Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

For the Love of Thyme: The Man who Cultivates Lebanon's Wild Herb

Mohammad Ali Neimeh, better known as Abu Kassem’s life revolves around zaatar, the wild thyme of Lebanon. During the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon, he needed to change the way thyme grows, out of fear he would be shot or shelled trying to get to his plants. The changes that he implemented have seen huge changes in the way that thyme is grown now in Lebanon. This is his story. 

Please watch this beautiful short film uploaded on our website www.slowfoodbeirut, generously donated by Nay Aoun.We, as Lebanese, are proud of our zaatar and Abou Cassem in an example of why. Let us know what you think and please share.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

20 Women Changemakers: Taking Action Around the World

So honored to be part of this great book, 20 Women Changemakers: Taking Action Around the World, published in the USA. I believe women play a great role in our society and have the power to bring about fundamental changes. Read the interview I had with Pamela Burke, the woman behind this great initiative who went to great lengths to gather these stories. http://www.thewomenseye.com/…/interview-photographer-chef-…/ . To all my friends in the US and around the world, please order the book, it inspired me so much to read about women who have created projects around the world to help others. To order: https://www.amazon.com/20-Women-Changemakers-…/…/ref=sr_1_1… To learn more: http://www.thewomenseye.com/

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A wonderful review from Midwest Book Review:
This inspirational anthology should be a 'must' acquisition for any collection strong in women's issues, social change, and social justice. There's simply nothing like it on the market: 20 Women Changemakers moves far beyond biography and into the nuts and bolts of how ordinary individuals can make a difference.
—D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review http://www.thewomenseye.com/20-women-changemakers/

Friday, October 6, 2017

Boutique Wines and 209 Lebanese Wine

Very interesting article about 209lebanesewine and boutique wines in Lebanon. Selim Yasmine is a good friend. We have been touring wineries in Lebanon for months and have discovered many amazing varieties, including the good people who work with passion to make the wine in different regions in Lebanon. Many lessons of life were learned, including lessons in wine tasting and appreciation. We continue the tour beginning of January to reach all wineries to build a strong relationship with each and everyone of them to better promote their work and our Lebanese wine heritage. Online Distributor Spreads Boutique Lebanese Wines

Maher Harb and Selim Yasmine

Monday, September 11, 2017

Lebanese Spices

Stocking up on spices is imperative when you want to cook Lebanese food. I have gathered a list of spices which can be used in the recipes that will follow. Copy the list on your phone and go out there to find the freshest spices available in the market. I usually do this exercise once a year at a local mill in the Bekaa Valley or another one in the Kesserouan. If that's too difficult for you, most supermarkets carry a wide range of spices, carefully wrapped to keep them fresh. I bring them home and put them into clean jars. I label every jar to have them on hand when the pressure is on with my cooking. They have to be easy to find and accessible to you. When using, don't forget to close the lids as soon as possible, very tightly. Use only dry spoons, a slightly wet spoon will infect the spices, also steam. Be careful! 

Keep all spices away from direct sunlight, moisture, and heat. The best place to store your spices in the kitchen is on the right or left of your cooking station. When using, put them on the counter and measure. 

If you have a mortar and pestle or an electric coffee grinder, you can buy most spices whole and grind them  yourself. This will ensure maximum flavors. Old spices should be discarded. I hate throwing spices, especially those I buy on trips around the world BUT there is an expiration date that should be respected. Some spices, which I have never used, I keep for memory sake. So I don't consider them spices anymore but scented souvenirs.

Buying spices at the local mill

The list:

  • Aleppo red pepper ground
  • red pepper mild ground
  • red pepper hot ground 
  • hot chili peppers whole dried
  • cinnamon ground
  • cinnamon sticks
  • bay leaves
  • oregano ground (substitute with zaatar)
  • sweet pepper whole
  • sweet pepper ground / also called in the US Jamaica or allspice
  • white pepper ground
  • black pepper whole (get a pepper mill that you love!)
  • black pepper ground
  • cardamon whole
  • cardamon ground
  • nutmeg whole
  • nutmeg ground
  • cloves whole
  • cloves ground
  • cumin seeds
  • cumin ground
  • ginger ground
  • mint ground dried
  • sumac ground
  • 7-spices ground (or make your own)
  • mahlab whole
  • mahlab ground
  • anis seeds
  • anis seeds ground
  • turmeric
  • mastic
I'm sure I forgot some names of spices, I will add them as I remember them. But, this is certainly a great start! Let me know if you have questions. Next post, I will list the pantry essentials. A favorite topic of mine, as you know. I dedicated a whole book on the subject. Book was published in 2010. Very excited about the new fall release coming out in the USA with Interlink publishers. You can pre-order, if you like. The book was completely out of stock. Not one copy left!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Lebanese Cuisine 101

Are you seriously interested in learning about Lebanese cuisine?

Hummus © BM
I will take you through the process as I go through the repertoire one recipe at a time...

Why? because I intend to do a book on the subject one day. I want to share the ingredients, methods of preparations, and tips as you cook, bake, or mix a fresh salad. I believe we can all go through recipes collections through the internet or by simply buying a cookbook. Yet, we miss out on a very important step — the process and how we feel when we are doing the actual recipe, what we taste, and how we express these happenings. My aim: Out-of-the-box notions to learn a new cuisine, like a new language. You have to live the experience.

A few years ago, I fell in love with the Italian language. Obviously you know why this happened... You don't! Well all my trips to Italy with Slow Food events, meeting so many Italians and falling in love with the food culture of Italy was what triggered my desire. I took a course through a program given by the Italian embassy in Beirut and I can tell you that I failed miserably.  The teacher treated us like kinder garden children, screaming out grammar rules. She completely set my brain into neutral. I am giving you this experience as an example of how learning should not be undertaken if you have a passion for a certain subject.

Conclusion: You have to live the learning process with all your senses. Capiche?

I will try to give you that experience and let you do the rest....

Will also tell you about the wines of Lebanon, as I pair the food with the wine, including Arak of course... I will discuss the ingredients, where I got them, who makes them, etc... Will simultaneously feed the Slow Food Beirut website as I am undertaking this challenge. Oh yes, and the wine tour continues with 209lebanesewine.com to meet these extraordinary people who put Lebanese wine on the wine world map.

Are you ready?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

I'm Back to Blogging ...

Did you miss me?

I've been really busy, but all good... Part of growing, evolving, continuing my path. You work hard, you get results. You wish for things and sometimes they actually do come true (stars are aligned to meet your goals in a given time - It's always about timing!).

Today I am finally settled in our mountain house after a hectic winter. The good thing about this winter is that I met a wonderful person, Selim Yasmine, who founded a company called www.209lebanesewine.com. I called him, not knowing him, and suggested we go on a tour to visit all the wineries of Lebanon. He agreed, and the journey started. We got along very well, as we are both very passionate about the subject. Since then, it's been quite an adventure. I am learning so much, meeting amazing people and discovering the wines of my country.

So I have set another goal for myself: that is to work on educating people of my country about wine and terroir, while I learn simultaneously myself. (I don't and won't pretend to be a connoisseur, but definitely one who appreciates the experience of wine tasting and luckily I have a developed a palate with all my food experiences and travels, so this has helped to elevate my wine tasting experience).

About books: I have published four books so far: The journey started with Manoushe! The book is doing very well. It was published in the USA with Interlink publishers  (4th edition to date). It is now available in soft copy too... The Mouneh book ran out of stock in Lebanon. Not one copy is available in the market, luckily Interlink publishers will publish the book in fall 2017 in the USA. A limited amount will be sent to Lebanon so if you don't have your copy, I suggest you pre-order it as I have had so many demands for it. Funny how people suddenly want and need the book when it is not available... Good for me though! Mezze is still on sale in Lebanon, readers who understood it's message absolutely love it! And those who wanted photography  with the recipes (a bowl of hummus facing the recipe) do not really have a clue as to what I was trying to do ... that's OK. You can't please everyone all the time. It's not really my aim anyway. My aim is to portray Lebanese food, my way!(does it sound pretentious?). This is what distinguishes one author from the other and each one has his / her vision of the subject. Last but certainly not least, Soup for Syria has been a great success worldwide, thanks to the unbeatable efforts of Michel Moushabeck, my publisher. The book is now published in 5 countries: US, UK, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and in fall 2017 will be in Portugal and Turkey. All proceeds go to help relief funds to help refugees. The book has it's own life. It's like a baby that grew and flew .... This experience has helped me to grow as a person and with that become an activist for human rights.

About Slow Food: I have been an active member since 2006. It all started when a delegation of 30 Lebanese producers, farmers, food writers, university professors, restaurateurs flew to Torino to take part in the Salone del Gusto / Terra Madre exposition. It changed my life! Today I am acting president of Slow Food Beirut presently. It has not been easy, but definitely a challenge. A website was created and that's when everything fell into place. I took part in documenting the lost cheeses of the Lebanese mountain: Darfieh and Serdeleh, also know as Anbaris. I met a wonderful local film maker, Nay Aoun, who is very passionate about her work and she has generously shared her films with us dealing with food producers. Pascale Hares, Ludwig Archache, Julia Samaha and many others worked hard to develop the website (it's like working on a book!). The work on the website will continue constantly with new films, a repertoire of all farmers, producers, winemakers in different regions of Lebanon. A recipe section will be uploaded as I start my 101 Lebanese cuisine documentation with photos and videos. I have asked my friend Danny Elsoury, who worked for a few years in India as executive chef in a Lebanese restaurant called Zizo to help me develop the recipes to share with all visitors to the website. New plans are developing for Slow Food Beirut. I will keep you posted as they evolve.

About Food Consulting:
It all started when a local business man called me to ask me to consult for him to open a bakery in Beirut. I was very reluctant, as I had never done this kind of job. He insisted and would not take no for an answer. So I agreed! Today, I am so grateful to him because it opened many job opportunities for me and gave me the experience I needed to take on other jobs. Later, I went on to consult for a terrific team in Seattle, Washington for a grand project called Mamnoon. I spent a month with the family and the executive chef cooking every day. On Sunday, I would escape to the Pike Market to have clam chowder soup and visit independent bookshops. My children during this time went to a summer camp on the island of St. John. One day, a friend saw a photo on Facebook I had posted of a Lebanese restaurant in Lisbon. He called me immediately and thus started our Muito Bey adventure. I trained the kitchen crew and learned so many lessons of life in the process. Many other adventures have been developing, and this is where I think I am headed for now. I will teach what I have researched for so many years and give the best I can to make Lebanese food flourish in Lebanon and in faraway lands and make food entrepreneurs make their dream come true.

In a nutshell: It's about being inspired, inspiring others to cherish the simple things of life: family, friendship, books, food, wine, travel and much more... I hope you stick around.