake a batch of bread anyway, so I thought why not on TV? They accepted gladly! I invited my friend Cooka, who had shown interest in  baking bread when I first discussed the process with a group of friends. Within the hour, she was at my house. It is very special for me to share my recipes with friends, it's like giving of myself to them. When they bake it at home, it's like a part of me becomes theirs. I am looking forward to eating bread at Cooka's! It is so special also to bake your own bread for your family because it's an essential part of their diet. You feel proud! Many of the viewers asked me for the recipe so I have decided to post it on my blog, Good luck!

For a loaf of bread:

1 cup of wholewheat flour
1/2 cup of cake flour (extra)
1 1/2 cups of regular flour (zero)
1 teaspoon of yeast
1 teaspoon of salt
About 1 1/4 water (tepid, hot will kill the yeast)
1 tablespoon of virgin olive oil (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together. Make sure the yeast never meets the salt while you are adding the ingredients. The dough will not rise! The water comes at the end. Watch the video above ... Leave to rest in a draft-free area for 1 1/2 hours or more, depending on the weather. When it is cold, you need more time. Shape the dough into the loaf you would like to see and eat. Leave to rest for another 1/2 hour or 1 hour. Bake into a very hot oven (200° C) for about 25-30 minutes. You may lower the fire eventually, if you feel it's too  hot! Enjoy, enjoy!!!