Recipes from Lebanon


Yay it's raining in California! If it carries on like this, the drought might actually end sometime in the next couple of years.

Of course, I really dislike rain most of the time, but I'm not going to say so out loud. We really need the rain.
I was trying to come up with a good segue between rainfall in California and rainfall in this week's destination, but I can't really. Lebanon gets way more rain than we do, even in a good year. That's probably why it's had such a long history of human occupation—people tend to go where the water is.

Lebanon is at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arab world, near Syria and Israel. There is evidence that humans lived there up to 7,000 years ago, which is a very, very long time ago—before human beings started actually recording history.

The earliest known occupants of Lebanon were the Phoenicians, a maritime culture that lived in the region for almost a millennium. Lebanon was later occupied by the Romans, and then by the Arabs, and the result of all that indecisiveness is that today it is a place of great ethnic and religious diversity.

Fun fact: Lebanon has such unique geography that you can go skiing in the morning and swimming in the Mediterranean Sea in the afternoon. Which you could theoretically do in California, too, if the Pacific Ocean wasn't so damned cold.

Baalbek, Lebanon. Photo by Paul Saad. 

The Lebanese eat a lot of seafood, starches, whole grains and vegetables, and chicken is on the menu more often than red meat is. The Lebanese love garlic and lemon juice, which brings me to our main course:

Djej w Batata Bil Sayniyyeh (Baked Garlic Chicken and Potatoes)
(All of this week's recipes come from Mama's Lebanese Kitchen)
  • 4 lbs chicken pieces
  • 5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced into ½ inch pieces
  • 20 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • A pinch of Lebanese 7-spice
  • Vinegar (optional)
To make this, you'll also need this recipe:

Lebanese 7-Spices
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
And on the side I made this, though I'm not entirely sure about its accuracy as a side dish (sounds more like a condiment):

Loubieh
  • 3 lbs green beans, rinsed and trimmed
  • 3 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2/3rd cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tsp Lebanese 7-spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
And for dessert:

Dates Fudge
  • 2 lbs date paste (or grind pitted dates to paste in a food processor)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 lb of walnuts
  • 1/4 lb coconut flakes
The first thing you will need to make is the Lebanese 7-spice, unless you happen to have some on hand, which I'm guessing you probably don't. It's pretty simple and you can make as much or as little as you want, though you will need at least two teaspoons for this meal. Just mix together the ingredients and you're done.

Now for the chicken:

The first step is to soak the chicken pieces in vinegar for two minutes, though this is optional. When done, rinse in cold water and pat dry.

Now cut a few slits in each chicken piece to allow the marinade to penetrate. Mix two tbsp of the olive oil with a pinch of salt and the Lebanese 7-spice.

Grease a metal roasting pan with olive oil and place the chicken inside. Salt the potato slices and place on top of the chicken.

Bake at 400 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 175 degrees.

While the chicken is cooking, place the garlic in a food processor with ½ tsp of salt and the rest of the olive oil. Pulse for 4 to 5 minutes, then add the lemon juice and pulse for another 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the oven, then drain off the liquid from the bottom of the pan. Pour the garlic sauce over the chicken and toss to make sure everything is coated. Return to the pan and cook under the broiler for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden.

Meanwhile, make the beans. First saute the onions in olive oil for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they start to brown. Now add the beans, the salt and half of the 7-spice mixture. Mix well, then cover the pot and cook on low for 45 minutes, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes. When the beans are a dark olive-brown color, add the rest of the 7-spice and mix well. You can serve this dish hot or cold.

Now for the fudge, which isn't really anything like fudge:

First, melt butter over a low flame. Pour over the date paste and "knead" by hand. Divide into 28 pieces and then stuff each piece with a walnut half. Roll it into a ball and then dip in coconut flakes. Chill or serve at room temperature.

The chicken was really delicious, I mean really, really delicious. It was not too far removed from stuff I've eaten locally (have you ever been to the Stinking Rose in San Francisco?) but who cares. It was full of flavor and cooked perfectly, if I do say so myself. I liked the beans, too, and so did Martin, but the kids wouldn't touch them. In their defense, though, they won't even touch that bean casserole that everyone makes for Thanksgiving, either. They think vegetables are out to get them.

The dates fudge, mmm. It was dead-simple to make and tasted very Mediterranean, and my kids were not fans. When I say "dessert," they think I mean "cupcakes." I really have to break them of those way-too-American palettes that they have. But oh well, more for me.

Next week: Lesotho




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