You’re No Lebanese Gourmet Unless…
This article has been adapted from the original version, which is published on the Al Wadi Al Akhdar website under the "Visit Lebanon" tab.
|The delectable Lebanese (and Levantine!) dessert konafa (photo source)|
Lebanese people naturally gravitate toward good food. This is no mere generalization or exaggeration. The reality is that we lay claim to an aesthetically- and tummy-pleasing cuisine that demands only the finest, freshest produce and meat. That kind of pickiness at the table forges a very discriminating palate, which is why wherever we wander in the world, you can immediately single us out. We happily lap up at the table of good and plenty, and we make it known.
So how do you spot a fellow Lebanese gourmet? Here are five food-related behaviors that quickly betray our identities!
As sure as the sun rises, your day invariably begins with labneh and zaatar.
Admittedly, a vast number of Lebanese are lactose-intolerant, but that’s never prevented us from enjoying the tart, creamy strained yogurt currently trending across the global culinary canvas. Spread labneh generously inside pita bread, garnish it with crisp slices of cucumber and vine-ripe tomato, and treat it with a generous pour of extra virgin olive oil before wrapping it up and going in for the kill. On those rare days when you’re not consuming labneh (maybe you exhausted your supply!), you make a beeline for the trusty duo of zaatar and olive oil. As myth would have it, zaatar stimulates the brain and gets those cranial juices flowing. Well, that’s a questionable truth, but hey, there’s no pop quiz after this!
Lunch is by far your biggest meal of the day, and it’s never simply a main dish.
You don’t eat to live; you live to eat. If you hail from the easternmost stretch of the Mediterranean – aka Lebanon – eating is defined by the sensory experience of indulging in and appreciating every taste, texture and flavor with an emphasis on what’s in season. Heard of the Arabic verb “mazmiz”? You’ve probably figured out that its root word is “mezza!” Thus, leading up to the main dish is a parade of many smaller dishes and munchies, including perhaps a roasted nut medley, pickled vegetables, fresh vegetables, olives, a green salad doused in olive oil and lemon dressing, and fresh markouk or pita bread. By the time the main dish makes an appearance, your tummy is tickled and stretched in more ways than one, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to curb your meal prematurely.
When it comes to your liquid arsenal, the trifecta is olive oil, pomegranate molasses, and Arak.
Everything, and we do mean everything, could benefit from that deep green elixir known as olive oil. Whether it’s a creamy, nutty hummus dip or the warm stew that is foul moudammas, it immediately bumps up to next-level when you decorate it with olive oil. You may run a tight ship when it comes to counting calories and watching your waistline, but olive oil doesn’t figure into those calculations. Pomegranate molasses, too, works wonders, especially in elevating your salad to scrumptious heights. You might also use it to finish meat or chicken liver after cooking. And finally, Arak is the ultimate palate cleanser and bacteria annihilator. As any Lebanese gastronome will attest, the cloudy Lion’s Milk sipped on the rocks both freshens our mouths and aids in the digestion of lavish, raw-meat-decked meals.
Any dish can be enormously improved with lemon and garlic.
Is that moudardara rice and lentil pilaf too salty? Squeeze a wedge or two of lemon over it. How about the lahm bi ajeen? Is it unbearably spicy? Nothing a squeeze of lemon won’t solve. And what of the tasteless fattouch? Sure, it’s bursting with color and robust freshness, but it just doesn’t hit the spot. So mash a few cloves of garlic! And the chicken taouk sandwich? Take it from us – you won’t be able to wolf it down without a deeply fragrant garlic aioli. No matter if you’re seeing people afterward or on a date: if they don’t understand, then they’re not real friends (or lovers!). A pearl of wisdom from us: be wary of those who reject the powers of garlic and lemon!
Your favorite Lebanese dessert is konafa, even if you don’t particularly care for sweets.
In fact, that’s exactly why you enjoy it, because it strikes the perfect balance between salty and sweet. Lebanese konafa is traditionally crafted with melted white Akkawi cheese and semolina. If it weren’t for the addition of syrup, which packs in sugar, orange blossom water and rose water, then konafa would hardly qualify as a dessert. For good measure, you stuff a slice of konafa inside a sesame-studded kaakeh, promoting it to sandwich filler status. Bizarre, isn’t it? But hey, let’s not question a perfect thing!
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