A Vegan’s Guide to Lebanese Street Food
Some of the most memorable and adventurous meals are often come by in the street. In Beirut, that certainly rings true. No matter which narrow city alley, village souk, or seaside boardwalk you find yourself exploring, there’s bound to be a delicious bite within arm’s reach. While meaty shawarma wraps and lahm bi ajeen pies readily come to mind in Lebanon, there is in fact a myriad of vegan foods to appeal to every palate. These savory meatless munchies form an integral part of Lebanese cuisine. To be quite frank, going vegan in Lebanon may prove to be an effortless endeavor!
|Lebanese falafel inside pita bread (photo source)|
Pizza is to the Italians as “manakish” is to the Lebanese. It’s all about fresh-baked, soft, round flatbread crafted before your very eyes. If you’re visiting a Lebanese furn, or bakery, never settle for reheated manakish from the cooling rack. Behold the baker work his magic, spreading that supple dough. Trust me, the extra wait will be worth every second. The classic mankouche (singular form of manakish) is slathered with a blend of za’atar – comprising dried thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds – and olive oil and served in either folded or rolled up format. But don’t overlook the essential veggie garnish. Top with mint leaves, olives, tomato and cucumber for a burst of freshness.
Soaked overnight in water before being boiled to a tender core, broad beans, also known as fava beans, are dressed up with a drizzle of olive oil, ripe tomatoes, fresh parsley, spring onions, and ground cumin. A classic breakfast dish common throughout the Levant and Egypt, foul (pronounced as “fool”) are considered to be one of the healthiest, fiber-dense meals you can consume. Scoop up this bean stew with warmed pita, and it’ll keep you happily sated all day.
Corn and Lupini Beans
Pace the seaside promenade, or stop at any major roundabout like Dora, and you’re bound to bump into vendors selling boiled ears of corn dusted with cumin. You’ll also find loose corn kernels served in bowls for more convenient consumption. Another snacking option is pickled lupini beans, better known as “turmus” in Arabic. Rich in fiber and protein, these legumes hold the power to lower your cholesterol and provide antioxidants. There you have it: delicious and healthy snacking! Who can resist that tempting duality?
Particularly popular during the Christian Lenten season but available year-round at bakeries, fatayer are triangular turnovers stuffed with a mélange of boiled spinach (or occasionally Swiss chard) and onions, sumac, a squeeze of lemon and olive oil. They often figure in to the classic Lebanese mezza in bite-size format, but to fill up, you’ll relish the jumbo edition sold in bakeries. Arguably, the perfect fatayer are all about balance: a filling that strikes ample acidity, and dough that does not suffer from oiliness.
You might recognize kibbeh as the Lebanese national dish. In general, kibbeh describes a foodstuff fashioned from bulgur wheat and onions. Kibbet lakteen is a vegan variation on the original, typically featuring spinach with chickpeas inside a shell formed from bulgur, onions, and pumpkin (in Arabic, “lakteen”). It is absolutely moist, flavorful, and complex in texture and taste. But don’t let me dictate the verdict – try it yourself!
Occasionally stigmatized as the food of paupers, fried falafel balls draw on fava beans, chickpeas, and cumin. In reality, they’re godly if prepared correctly! These spherical croquettes feature an ethereally crispy shell that gives way to a grainy textured core dotted with coriander. Line them inside Arabic pita before slathering with tahina, or sesame seed paste, and animating with pickled horseradish, parsley, and tomatoes.
Looking to overload on carbs? Here’s a genuinely Lebanese thought: roll a handful of fries, or batata, inside pita bread. We know: the concept seems far-fetched. Who would wrap up one carb inside the other? You’d never consider stuffing rice or pasta inside a sandwich. But there’s something distinctly otherworldly about golden, crispy fries tucked inside thin pita, cushioned with creamy coleslaw, generous heaps of garlic aioli, ketchup and pickles. It’s so good, you’ll wonder how you’ve made it this far in life without being properly cultured. But hey, I'm not judging.
Akin to the “sandwich batata,” the “arnabit” wrap replaces fried potato spears with cauliflower. There’s no disputing that vegetables do formidably well when they’re fried (though dietitians around the world are shuddering at the mere thought!). We tend to think of cauliflower as bland and boring. But dip it in hot frying oil, and suddenly you’ve got yourself a dynamic new specimen! Be sure to dress cauliflower fritters with tarator, a dip combining tahina, lemon juice, and garlic. It’s next-level. I promise.
So there you have it – the authoritative guide to Lebanese vegan street food. Sounds like a mouthful, but no doubt your mouth will be thanking you for this food fiesta that packs in as much flavor and oomph as it does nutrition and wholesomeness.
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