Koussa Ablama (Stuffed courgettes)

Here are two recipes in one: a Lebanese recipe for stuffed courgettes, plus a recipe to use up all the courgette pulp you are left with. To make it vegetarian, I substitute chopped mushrooms for ground meat, to great effect. The koussa are usually served warm, and a dollop of yogurt goes wonderfully with them. They also freeze well!

(You’ll find this recipe in my book Lebanese Homecooking.)

Vegetarian Daoud Basha (Lebanese meat-less balls)

After posting the original traditional recipe last week, I attempted a vegetarian version using lentils instead of meat, with results that exceeded my expectations. Here, then, is a meatless version of this old favourite, and a very tasty way to eat more lentils. If you like it more saucy, in step 7 replace the tomato paste with 2C passata, with 1C boiling water (or stock).

I added flour because I wasn’t sure the lentils would hold together while frying, and didn’t want to take the risk, but it may not be necessary to add flour at all (let me know if you try it!)

Daoud Basha (Lebanese Meatballs)

This was a serious childhood favourite before I went off meat, and is included in my Lebanese Homecooking book (in my shop). If you like it more saucy, in step 6 replace the tomato paste with 2C passata, with 1C boiling water (or stock).

For an equally delicious vegetarian/vegan version, see this recipe.

Khobbeizeh bi Zeit (Sautéed Mallow)

Mallow (malva sylvestris), known in the Levant as khobbeizeh (“little piece of bread”, possibly due to the round shape of its leaves or its nutritional value) is out in force right now. Here’s a simple recipe for a mezzeh or breakfast, or as a side. Yum.

Shamameet bi Laban (Poached eggs in yogurt)

I knew nothing about this dish till I discovered it on the Food Heritage Foundation site. I had to try it and it was quite a revelation! It is a rural dish from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and other neighbouring countries, and solid fare – I imagine it would have come as a rewarding meal after a long day of physical labour. It’s very simple to make, the only trick being to break the eggs so close to the yogurt that they keep their shape as much as possible.

How can you cook yogurt without it curdling? It’s the cornstarch that does it*. You can mix it into the yogurt beforehand, or when adding the yogurt in the pan: either way, start stirring immediately and don’t stop (or hardly) till it starts boiling. Then turn down the temperature to a low simmer and you don’t have to stir constantly any more – or at all, in this case (but that’s unusual.) There are many dishes in Lebanese home cooking that involve cooked yogurt (laban, as we call it) and it’s such a delicious and filling comfort food.

*I have used, at a pinch, gluten-free flour, which usually contains cornstarch, rice flour and other starches that all do the job.

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!

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.

Man’oushe bi-Jebneh (Cheese flatbread)

Mana’eesh (plural of man’oushe) are Lebanese street food at its best and come in a number of classic varieties you can order from tiny bakeries at every street corner. This one is a lighter version of the cheese type, which is normally made with fatty akkawi cheese (not easily found abroad anyway but mozzarella is close enough, though much less salty). I often fall back on this super easy recipe when I need to make food for a lot of people, or to take food with me, and it is always really well received. You can make a highly transportable version by spreading 4 circles thinly, spreading cheese on half and closing the other half over, calzone style (pinch the edges to seal). Then you can hike, climb and tumble all you like and the topping will stay put.
This recipe works particularly well with the Basic Pizza Dough, although you could use whatever dough you prefer, with or without yeast.

 

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.

Mohallabiyeh (Rice cream)

Another classic Lebanese dessert that I’m sure is also known to other cultures under other names. It’s understated, which is really nice, not too sweet, and you can always play around with the flavour, for instance replacing the orange blossom water with vanilla extract, or lemon extract, amaretto and so on. I have not tried it with non-dairy milk but I think it would work, as the rice powder is the thickener. It won’t thicken a lot in step 3, but after a night in the fridge it will be thick enough to eat with a spoon.

Simsimiyeh (Sesame candy)

This can be a bit tricky to get right. Too hot and it’ll be hard, not hot enough and it won’t caramelize. If you’re familiar with candymaking, the idea here is to reach a “firm-ball” stage (118-121ºC/245-250ºF on a thermometer).

Sfouf (Lebanese turmeric cake)

Sfouf is a plural (meaning “rows”, referring to how they’re cut), just like “brownies”, and as much a classic of Lebanese homebaking as brownies are in the US (as far as I know). Although again, the attraction of western things is such that sfouf have been somewhat left by the wayside while brownies and co. are widely available in coffeeshops and restaurants. Ah well.

Sfouf have a dense texture, are not too sweet (at least with this recipe), and have a startling orange colour due to the turmeric, which also gives them a particular taste hard to describe. To make them more nutty, you can pour half the batter into the pan, sprinkle nuts liberally, then pour the second half before creating the grid.

Below is the original recipe, followed by a vegan version!

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.

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!

Labneh bil-toom (Strained yogurt with garlic)

An essential part of our mezze, this is a step up from plain labneh, which is eaten exactly the same way, only devoid of garlic and mint. My preferred way of eating it is for breakfast, with pieces of oven-grilled Arabic bread, their crispy texture balancing out the softness of the labneh. Here in London I can’t find satisfactory bread, so I bake these homemade crackers instead that I can customize them to my heart’s content…

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.

Rizz bi-Shaariyeh (Lebanese vermicelli rice)

If you’re bored with plain white rice, try this tasty and much more filling Lebanese variant that only takes 2 more minutes to make. I believe it’s also a Greek dish known as “ryzi me fithe”. Note that the rice is no longer gluten-free once you add the vermicelli to it.

Stuffed Peppers

This recipe is one of my favourite party tricks, always a hit. You can actually skip the peppers — this rice is so amazingly delicious and easy to make (toss everything into the pot and cook), I make it by itself all the time, even if I have no mint and parsley around. Or if you like to experiment, you can stuff other veg (courgettes, portobello mushrooms…)
Lebanese seven-spices are vaguely known in the West as bharât (which just means “spices”), but that word is also applied to other spice mixes in the Middle-east and they’re far from the same. The mix indicated is the standard one I get from Lebanon. It won’t hurt your recipe to use another mix, but it’ll taste different!

Batata Harra (Lebanese spicy potatoes)

Every time I have potatoes in the house, I end up making this. Garlic+lemon+chilli = heaven on a plate! It’s also a great way to use leftover baked potatoes. Some notes:

  • You can fry the diced potatoes instead of baking them.
  • Hot pepper paste is perfect for this, but you can get quite close to it by using dried chilli flakes (or even cayenne powder) and tomato paste, which may be easier to find.
  • Feel very free with the quantities! Have as much garlic, lemon and chilli as you like. For myself, I use more of all of them than I indicated here. And don’t worry if you don’t have cilantro/coriander leaves at hand, either, I do without it most of the time.

Samke Harra (Lebanese spicy fish)

There are many variants on this spicy fish recipe back home. You can increase the chilli to make it fiery, or leave it out altogether; there’s plenty of other flavour for the recipe to hold without it. In the northern city of Tripoli, I’ve also enjoyed samke harra on the go, as street food, wrapped in bread!