Tabbouleh (Lebanese parsley salad)

A classic recipe from my book, Lebanese Home Cooking. Tabbouleh is the Lebanese national salad, immensely loved, and included as a matter of course in even the most basic mezzeh. Don’t get me started on the indignities inflicted upon it abroad…

Some time ago I spotted, on the small pack of parsley sold at a local chain store that will go unnamed, the following pearl of wisdom: “Sprinkle it on your tabbouleh.” What. Tabbouleh is a parsley salad. What are you putting in it, if the parsley is just for sprinkling on top?!

Second point of astonishment: Cooking bulgur, as if it were rice. You don’t cook bulgur. It’s pre-cooked. You soak it, that’s all!

Stick to the amounts specified in the recipe below and you’ll get a good result, but let me highlight some important points.

  • The parsley must be very finely chopped. That’s what makes it palatable in such a large quantity. You’ll be amazed at how much the bunches shrink down once chopped. A food processor can help, but be careful not to overdo it, the point is not to end up with something the consistency of pesto. The tomatoes are also diced small, but not in a food processor.
  • There is relatively little bulgur relative to the parsley. This is not a bulgur salad.
  • The amount of dressing is generous so that all of this dense-textured salad receives an adequate amount. Between the lemon, the juice of the tomatoes, and the oil, the bottom of the bowl will be soaking and that’s as it should be. Some people (*cough*) might even say they look forward to soaking bread in all the leftover dressing.
  • Using a fork instead of lettuce leaves is fine. Changing the ingredients and still calling it tabbouleh isn’t!

Walnut-Poppy Seed Pasta

A quick and different pasta dish, that could easily be a little more dressed up (I would also use the lemon’s juice, for instance, and probably toss in a few olives). Spaghetti and other similar pasta work equally well is you don’t have linguine at hand. Use olive oil instead of butter in step 2 to keep it vegan.

Irish Potato Bread

This makes for a very satisfying, versatile breakfast. It doesn’t take that long to boil potatoes so it’s reasonably quick, but steps 1-2 can just as well be done the previous evening (cover and leave on the counter overnight, there’s no need to refrigerate). Use 2T olive oil instead of butter in step 2 to make it vegan/dairy-free.

If you prefer sweet breakfasts, garnish instead with berries, apple slices, honey, maple syrup, cream, cinnamon, grated chocolate…

Khubz Arabi

This is different from the inimitable “rabtet khubz” (bag of bread) from the bakery, but identical to the hot, puffed bread that is brought to the table straight from the oven at a restaurant.

A language note: “khubz” is just the Arabic word for “bread”, any kind of bread. It doesn’t mean this specific type unless you specify “khubz arabi”. “Khubz franji” is French bread, for instance. “Khubz marquq” is the traditional, super thin Lebanese mountain bread. And so on. Some people drop the general word in conversation (sometimes innocently, often pedantically) as if it were a technical term—don’t.

Basic Pizza Dough

This is my go-to pizza/flatbread dough recipe when I want a thick soft crust and I have time to let it rise. Sometimes I only leave it for 1/2 hour and it’s still just fine: I’ll prepare it first, put it somewhere warm while I prepare the other ingredients, and then get on with it. If it affected the result, I never noticed!
As shown below, you can freeze the dough when it’s ready, for future use. This is useful if you made more than you need, but it needs to thaw overnight, so it’s not really a time-saver. On the other hand, if you use baking powder instead of yeast, you have a thin-crust dough that’s ready to use immediately. In this case, make sure to spread it thinly.

Mighli (Caraway cream)

This is more than a dessert: in Lebanon it is traditionally prepared to celebrate a birth and also for Christmas (because baby Jesus). Ground caraway and even aniseed are not regular fare in Western supermarkets but you’ll find it in spice shops, Middle-Eastern shops, and if all else fails, try eBay, or just grind the whole seeds, which seem to be more common.
I’ll admit that this is not my favourite, but I love making it for friends who just had a happy event, and it is meant to be good for the mother after giving birth, with all these energy-packing nuts.

Melomakarona

Also known as finikia, these cookies are closely related to Lebanese maakaroun, though the latter are far less elaborate.  They are an essential part of a Greek Christmas, but leftovers will comfortably last for a few weeks after, thanks to being soaked in syrup! Do not refrigerate, as that makes them harden.

Turrón de Navidad

This “Christmas nougat” dates back to the turun of Moorish Spain. This variety is made with only three ingredients, and as it contains only honey and no sugar, the result is not too hard. You can add some extra flavour in step 6 such as orange blossom water or cinnamon.

Pompe à Huile

Christmas in Provence is famous for its thirteen desserts, symbolizing Christ and the twelve Apostles. The exact items tend to vary from place to place or even family to family, but they typically include nuts, dried and fresh fruits, calissons (marzipan-like candy), quince paste, black and white nougat, and the crown of them all, the sweet bread known as pompe à huile.

Banana Eggs

A traditional breakfast from Mecca, now perhaps falling out of memory. I found it in Natural Remedies of Arabia by Robert Lebling and Donna Pepperdine, but the local name was sadly not indicated. The sugar can be left out, but it plays out very nicely against the salt.
Originally, it is served with khubz burr, a thin brown bread with nigella seeds, but it’s unlikely to be available anywhere so just use any bread you like, unleavened or otherwise.

Kadoo Pish Gaza (Iranian courgette spread)

A breakfast from Iran, this can equally well be a side dish, a dip, or take its place in a mezzeh. Or, half-bake thinly spread pizza dough, spread this on, and pop back into the oven till baking is done.
If you want to use fresh tomatoes instead of canned, you’ll need to start with 200g (8 oz).

Hommos Balila (Warm chickpea salad)

A savoury Lebanese breakfast that can also be served as a side dish. It’s incredibly quick to make and is nicely filling. All of the seasoning can be adjusted to taste. I have this almost every morning, and what I do is use a whole tin of chickpeas (carefully rinsed), mashing them just a little so they’ll absorb the flavours better. I also add cayenne pepper to the mix (I put it on everything, to be honest), and eat it with a spoon, without bread.
I know someone who mixes all the ingredients in a big batch stored in the fridge, so that all she has to do is scoop a daily portion and heat it up. This makes it even quicker, and also means the chickpeas can marinate for a while.

Squash & Coconut Soup

This is not one of my quickest recipes, but past the cocktail of spices, it’s simpler to make than it looks! It’s very filling so keep the portions small if you intend it as a side. It may be best eaten the day it’s made – I find it cloying when reheated, as the squash and rice absorb most of the liquid in time (but it’s still edible, of course).

Sweet & Sour Soup

In this recipe, the carrots and peppers provide the sweet part and the tomato and lime the sour. By tweaking quantities you can adjust the taste exactly to your liking. You can make a large quantity, divide it up in individual servings and freeze them – this way you thaw just what you need.
If you like your soups very smooth, an immersion blender is really handy, and much more space-saving and economical than a full-size blender (easier to wash, too). If like me you prefer a chunky texture, chop everything to your desired size to begin with, and/or use a potato masher to pulp the soup roughly.

Aadas bi-Hamod (Lentils & lemon stew)

This hearty Lebanese stew brings me right back to my childhood. It is filling and can suffice as a main dish unto itself. You can also add a sliced carrot in step 3 for a touch of sweetness to balance the lemon, and/or reduce the amount of lemon.
My mom always makes a big pot and freezes most of it, so it freezes well!

Vegetable Stew

There’s no better and simpler way to cook a bunch of vegetables, and it’s highly flexible – adapt quantities to what you have on hand, throw in sliced carrots, or diced roots… It’ll never be exactly the same twice, especially if you change the spices. When you first put the chopped vegetables in, it’ll look like an enormous mound of them, but as they cook (and low temperature is essential) they release their juices and settle down into a stew. This is also why no water is added at any point. There’s plenty in the ingredients already!

Tom Kha Hed (Thai coconut soup with mushrooms)

This is a vegetarian and simplified version of Tom Kha Khai, a signature chicken coconut soup from North Thailand that I loved so much I ate almost nothing else during my stays there.
About the more exotic ingredients: Galangal is normally used instead of the ginger shown here, but they are close enough to be substituted, as the former can be hard to find. If you can’t easily get lemongrass (which should be fresh) and kaffir lime leaves, replace them with, respectively, the zest from 1 lemon and from 2 limes. It won’t be quite the authentic recipe, but it’ll be enjoyable enough!
Serve with rice to make it a main dish, or serve as a soup before the main.

Rosemary Chickpea Soup

This soup freezes well, and can be customized: you could make thyme stock instead of rosemary, for instance, or even use vegetable or other broth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, no problem: use a potato masher to blend it roughly, or just leave it chunky.

Nasi Kuning (Indonesian yellow rice)

This recipe from Indonesia is one of many twists on the humble side of rice. Be warned the coconut milk makes it very much more filling. This is usually prepared with white rice. I haven’t tried it with brown so I don’t know if the flavour comes through the same way.

Crackers

You can use these homemade crackers anyway you like, of course– the labneh is a wink at my fellow Levantines. Labneh is strained yogurt (moreso than Greek yogurt) which we have with bread, drizzled with olive oil, for breakfast or in a mezze.
These can make great party food as you really can customize the flavours in myriad creative ways. For instance, using grated cheese as a topping will result in cheese crackers. Why not also try finely chopped sundried tomato, or rubbing the dough with crushed garlic, etc — the important thing is to lightly top the dough, and not cover it (we’re not making a pizza), so the crackers still bake to a crisp.
Careful, if you underbake them, they will be soft. Still good, but not “cracking”.

Guacamole

I get very annoyed when certain world dishes are referred to as “dips”—something to snack on at a party— or worse, “condiments”, when they are proper and highly nutritional food that belong in a meal. Such is the case with guacamole, the salad of the Aztecs (yes). I spread it on hearty bread for breakfast or even a light lunch. It is famously good with tortilla chips, but you can also use homemade crackers—or have it the way Lebanese have tabbouleh, by using pieces of lettuce to scoop it out instead of the bread.
Guacamole is highly adaptable to taste (you can reduce the lemon, hold the onions if you don’t like them, add chopped tomatoes if you like, etc), but this is the recipe that hooked me. When I say “serves 2”, I mean as a generous side.

Fattoush

Whenever we go to a Lebanese restaurant, where orders are for shared platters for the whole table, the first two items on the list are inevitably a platter each of our two national salads: tabbouleh and fattoush. After many years of doing awful things to tabbouleh, the West has now turned its attention to fattoush and is steadily working on ruining its good name. (All I’m saying is, if you’re going to stick cold falafel in a salad and pour tahini over it, don’t call it “fattoush” or “Lebanese”. We don’t pour porridge over fish and chips and call it “British cuisine”.)
Anyway! This is what a proper fattoush looks like. There are variations even at home, of course, and you can leave out what you don’t have at hand, but it’s not fattoush without the fried bread and the dressing with garlic and sumac. Speaking of which, the bread should be added at the last minute so it doesn’t get soggy.

Loubieh bi-Zeit (Green beans in oil)

An example of Lebanese home food. Traditionally a fasting dish (typically, all dishes “in oil”and served cold are, while their meaty counterparts are served hot), we made it at home all year long. Chilli-flavoured oil (or other) can be substituted in step 6 to spice things up.