A Comforting Lenten Menu at Bou Melhem

We’re approaching the middle of the Lenten season, which for many Lebanese Christians translates to a time of abstinence and austerity. Meatless meals become the order of the day, and it can often be a real challenge selecting something suitable to eat when dining out.

Fortunately, much of the Lebanese cold mezza is vegetarian and, in some cases, strictly vegan. But in no time at all, the usual suspects of hummus, moutabbal, hindbeh, and tagine become as tired as a worn-out shoe. You need something fresh, something saucy, something just plain different.

Seafood kibbeh pockets

Kudos to Bou Melhem restaurant in Sin el Fil who is one of the few to introduce a whole new menu tailored to the sober season. Last summer, I dedicated an entire week to indulging in Bou Melhem's plats du jour delivered to the comfort of my office. This time, I enjoyed a hearty vegetarian spread, and what follows is a breakdown of my favorite items.

Calamari Pesto is exactly as it sounds: slivers of squid rings tossed in a light, creamy pesto sauce garnished with roasted grape tomatoes and pine nuts.

Calamari in a fragrant pesto sauce

Never before have I tried shrimp in a thick tahini bath studded with cooked onions and cashews. This one’s chock full of the crustacean and can really snub the hunger.

Shrimps in tahini with cashews and onions

Who doesn’t love kibbeh? Bou Melhem crafts two versions, one vegan, the other pescetarian. The former is shaped like a lemon and features a thick golden shell fashioned from pumpkin. It comes stuffed with a blend of Swiss chard leaves and chickpeas. The latter are flattened to resemble pita pockets and boast bits of fruits de mer (I spotted squid tentacles!).

Pumpkin kibbeh 

7arra Beirutiyeh draws on a ratatouille of carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, and jalapenos caching chunks of white fish. It is piquant and borrows a crunch from the sautéed cashews on top.

7arra Beirutiyeh, or fish with spicy ratatouille

Now for the vegan specialties. Boiled leaves of Swiss chard rolled around white rice and chickpeas form me7sheh wara2 sele2. The stems of the leaves are upcycled into a chilled tahini salad with tangy pomegranate seeds.

Stuffed Swiss chard leaves

Veggie fritters—cauliflower, zucchini, and eggplant—occupy an essential place on the Lenten table, ironic as that may be. They are fried, after all, and thus seriously addictive, particularly when paired with a silky tahini dip.

Veggie fritters

Zip over to Bou Melhem’s while Lent is still strong, or better yet, deliver to the office as I did. The complete light menu goes for US$ 20, while the seafood spread is tagged at US$ 44. Either way, you’ll hardly feel the pangs of deprivation.

Dimitri Hayek St.
Sin el Fil


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