About the Book
Cooking Lebanese or Middle Eastern food takes time, patience, creativity, and a passion for cooking. Women, the caretakers of meal preparation, go to great strides to present a good meal and ensure everyone eats as much as possible! In a Lebanese household, meals are major activities of the family. Whether it’s a special affair, a daily meal or a snack, how well food is prepared, presented, and served is often a measure of hospitality in the Lebanese culture.
Historically, Lebanon traces its origins to Phoenicia which flourished for 2,500 years and left a great legacy. Lebanon is surrounded by mountains which has many valleys, steep mountains, pine trees, a narrow coastline, and the Beqaa Valley. Lebanon is bordered by Syria on the North and East, Israel to the South and the Mediterranean Sea to the West.
Lebanon attracts tourism from all over the Middle East and foreign countries to the historical ruins such as the Cedars, Baalbek, Byblos and Beit-eddine. The Cedars of Lebanon known as Al-Arz, are ancient trees located at Lebanon’s highest altitude and are evergreen coniferous trees. The cedar tree is displayed in the center of the Lebanese flag and has been traced to biblical times. The Beqaa Valley, which produces most of the agricultural in Lebanon, is known for its great Arak and wine. (Arak is a Lebanese National alcoholic drink made from fermented grapes with anise added for flavoring – similar to the Greek Ouzo or Turkish Raki.) Beirut, the capital, is a modern city likened to New York City for its banking, nightlife, and tourist attractions. Most Lebanese speak Arabic and English or French. No matter where you travel in Lebanon you’ll find someone who communicates in one of these languages.
Cooking and eating are family affairs in Lebanon. Life revolves around food! Known for their great hospitality, guests are always treated to a traditional meal including Tabouli, Kibbe, Baba Ghannouge, and Stuffed Grape Leaves followed by coffee with selections of delicious home prepared rich desserts and fresh fruits. To show appreciation for the host and enjoyment of the meal, a guest should always refill his/her plate. Not doing so indicates to the host you did not like the cooking. The host will continue to offer you more food as a sign of hospitality –– answering, “no, thank you,” is rarely accepted –– so guests should make sure to pace themselves!
Lebanese cuisine, or Middle Eastern diet, is very healthy and includes a plethora of fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood. Generally, lamb is consumed more than beef or pork. Garlic, onions, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and many herbs are commonly used in cooking.
The recipes in this cookbook contain a predominant base of parsley, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. As with most cooking, the fresher the ingredients the better the taste of the food. I recommend, whenever possible, that you purchase ingredients from a farmers market or organic produce section to savor the best quality and taste in the creation of your Lebanese and Middle Eastern dishes. You may purchase all of the spices and other ingredients at any international food store or you may order them from online specialty middle-eastern websites.
The recipes are portioned for serving 6 to 8 people. Pictures (which I took myself) are included at the beginning of the book for many of the dishes with page number of the recipe. I included the Arabic names of the recipes first for authenticity and provided the English equivalent/name under the title in parenthesis. At the end of the book, there are a list of spices used in the recipes, utensils needed, Arabic food and English equivalent, and, as a bonus, home-remedies passed down from my mother and used by my family.
More importantly, Lebanese and Middle Eastern food are meant to be enjoyed with good drink and conversation. No one will ever leave hungry from any Lebanese or Middle Eastern home! To complete your authentic Lebanese dining experience, download some background Lebanese music by Fairuz, Sabah, Wael Kfoury, or Nancy Ajram.
Sahhtain! To your good health!
Nuhad A. HeLal