Lebanese Delicacies That Are Off-the-Grid: Yay or Nay?
|Lebanese fwerigh, or stuffed intestines (photo source)|
Lebanese cuisine might strike the unsuspecting as dainty, delicate and delicious with its vegan tabbouleh, manakish za’atar and hummus. But beware: it’s got a gut-wrenching side to it. We’re talking liver; raw meat flanked by white cubes of pure fat; snails; frog legs; sheep brains; beef tongue; and the list goes on, and on, and on, for about the length of a sheep’s intestines (also a dish in the exotic roundup!). If you’re a diehard Lebanese, you undoubtedly dote on these delicacies and gloat about their dense nutrient and vitamin content to anyone who questions their merits. There’s not an ailment out there that can’t be cured with these antidotes. If you’re less adventurous with what you eat, you probably want to stop reading right about here.
Go ahead, sign off. We’re warning you.
And yet, you’re still here.
Well, if you insist, be our guest… But we recommend you pour yourself a glass of Lebanese arak in case nausea overcomes you!
Chicken and beef liver figure prominently in Lebanese cuisine. Beef liver is characteristically pan fried with onions, whereas chicken liver is finished with tangy pomegranate molasses. In some rarer instances, chicken liver can be accompanied by crunchy chicken heart. Has your own heart sunk into your stomach just yet? Stay with us here. Sheep’s liver is enjoyed raw. Gather it up in a piece of fresh Lebanese pita, garnish it with green onion and mint leaves, dunk it in salt and pepper and sink your canines into that sucker. Raw cubes of meat can be consumed in much the same manner. A tall glass of arak with ice helps wash down these meaty bundles and obliterates any bacteria therein, or so we like to convince ourselves.
Nkhe’et & Lsenet
Did a relative ever try to cajole you into eating lamb brains (“nkhe’et”) to enhance your own intelligence? That may be a myth, but one thing’s for sure: these delicacies are ethereally soft and supple. Sheep brains are cooked until tender and then tossed with the magical mixture of garlic, lemon, olive oil, and salt. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with wedges of lemon and pita.
One of the most tender meats you will ever feast on is tongue. Sheep and beef tongues (“lsenet”) are an exquisite treat in Lebanon. To prepare, start by soaking them in water, then boil and slow-cook before skinning and slicing to achieve a more palatable presentation. Again, dress with mashed garlic, a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, and a dash of salt for the perfect seasoning.
The French translation amourettes d’agneau would have you believe you’re about to consume something fine and delicate. And while sheep testicles (“baid ghanam”) might qualify as such texturally, wait until the realization of what you’re consuming sinks in! To start, the butcher peels and discards the outer membrane of the organ to reveal the tender flesh inside. It is then sliced, battered, and pan-fried, receiving a squeeze of lemon to finish. The end result? Something subtle and otherworldly. Truly, baid ghanam give a mystical edge to Lebanese cuisine!
In an ironic twist, would you ever consider feasting on the very organ where food is broken down and digested? Allow us to introduce you to “fwerigh,” or sheep intestines, but be warned: they’re not for the uninitiated. The intestines must first be thoroughly cleansed with lemon, salt and vinegar before being outfitted with minced meat, rice and spices, the same filling used for stuffed grape leaves and zucchini. When prepared correctly, this dish is fragrant and festive. Just try and blot out the mental image that you’re wolfing down guts.
Birds, specifically the bec-figue or fig-eating variety, are a popular Lebanese specialty beloved for their fatty bodies. They’re plucked, gutted, and beheaded before being tossed onto the grill or pan. Once cooked, birds, or a’asafir in Arabic, are dressed in pomegranate molasses or olive oil and wrapped in paper-thin “markouk” bread. As you’re chewing, that gentle crunch is actually the crushing of bird bones between your teeth. Tantalizing, isn’t it!
So … how far along did you get to the bottom of your arak glass? Or perhaps you’re already on your second round? Can’t say we didn’t caution you about the nastier bits of Lebanese cuisine. And as starkly contrasting as they are to the vegan offerings our Mediterranean table boasts, they remain a source of great pride for the most passionate gastronomes among us. You know the saying: there are two sides to every coin!
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