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Home / Culture / Food / Classic Lebanese recipes you’ll love

Classic Lebanese recipes you’ll love

On her gastronomical journey, the columnist visits Lebanon, the centre of Middle Eastern cuisine
Lebanese cuisine

Durri Bhalla   |   Published 01.08.21, 03:30 AM

FALAFEL

Falafel, or chickpea kofta, originated in Egypt as Coptic Christians looked for a hearty replacement for meat during long seasons of fasting or Lent. So, they would stuff these koftas in pita pockets with salad, pickles, and so on. The measures below are for about 24 falafels. It depends on the size you make.

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INGREDIENTS

• Dried chickpeas: 2 cups

• Fresh parsley: 1 cup, chopped and stems removed

• Fresh coriander: ¾ cups, chopped fine

• Onion: 1, chopped

• Garlic: 8 cloves, crushed

• Cumin powder: 1½tbsp

• Coriander powder: 1tbsp

• Red chilli powder: 2tsp

• Baking powder: 1tsp

• Sesame seeds: 2tbsp, toasted

• Oil: For deep frying

METHOD

• Soak dried chickpeas overnight with baking soda. Then drain them and pat dry.

• In a blender, add chickpeas, herbs, onions, garlic, salt and spices and blend till it all combines well. Remove the mixture and refrigerate for an hour.

• Now add baking powder and sesame seeds. Mix well and make small rounds. The size depends on you. Then deep-fry on medium-high heat till it becomes crispy and brown.

• Remove on absorbent paper. It is traditionally had with tahini sauce. You can also stuff it into pita bread with tahini sauce, salad, etc.

BABA GHANOUSH

In Arabic, ‘baba’ means father, and ‘ghanoush’ means spoiled. This spoiled-dad dip is a common appetiser in the Middle East and also a good companion of hummus. It is usually had with pita bread and always forms part of a mezze platter.

INGREDIENTS:

• Egg plant: 1 big or 2 small

• Tahini paste: ¼ cup (see recipe in Tahini Sauce)

• Garlic: 4 cloves, crushed

• Lemon juice: Of 1 lemon or to taste

• Cumin powder: ½tsp

• Salt: 1tsp

• Red chilli powder: ½tsp, or according to taste

• Extra virgin olive oil: 2-4tbsp

• Parsley: For garnishing

METHOD:

• Roast on open fire till black, remove skin when cool.

• Put everything in a blender except parsley, to get a creamy sauce.

• Adjust seasoning. Transfer to a serving bowl.

• Garnish with parsley and let set in the fridge for 30 minutes.

CHICKEN SHAWARMA

Shawarma is traditionally made on a rotating spit where the meat is cut off into thin slices. It is served with Lebanese flat bread smeared with tahini sauce and a red bell pepper and chilli sauce with grilled meat, salad leaves, bell peppers, cucumbers, and so on, with a dollop of baba ghanoush. It has now become popular all over the world. My version of shawarma is so good that you will never order one again.

INGREDIENTS

• For the chicken marinade

• Curd: 1½ cup

• Ginger paste: 1tbsp

• Garlic paste: 1tbsp

• Kashmiri lal mirch: 1tbsp

• Red chilli powder: ½tsp

• Cumin powder: 1tsp

• Garam masala powder: 1tsp

• Black pepper: 1tsp

• Salt: 2tsp

• Lime juice: Of half a lime

• Olive oil: 1tbsp

• Chicken thighs: 1kg, cut into strips

• For the salad to put in the shawarma

• Onions: 2 sliced thinly, 1 chopped

• Yellow bell pepper: ½, cut into thin batons

• Red bell pepper: ½, cut into thin batons and 1 cut into 4

• Green chillies: 2, chopped very fine

• Cucumber: 1, cut into thin strips

• Red cabbage: ¼, shredded

• Green cabbage: ¼, shredded

• Garlic: 4 cloves

• Dried red chillies: 4 (fresh big red chillies will also do)

• Tomato: 1

• Vinegar: 2tbsp

• Salt: 1tsp and to taste for the salad

• Extra virgin olive oil: 1tbsp

• Lemon juice: Of half a lemon

• Ginger: ½tsp minced

• Salt: To taste

• For the Lebanese flat bread dough

• Flour: 3 cups

• Lukewarm water: 1 cup

• Sugar: 1tbsp

• Yeast: 2tbsp

• Salt: 2tsp

METHOD

• For the chicken marinade

• Mix all together well and keep aside for a couple of hours or overnight in the fridge.

• Heat a large skillet on high heat and add 1tbsp oil. Add the chicken with the marinade. Spread it nicely.

• Cook till it becomes nice and brown and then cover and cook on medium flame for 5 minutes till the chicken is soft and cooked well. Remove and keep aside.

• For the salad to put in the shawarma

• Put all the colourful veggies in a bowl. Add 1tbsp vinegar, 1tsp salt, 1tbsp extra virgin olive oil and juice of half lemon. Toss well.

• Traditional red sauce goes very well with shawarma.

• In a pot put one red bell pepper cut into 4, 4 dried red chillies (or fresh red big chillies) and the tomato. After one boil strain the vegetables and put in a blender. Add garlic and one chopped onion. Add minced ginger, salt to taste and 1tbsp of vinegar. Blend and put in a bowl.

• For the Lebanese flat bread

• Mix the sugar and yeast in lukewarm water and keep for 10 minutes.

• Then add the flour and salt and knead to make a nice soft dough.

• Make small rounds and brush each one with oil and cover and keep aside for 20 minutes.

• Roll out each one like chapatti. Prick it lightly so that it does not puff up. Brush little oil on the chapatti and put in a skillet over medium-high heat. Now brush a little olive oil and flip the bread and cook till brown spots appear.

• Keep it covered so that it remains soft. It depends how big you want this Lebanese flat bread, but see that it is not thick. It should be nice and soft too.

• To assemble the shawarma

• On a Lebanese flat bread (or tortilla) spread tahini sauce. Then place chicken. Sprinkle some red sauce. Then spread the salad. Then you can put very little tzatziki for a fresh taste. Make a wrap and enjoy.

KIBBEH

Kibbeh, the national dish of Lebanon, is calling your name. This dish of mince meat with an outer shell of meat and bulgar/couscous, is tempting you to crunch into its exterior to let those sauteed pine nuts and spicy minced meat wake up your tongue. They can be fried or baked. I personally like the traditional fried ones.

INGREDIENTS

• For the dough to form the kibbeh shells

• Bulgar, very fine one: 1½ cups (you can substitute with couscous if bulgar is not available)

• Mutton mince: 500g

• Onion: 1 large, chopped

• Salt: 1tsp

• Black pepper or all-spice powder: ½tsp

• Ice water: As required

• For the kibbeh filling

• Oil: ½ cup

• Onions: 250g, chopped fine

• Mutton/lamb mince: 250g

• Pine nuts or finely-sliced almonds: ½ cup

• Salt: 1tsp

• Black pepper or all-spice powder: ½tsp

• Cinnamon powder: ¼tsp

• Red chilli powder: 1tsp (optional)

METHOD

• For the dough to form the kibbeh shells

• In a muslin cloth put the bulgar and soak in water for 15 minutes. Then squeeze out all the water. If cooking with couscous, then soak it in hot water and then squeeze out the water. Put all the ingredients with 2 ice cubes in a blender and blend till you get a smooth dough like paste. You can add 1tbsp of water when grinding.

• For the kibbeh filling

• In a skillet, heat oil and saute onions till pale golden and soft. Then add the ground meat and saute till brown. This will take about 5 minutes. Remove and keep aside.

• In the same pan, saute the pine nuts/almonds till light brown. Then put it in the meat with salt, all spice and cinnamon.

• For assembling the kibbeh

• Divide the dough into 12 equal parts.

• Oil your palms and make 12 rounds. Hollow out each round with your thumb. Your thumb should fit in snugly without breaking the wall.

• Then fill 1tsp of the filling and shape into oval shape with pointed ends, like in the picture.

• Deep-fry in medium-hot oil. Serve hot with tahini sauce or tzatziki (see recipe) and a salad.

KUNAFA

This Lebanese sweet dish is prepared by stuffing cream, milk and cheese into two layers of shredded phyllo and baking it. Here in this recipe I have substituted phyllo with vermicelli (sevian, the roasted one which we get during Id).

INGREDIENTS

• For the cream sauce

• Milk: 250ml

• Sugar: 2tbsp

• Cornflour: 2tbsp

• Vanilla essence: ¼tsp

• Cream cheese: 80g (if you do not have cream cheese, you can add cream and cheese)

• For the rose sugar syrup

• Water: ½ cup

• Sugar: ½ cup

• Lemon juice: 1tsp

• Rose water: 1½tsp

• For the Kunafa

• Sevian / vermicelli: 350g

• Butter: ½ cup, melted

• Orange colour: A pinch (optional, but looks nice)

• Powdered pistachios: For garnishing

METHOD

• For the cream sauce

• In a pot put milk, sugar and cornflour. Mix well.

• Now put the pot on a medium flame and keep stirring and see there are no lumps formed. It should be thick, but not too thick or lumpy.

• Now add vanilla essence and cream cheese. Mix well and keep stirring till the cheese melts. This should take about 1-2 minutes. Keep aside.

• For the rose sugar syrup

(this is what gives the Lebanese touch)

• Take water and sugar. Melt the sugar on high flame.

Lower the flame to medium and add the lemon juice and cook for about 2 minutes.

Then add the rose water. Cover and keep aside.

For assembling the Kunafa

• In a big bowl put the sevian / vermicelli and crush it with your hands, but do not powder it.

• In half cup of melted butter put a pinch of orange colour and mix it well with the sevian.

• Take a round baking bowl or oven-proof dish. Grease it with butter. Take half of the sevian and spread it evenly. Press it down a little bit.

• Now put the cream mixture over it and spread evenly but not till the edge. Now put the other half of the sevian on top of the cream. Level it out nicely. The cream should not be visible.

• Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes at 150°C.

• Decorate with powdered pistachios and pour warm rose syrup just before serving.

• Cut wedges like a cake and serve.

• In Lebanon, they put the warm syrup on the table so that if anyone wants more they can pour it themselves.

TAHINI SAUCE

INGREDIENTS

• For the tahini paste

• Sesame seeds: 1 cup

• Any neutral oil: 3-4tbsp

• Salt: A pinch

• For the tahini sauce

• Garlic cloves: 4, minced

• Salt: ½tsp

• Tahini paste: ¾ cup

• Lemon juice: ½ cup (or according to taste)

• Cold water: ¼ cup

• Fresh chopped parsley: 1 cup

METHOD

• For the tahini paste

• In a pan, roast the sesame seeds lightly. Do not make it brown.

• In a blender, make it into a fine powder. Then add oil and salt and blend again till smooth.

• Remove and store in airtight jar.

• For the tahini sauce

• In a blender, add garlic, tahini paste and lemon juice and blend.

• Add little water and blend again till you get the right consistency.

• Transfer to a serving bowl. In case you want as a dip then add less water.

TZATZIKI SAUCE

INGREDIENTS

• Cucumber: 1 large

• Hung curd: 2 cups

• Black pepper: 1tsp

• Salt: ½tsp, or to taste

• Ginger paste: 1tsp

• Garlic paste: 1tsp

• Mint leaves: Chopped fine

• Dill: 2tbsp, chopped very fine

METHOD:

• Peel the skin of the cucumber and grate it. Squeeze out all the water.

• Remove all the water from the hung curd so that it is thick. Mix well till creamy.

• Mix all ingredients well. Sprinkle a little red chilli powder.

• Let it set in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Durri Bhalla is a cookery expert and author of Indian Bohra Cuisine and Inner Truth To Good Health And Weight Loss. You can find her at @DurriBhallaKitchen on Instagram, Durri’s Kitchen on Facebook and Durri Bhalla on YouTube



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