Lebanese cuisine has prominent Eastern and Western influences, combining the exotic ingredients of the Middle and Far East with the subtleties of Europe. Mujaddara is a hearty and healthy rice dish that also offers protein from green or brown lentils. Muhammara is a sweet, spicy, tangy dip that is sure to satisfy any palate. Last but not least is kafta mishwiyyeh – without a kafta dish, no cuisine from the Middle Eastern region is complete.
What I like most about these dishes is how versatile they can be. If you feel like making a feast, then go ahead and serve all of these three dishes together. Spread out mujaddara, muhammara, a simple salad or sliced tomato drizzled with olive oil and the kafta mishwiyyeh on a big serving platter, and enjoy with your loved ones family style. Your taste buds will be dancing from the bursts of different flavours from each layer.
If you don’t want to serve the dishes in layers, with a few simple twists you can serve the same dishes in a different way. Serve the muhammara as a dip with pita bread or fresh vegetables. Better yet, make a pita sandwich with muhammara spread and some delicious kafta. The balanced mujaddara rice can also be served with yoghurt and a simple salad. Of course, you can also pair mujaddara with kafta.
Among the many Lebanese traditional dishes, I picked a few that are classic yet quick and easy to prepare with easily available ingredients. Most importantly, all of these dishes are easy on your body after a long day of fasting. Be sure to have your laptop or smartphone within the vicinity of your kitchen so you can play Islamic lectures or Qur’an recitation while prepping.
• 1 cup green or brown lentils
• 1½ cups rice
• 2 cups onion, chopped
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 tsp cumin powder
• ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
• Salt to taste
• ¼ cup canola oil
• 4 cups water
• ½ cup fried onion (optional garnish)
1. Add lentils and 2 cups of water to a large pot, and cook over a high heat. Once the water has been brought to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the lentils are half-cooked. Be careful not to overcook the lentils during this step.
2. In a heavy pan, heat oil over a medium-high heat and sauté onions until golden brown, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Add salt and garlic.
3. Add remaining water to the onion and garlic mix, and bring to a boil. Season with cumin and black pepper. Turn the heat down, and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Add rice and bring to a boil again over a high heat.
5. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until all water is absorbed and rice is cooked.
6. Serve with fried onions as a garnish if desired.
• 500 g ground beef
• 250 g ground lamb
• 1 egg
• 1 cup onions, finely minced and liquid discarded
• 1 cup parsley, finely chopped
• ½ tsp garlic paste
• 1/3 tsp allspice powder
• 1/3 tsp fenugreek powder
• 1/3 tsp cloves powder
• 1/3 tsp cinnamon powder
• 1/3 tsp ground black pepper
• Salt to taste
• Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
1. Mix all the ingredients together and shape as patties or as balls around wooden skewers.
2. Grease a grill with oil and place the kafta skewers gently on the grill on medium heat for about 5-6 minutes.
3. Gently turn the kafta over and grill evenly on all sides until cooked through.
4. An alternative way of preparing the kafta is in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes at 350°F, turning once. Then grill for another 5 minutes, turning once halfway.
• 3 large red bell peppers, quartered
• ¾ cup walnuts
• ½ cup pomegranate juice
• Small pita bread, toasted
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 3 garlic cloves
• 3 tbs lemon juice
• ¼ cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for sautéing onions
• Salt to taste
• ½ tsp red chilli flakes (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Boil pomegranate juice and cook it down to a thick syrup like molasses, over a low-medium heat.
3. Grease a baking sheet and roast the red pepper quarters for about 15-20 minutes, turning once.
4. Set the peppers aside to cool; once cool, remove any skin or seeds from peppers.
5. In the meantime, toast walnuts in the oven for 6-8 minutes, carefully keeping an eye on them so they don’t burn. Once done, remove and set aside.
6. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a sauté pan, and sauté onion until lightly browned.
7. In a food processor, blitz walnuts and toasted pita bread together until they appear as crumbs.
8. Add peppers, onions, pomegranate syrup and all other ingredients to the processor. Process until the consistency is to your liking. Adjust seasoning to taste if needed.
9. Serve garnished with parsley and pine nuts if desired, or with sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil.
Happy eating and sharing!
Lail Hossain is a mom, wife, daughter, sister, niece, management consultant and blogger. She is a committed lover of family, nature and shares her journey to tackle and celebrate everyday life through food, creativity and family on her blog With A Spin (www.withaspin.com).