My first ever taste of Lebanese cuisine happened in Paris in 2007. We were wandering, my husband-boyfriend at the time – and I, along the streets of Saint Germain, and saw a little restaurant with Lebanese fast food, called Chez Libanais. It didn’t mean a thing to me because I had no idea what kind of cuisine Lebanese was, but my darling, who has visited Lebanon few years earlier, knew enough to convince me that we have to enter it, so he can eat his favorite „sandwich“ – shawurma. As soon as I saw the variety of salads bursting with fresh herbs, different juicy fritters, pita bread, and deserts with roses and pomegranate, I fell in love. With Lebanese kitchen 😉
First meal I had was falafel, aubergine spread (baba ganouj), tabbouleh salad (tomatoes, herbs and bulgur), hummus (chickpea dip) and „some“ milk pudding in the glass with rose petals. Although a lot of Lebanese fast food has become very popular, and there is probably no one today who does not know for falafel, Lebanese cuisine is so much more than that.
Lebanese is a true Mediterranean cuisine, with an oriental twist. You will find some elements of Greek and Turkish cuisine in ti (Lebanon was a part of Ottoman Empire until 1918.), but also different flavors which are familiar in Israeli, Tunisian, and all Arabic cuisines. Lebanese eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, like aubergines, peppers, tomatoes and olives, fresh herbs and spices. When it comes to meat, they eat lamb, but also beef and chicken, as well as fish. With the dish, they serve a lot of dips based on olive oil, yogurt, garlic and tahini (sesame paste).
They often use bulghur wheat, as well as cous cous and rice, and yummy pita breads in different forms. Sweets are equally important part of every meal, and for their preparation Lebanese often use milk or yogurt, dates, oranges and roses. It is a true richness of flavors and smells which every gourmand could like. It is unbelievable what an impression has this kitchen left on me. I started watching Lebanese movies (or movies that had to do with Lebanon and its people), prepare Lebanese dishes at home, even to plan a trip to Lebanon. While visiting other countries, I was always looking for a place serving Lebanese food, since I could not make it to the Lebanon (I wrote about a cute Lebanese bistro in London in one of my previous posts: http://gastropisac.wix.com/kulinarske-razglednice/apps/blog/dreaming-of-distant-places-and-staying-alive).
Unfortunately, Lebanon is not the best option for a vacation. Many people says that it never was the best choice, taking into account that during the history it went through many wars and crises (civil war which separated Beirut in Muslim and christian part lasted from 1975 to 1990), and today the situation is not much better due to the wars happening in neighboring countries. Therefore, at home, we eat Lebanese at least once in two months time.
Recently I received a true little encyclopedia of Lebanese kitchen for a present, so you can expect to read more on Lebanese dishes on the blog. For start, I prepared a little Lebanese-Croatian fusion. With koftas in tahini sauce, I serves baked sweet potato and wild spring onions, and a warm salad of wild greens (from Dalmatia). You can also serve koftas with something else – potatoes, carrot, celery and arugula salad, or whatever you like to eat with meatballs. And what we had for a dessert, you can read in the next post.. 🙂
KOFTAS (MEATBALLS) with TAHINI SAUCE (gluten-free)
– serves 4 as a main-
based on the Salma Hage’s recipe from the cookbook „The Lebanese Kitchen“
400 g ground beef (original recipe calls for lamb)
1 big or 2 small onions
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons of flour (use spelt, oat or wholewheat, or ground almonds for a grain-free version)
1 egg (original calls for 1 egg yolk)
1 cup of parsley leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon of Lebanese seven spice mix (ground black pepper, piment, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, klinčin, ginger, all in the same amounts) – if you do not have them all at hand, use a little from those you have
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried mint
1/2 teaspoon salt
for the sauce:
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (150 ml) tahini (sesame paste)
juice from 1 lemon salt to taste
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (200 ml) tepid water (original calls for 1 1/4 cup (300 ml), but I wanted to have a thicker sauce, because I served it with koftas after baking)
1. Peel onions and garlic then chop finely or grate them.
2. Using deep dish, mix all the ingredients, and add the flour in the end. Mix thoroughly. then form balls size of peaches.
3. Preheat your oven to 375 F.
4. Pour some olive oil in the ceramic baking dish and place koftas one by one, allowing them to touch.
5. Bake them for 20 minutes on 350F, then turn on fan and infra and continue baking for another 10 minutes (or simply put thme in the broiler for about 5 minutes). Leave them in the warm oven until you make a sauce.
if you will bake potatoes or sweet potatoes for a side dish, wash then, clean them and cut into bite sized chunks, add whole spring onions, salt it and put it in the oven together with koftas, they will need approximately equal time.
6. In a small bowl combine tahini, lemon juice and some salt, and stir it. Slowly start adding water. Do not worry that it will be thin, on the contrary, water will thicken tahini in a pate-like sauce, but continue stirring and adding water until you get the right consistency.
7. Serve warm koftas with tahini sauce and baked vegetables on the side.