Monday, October 22, 2012

Fried Eggplant

Fried eggplants can be served alone or with a small dish containing a dressing of pomegranate syrup, olive, and a touch of garlic with salt.

Alternatively, serve with tarrator. To make the tarrator dressing: crush 1 garlic clove (if using) with salt. Add ½ cup of tahineh, juice of 1 lemon. Mix thoroughly and then add water to dilute.


  • Eggplants (small size)
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil 
Method of preparation:

1. Wash, dry the eggplant. Cut off and discard ends. Peel some of the skin lengthways; leave a few strips. All must be same size. Cut horizontally, about ½ inch thick. You can use the leftovers for fatteh.

2. Arrange the slices in a colander. Sprinkle salt on the eggplant. Leave to sweat for about 30 minutes, rinse with cold water. Pat dry with a kitchen towel.

3. Deep fry the eggplants in very hot oil until golden brown. Drain in a colander.

4. Serve at room temperature. 

Sizzling in hot oil

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lebanese Peasant Salad - Fattoush

Mix with your hands in a large mixing bowl for best results
This is by far one of the best Lebanese salads. Often, many households will have the vegetables readily available, freshly picked from the garden. A quick rinse and chop and the salad is ready on the table. Homemade pomegranate molasses and the family's carefully chosen or homemade olive oil is used to dress the salad. The bread is usually fried, but it can be toasted too with good results. Use whole wheat bread, if you desire.


  • 1 Romaine lettuce (shredded into 2.5 cm {½ inch} strips)
  • 1 bunch of parsley, chopped roughly (washed, dried, coarsely chopped)
  • ½ bunch mint (leaves whole or coarsely chopped)
  • 4-5 cucumbers  (peeled and cubed )
  • 2-3 large tomatoes (cut into mouth-size pieces)
  • 5-6 radish (thinly sliced)
  • 1 medium green pepper diced (optional)
  • 1 medium red pepper diced (optional)
  • 1-2 bunch of purslane (leaves only, stalk removed)
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 2-3 spring onions (sliced thinly) (optional)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic chopped
  • ¼ cup pomegranate molasses or balsamic vinegar
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ cup of olive oil
  • 1-2 tbs sumac
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 medium Arabic bread (opened and cut into squares)
Pomegranate molasses will add tangy flavors to the Fattoush. Recipe in the Mouneh book.

Method of preparation:

1. Bake, grill, or deep-fry the pieces of bread. Set aside.

2. In a large salad bowl, empty the shredded lettuce. Add the rest of the salad ingredients. Sprinkle with sumac.

3. To make the dressing: Crush the garlic with salt in a mortar with a pestle. Add the lemon juice, pomegranate molasses or balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. Add salt to taste, if needed.

4. Pour the dressing on the salad. Toss. Add the pieces of bread. Toss again.

5. Serve immediately or the bread will get soggy.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Chickpea with Yogurt - Fattet Hummus

Fatteh is a must to add to a lavish mezze spread. Variations exist, yogurt remains the main ingredient. Choose chickpeas, fried eggplant (also small stuffed with a meat mixture), boiled chicken, and other ingredients to make fatteh. I will develop each recipe later.


  • 1 cup of cooked chickpea (soaked overnight with ½ tsp bicarbonate, rinsed and cooked)
  • 1 ½ cups of yogurt / labneh mixture (for 1 kg (2.2 lb) of yogurt add 300 g of strained yogurt
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • Arabic bread cut in squares (deep-fried or toasted)
  • 2 tbs of pine nuts
  • 1 tbs of clarified butter
  • Cayenne pepper or red pepper powder (Aleppo)

Method of preparation: 

1. Fry the pine nuts in the clarified butter. Strain from excess oil. Set aside.

2. Crush the garlic with salt in a mortar with a pestle. Add the mixed yogurt and labneh. Taste, add more salt if needed. Simmer on very low fire.

3. In a serving bowl, pour chickpeas (simmering on the fire), strained from cooking water.

4. Top with the warm yogurt mixture.

5. Garnish with bread and pine nuts. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper or red pepper powder.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Strained Yogurt - Labneh

The whey drips out of the yogurt to make labneh

Labneh, in the context of the mezze, is usually served in a small plate or a pottery vessel seasoned with crushed garlic or powdered dried mint. Often, when the labneh is really fresh and patrons want to show it off, it is simply served as is with a drizzle of olive oil. A fresh mint leaf is used for garnish.

Labneh is strained yogurt (as simple as that)! For the Lebanese, expatriates included, it is an essential food. Mothers all over the world (with Lebanese origins) try to find a suitable labneh to drain overnight to feed the family this Lebanese comfort food. Breakfast, lunch, dinner ... It does not matter when. Our basic food as Lebanese includes bread, olives, labneh, and zaatar—we don't need more! I promise. I love labneh, I can't live without it. I went on a trip to Canada a few years ago. I went searching for labneh because I simply  could not live without it for so many days. Get the point? 

While researching for my book Mouneh, I went through the whole process of making labneh. I believe that goat labneh is special therefore I milked a goat to start my labneh adventure. The result was out of this world. I invite you to try to live this quest. Take me with you if you like, I'll never say no. Here goes...

It is such a good experience to milk an animal

The Recipe:

To make yogurt
4 liters (1 gallon) fresh goat milk
240 ml (8 fl oz) starter (yogurt) - use yogurt made with goat milk (organic is best)

To make labneh
Salt ( for every kilo [2.2 lb] use 30 g [1 oz])

You can make the same recipe with cow milk.

Method of preparation:
1. Milk the goat. Enjoy every minute of it because you are taking from this precious animal food of its young ones to feed yourself—it's sacred! Thank the goat.

2. To make the yogurt using raw fresh goat milk, strain the milk through cheesecloth to remove any tiny hairs or impurities. To pasteurize, pour the liquid into a double boiler or heavy pot, bring to the boil by heating the milk at 95˚C (200˚F) for about ½ hour, until it begins to rise and froth forms around the edges. Stir frequently to prevent a skin from forming. Be careful not to let the milk boil over. To cool it down, cover the pot and place it in a receptacle of clean cold water. It should reach a temperature of 45˚C (112˚F). Or use the traditional method by dipping your finger into the hot milk. If you can leave it for 10 seconds, it is the right temperature to proceed. Gently stir in the starter (yogurt) until it is thoroughly mixed. Cover the pot and wrap it with a woolen blanket to keep warm. The temperature should stay above 50˚C (122˚F), and the milk should remain undisturbed for 6 to 12 hours. Place the pot in a warm spot away from any drafts or house traffic. Alternatively, place the pot in the oven with the oven light on. When the yogurt sets, uncover and pour in an earthenware jar with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate for 24 hours before making strained yogurt cheese. Remove 240 ml (8 fl oz) of yogurt and place in a covered glass jar. Store in the refrigerator and use within 4 to 5 days. This will be the starter for the next yogurt preparation.

3. To make strained yogurt, pour the fresh yogurt into a large bowl lined with a double layer of sterilized muslin or cheesecloth, leaving plenty of the material to overlap on the sides. Add the salt and mix thoroughly. Tie the ends of the muslin or cheesecloth together and secure with a string. Hang it up over the bowl or drain over a sink overnight, allowing the whey to drip out until the contents are firm. It can be suspended in a refrigerator if the weather is too hot. You may need to drain for 2 days. To test for firmness, the yogurt should easily break off from the cheesecloth.

Labneh in all its splendor

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Purreed Eggplant -Baba Ghannouj - Mtabbal -

Baba Ghannouj
Baba Ghannouj is made of roasted, peeled, and mashed eggplant. The flesh is blended with tahineh, garlic, salt, and lemon juice. Picture juicy plump eggplants on a open fire bursting with flavor, as the flesh slowly dissolves into a smooth soft blend—sounds sexy. To make the best Baba Ghannouj one must barbecue the eggplants to give the final mixture a smoky flavor. 

Baba Ghannouj is served as a dip or as one of the main items to the traditional Lebanese mezze. Fresh Arabic bread, baked or toasted is used to scoop the eggplant dip. Virgin olive oil is drizzled on the plate before serving.

Seasoning: Baba Ghannouj is usually (when in season) topped with sour pomegranate seeds. This gives the dip a tangy taste and the mixture goes together perfectly. Some season with powdered cumin or paprika. Finely chopped parsley can also be sprinkled on the dip.

Variation: To make Babba Ghannouj lighter, some add a teaspoon of yogurt and reduce the amount of tahineh. An interesting recipe that resembles our dip is the Syrian version called Baterech, from Hama. This is made with the roasted and peeled flesh of the eggplant, which is smashed and mixed to yogurt, lemon juice, and salt. The whole is topped with  minced meat cooked with tomatoes and pine nuts.

If you don't have a hand-held blender just pound the flesh with a pestle in a large mortar
The Recipe:

  • 3 medium eggplants
  • 1/4 cup of tahineh
  • 1 garlic clove (more for those that prefer a stronger garlic taste)
  • Juice of 1 - 2 lemons (depending on how much juice is extracted)
  • Salt to taste

Method of Preparation:
1. Pierce holes into the skin of the eggplants with a skewer, knife or fork. This will prevent the eggplant from bursting.
2. Cook the eggplant on an open fire on the barbcue, if available. You can also put the eggplants on the gas flame on top of the hot plate of your stove. It will make a small mess, but it's worth it.Baking in the oven is also an option, but the smoky taste is lost. Cook until the eggplant is soft to the touch. Turn them as they cook to avoid burning.
3. When the eggplants are cooked, put them on a plate to cool. Peel off the skins with a sharp knife. Remove the stems of the fruit. Transfer the pulp into a strainer lined with a bowl.
4. In a mixing bowl, put the pulp and mash with a hand blender (careful not to overdue it) , fork or pestle until you get a smooth paste with no lumps.Add tahineh,, lemon juice, crushed garlic, and finally salt to taste. You may decide to add more lemon, garlic, or salt.
5. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and spread with the back of a spoon to form a shallow well.
6. Serve garnished with lots of good olive oil, and eat with fresh Arabic bread.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Lebanese Parsley Salad - Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is perhaps one of the most cherished mezze / dish on the Lebanese table, in Lebanese cuisine.

Hip hip hip hooray!!!

I need to emphasize how important it is for us as Lebanese to enjoy this fresh, tangy, seasonal salad.

It's very much part of our culinary heritage.

The Golden Rule: Parsley is the main ingredient. Don't be fooled by salads that look or taste like tabbouleh, but hardly includes parsley. It is an insult to its origin.

A Romantic Picture: A father picking from his garden fresh bunches of parsley to have them chopped finely by his wife who lovingly prepares the weekly tabbouleh for the Sunday family lunch. She makes bunches with the strands of parsley and gently, without bruising the leaves, she slices the flat leaves into fine even pieces.

A Little bit of History: The largest tabbouleh recorded to date for the Guinness World Record weighed 4,324 kg (9,532 lb 12 oz) and was produced on November 13 2009 by the Yaldy Association at Alaayen Elementary School in the Arab town of Shefa-Amr in Israel. In October 2009, Lebanon held the title of having the largest tabbouleh. Other large tabbouleh titles include: Arab residents of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights who made a bowl of tabbouleh weighing 2,359 kg in March 2008, and Palestinian residents of Ramallah in the West Bank (June 2006). Again I question, is it the quantity that matters or the quality?

More History: In April 4, 2001, Ricardo Mbarkho (artist) sends to Allam Sleiman (computer programmer) an email telling him about the idea of initiating a National Tabbouleh Day where the Lebanese would celebrate their national unity through their identification to the tabbouleh. Two days later, they write the first press release designating this new celebration for every first Saturday of the month of July. About 20,000 Lebanese are informed by email and are invited to transfer the message everywhere to the world..The Lebanese and foreign press announces the news with articles on the subject. The Biennial of Paris presents the editions of the National Tabbouleh Day since 2006. The Lebanese Ministry of Tourism officially gives its approval and its patronage for the 2007 edition. The National Tabbouleh Day is becomes an official celebration for all the Lebanese.

                       Tabbouleh Day at the Farmers' Market

Did you Know? Did you know that there is a song dedicated solely to tabbouleh? My son and his friends sang “The Tabbouleh Song” during recess for an entire school year.  We all went down to the Tabbouleh Festival in downtown to sing the song with Albert on lead vocals. It was hilarious. The crowd cheered and the judges did not know exactly what was happening. Crazy!

Serving Tabbouleh: Tabbouleh is served with young leaves of Romaine lettuce, cabbage , or soft vine leaves.One makes a small pocket with the leaves and scoops up a small amount of tabbouleh . The combination of the lemon juice with the parsley, onion, tomatoes, burghul, and spices make all your juices flow. It's a mouthwatering experience.

The Dressing: It's very simple - a combination of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil (nothing less), allspice (mixed with the spring onions), salt (mixed with the spring onions to soften the sharpness of the onion) and later more to taste.

A Twist in your Tabbouleh: You can add chopped chili peppers to give your tabbouleh some spunk. When lemon is in season (Feb in Lebanon) grate the zest of the rind and mix it in your salad. Out of this world.

Avoid: Don't forget to dry your parsley leaves very well. If not, you will get a soggy tabbouleh. Not cool!

The Recipe:

  • 4-5 bunches of parsley (depending on size) finely chopped
  • ½ bunch of fresh mint finely chopped
  • ½ kg (1.1 lb) (4-6 tomatoes) firm ripe bright red tomatoes (organic is best)
  • 3-4 sprigs of spring onions thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup of fine burghul (golden or brown) I prefer brown!
  • ½ teaspoon of ground allspice
  • Juice of 1-2 lemons (depending on how much juice is extracted)
  • ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil

Method of Preparation:
1. Untie the bunch of parsley, picking out debris and spoiled stalks. Wash the parsley thoroughly with cold running water. Rinse at least 3 times to be sure that you have perfect cleaned parsley. Shake off excess water. Tie bunches of stalks together aligning the stalks evenly. Leave to drain in a strainer, stalks down, while you work on chopping the other ingredients. If the stalks are not completely dry, spin them in a salad spinner to ensure complete dryness. If the stalks are still wet, you wind up with "mushy" tabbouleh. You don't want that! To chop the parsley, hold the parsley with one hand and chop with the other using a sharp knife. Start chopping from the stalk end and move up.

Use a very good cutting knife. Make sure it is sharp
2. Chop the mint leaves and mix to the parsley. Don't over handle the mint, as they bruise easily and change color, becoming black. If you are not using the parsley immediately, store the chopped parsley in a saucepan, as opposed to a Tupperware. This will keep the parsley crunchy and prevent moisture from building up.

3. Dice the tomatoes into small cubes. Start by cutting the tomatoes into round circles, as seen in the photo below, then make the cubes by cutting horizontally then vertically. This is how they do it in restaurants all around Lebanon. At home, you may have more time, but I really found this way to be the most efficient.

Chopped tomatoes
Vibrant colors of one of our national dishes
4. Chop the spring onions into tiny bits, trimming the filaments. In a small bowl, add 1 teaspoon of salt to the onion and mix them well together. This will kill the sharpness of the onion. Add the ground allspice.

5. Wash the burghul with cold running water and strain from any floating debris. Don't soak the burghul in water.It is better to soak the burghul in lemon juice and with the water of the tomatoes.

6. Pour the burghul into a large mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice. Leave to rest for  5 - 10 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes with the water from the tomatoes. With your hands (the Lebanese way), mix the burghul and the tomatoes together. Add the chopped onions. Mix again.

7. Add the chopped parsley / mint and mix thoroughly with your hands. Add olive oil and salt to taste.

The taste of the tabbouleh should be tangy, salty, and sweet all at the same time...

Can you taste it?
Couldn't resist!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chickpea Dip - Hummus

What is hummus?

Hummus is cooked chickpeas (garbanzo), mashed / pureed and mixed with sesame paste (tahineh), lemon juice, garlic, and salt. It is topped with plenty of virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, paprika, or red pepper powder with a dash of ground cumin.

In Lebanon (Arabic), we call this mezze item hummus bi-tahineh.

Try Different Variations:

- Topped with pine nuts fried in clarified butter.

- Topped with cooked small pieces or ground of lamb or beef with fried pine nuts.

- Topped with basterma fried in clarified butter.

- Topped with tiny pieces of fried sujuk (Armenian sausages).

- Topped with whole chickpeas mixed with a bit of finished hummus, extra garlic, extra lemon, a dash of salt, fried pine nuts, a sprinkle of chopped parsley and cayenne pepper and / or ground cumin. This one is fit for a king.

- Topped with cooked awarma (the Lebanese mountain lamb meat confit)

- Re-invented recipes have emerged with hummus colored with beetroot juice or hummus colored with a mixture of mild red pepper paste or red pepper flakes. Could be fun, but not the authentic recipe.

A little bit of Present History: In October 2008 the Association of Lebanese Industrialists petitioned to the Lebanese ministry of Economy to request protected status from the European Commission for hummus as a uniquely Lebanese food, similar to the Protected Geographical Status rights held over regional food items by various European Union countries. Lebanese are very protective over this national dish and food wars are taking place in the region.My opinion, it's not the largest hummus that will make it ours. It's digging into historical facts and figures, research and development. Quality over quantity. Enough said.

Baking Soda: Using baking soda while soaking the chickpeas overnight depends on the chickpeas. Know your chickpeas. If they have been sitting in the cupboard for a long time then it will take longer for them to cook. I suggest you use baking soda then. If you get young dried chickpeas, you will not need to add baking soda.

Canned or Dried Chickpeas: I prefer going through the whole process for a better result. If you don't have time, you can use canned chickpeas (buy the best). Rinse them well before use.

Tahineh: The tahineh in this recipe plays an important role. The quality will determine the taste of your hummus. I buy my hummus from a specialty / health shop. But that's me! Use the best quality available to get the best results.

The Recipe:

  • 300g (1 ½ cups) of dried chickpeas
  • ½ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 - 2 garlic cloves (depending on how sharp the garlic is and how much you appreciate the taste)
  • Salt to taste
  • 150g (about 3/4 cup) of tahineh
  • Juice of 1 - 2 lemons (depending on how much juice is extracted from the lemon)
  • Red pepper powder, cayenne pepper or paprika
  • Olive oil

Method of Preparation:

1. The night before: Soak the chickpeas in water overnight with the baking soda, if using.

2. Rinse the chickpeas well under cold water, strain and put in a large saucepan. Add water to cover the chickpeas. Start on high fire until boiling, then reduce and cook until the peas are soft and tender. Test by squeezing one pea with your hands.

3. When cooked, leave to cool. When the cooking liquid is cool, drain the chickpeas in a strainer. Set aside about 1 cup of the cooking liquid for later.

4. Pour the chickpeas in a food processor, keep a few peas to garnish the hummus if you desire. The strength of the machine will determine the smoothness of the hummus. Restaurants and fouwel (snack shops that sell hummus / foul) use a very powerful machine to grind the chickpeas. They add a few ice cubes to the mix to lighten the hummus and to control the temperature to avoid excessive heat. At home, run the machine until the chickpeas crumble. Add the garlic and the salt. Pour the tahineh slowly as the machine continues to run. Drizzle some of the lemon juice. Taste to check if you need to add more lemon or salt. Should the hummus be too thick, add some of the reserved cooking liquid to make a smooth paste.

5. Pour into a typical shallow round bowl. With the help of the back of a spoon or a typical wooden pestle used by the fouwel (person who runs these snacks) spread the hummus evenly raising the edges on all sides.

6. To serve, sprinkle with a dash of cayenne pepper or paprika vertically and horizontally, also add a dash of cumin, if you desire. Pour some olive oil to finish the hummus. Eat with fresh or toasted Arabic bread or preferably when available, with paper-thin bread.

Wooden pestle used to spread hummus in a oval dish