Lebanese cuisine can be divided into two categories: the cuisine enjoyed during weekend BBQs or special occasions, and the homecooked cuisine we typically have with our families on weekdays.
The special occasion cuisine is often characterized by the meza, which is the most well-known aspect of Lebanese cuisine around the world. The meza is a selection of hot and cold dishes, similar to appetizers that are served simultaneously, from which each person can help themselves to their preferred dishes.
Some of the most popular dishes in the meza include tabboulé and fattouch salads, hommos and mtabbal (purees made from chickpeas and eggplants, respectively), stuffed vine leaves, and samboussek (small fried pastries).
However, for those who love food, it's important to keep in mind that the meza is just the beginning of the meal and not the main course, and that there is still a lot of food to be enjoyed afterwards.
Tabboulé is a quintessential Lebanese dish, renowned for its unique blend of flavors. Unlike many variations found in other countries, true tabboulé is made with bourghol, or crushed wheat, rather than couscous semolina. This seemingly simple ingredient is key to the dish's perfect balance.
It's fascinating to note that the harmony of tabboulé is fragile, and even the slightest deviation from the recipe can throw off its delicate flavor profile - much like the delicate balance of Lebanese society. The dish's green, white, and red colors also reflect those of the Lebanese flag, making it a patriotic symbol as well as a culinary delight.
Fattouch is a delicious and refreshing salad with regional variations that make it unique. Typically, it's a medley of ingredients such as lettuce, radish, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, and mint drizzled with olive oil. Fresh zaatar leaves and bell peppers are also popular and optional additions.
For an added burst of flavor, sumac or pomegranate molasses is usually included. To complete the dish, small pieces of Lebanese grilled or fried bread are often served on top of the salad, adding the perfect crunchy texture in every bite.
Hommos is a delectable puree made from chickpeas and tahini (sesame oil). Often topped with fried pine nuts, it can be scooped up with a small piece of Lebanese bread for a delightful experience. This dish is also a great accompaniment to grilled meats, elevating the overall flavor profile of the meal.
Baba Ghannouj or Moutabbal:
Moutabbal, also known as Baba Ghannouj, is a mouthwatering dish made from grilled eggplant puree blended with Tahini. This dish is a feast for both the eyes and the
palate, renowned for its delightful sweet flavor and creamy texture. Traditionally, moutabbal is served with Lebanese bread or as a great side dish to accompany grilled beef and fish.
Kebbe naye, or raw meat, is a beloved Lebanese dish that features a blend of fresh finely ground beef mixed with crushed wheat, onion, spices, and herbs. This delicacy is a staple of Lebanese cuisine, and can be enjoyed with a small piece of bread and a drizzle of olive oil.
Chanklich is a cheese dish that is typically served with olive oil, herbs such as thyme, onions, and small cubes of tomatoes. This delectable dish comes in two varieties: spicy and non-spicy, both of which are known for their salty flavor profiles.
Falafels are a popular vegetarian dish with a rich history in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Israel, and Egypt. However, the ingredients and preparation methods can vary from country to country, resulting in three main variations of this dish. In Lebanon, falafels are round pellets made from a blend of chickpeas and broad beans, mixed with the aromatic herb coriander and fried in vegetable oil. In Egypt, the pellets are made exclusively from fried broad bean purée. In Israel, the dish consists of chickpea purée, always fried, without broad beans.
Falafel has many great qualities, including a low-calorie count of only around 300 calories per 100 grams, making it an economical and healthy option. Traditionally, falafels are served in Lebanese bread sandwiches with tahini sauce called tarator (made from sesame cream and parsley), along with tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and a variety of spices and pickles. This dish is often served as part of the meza platter.
Sambousseks are small savory pastries filled with cheese, minced meat and onion, or kechk, a flavorful yogurt that has been fermented, dried, and then ground into powder. They are the perfect finger food and can be enjoyed as a tasty snack or as part of a larger meal.
Kibbeh is a traditional Lebanese dish made of finely ground meat (usually beef or lamb) mixed with bulgur wheat, onion, and spices. It can be served raw, baked, or fried, and is often shaped into balls or patties. Kibbeh is a beloved staple of Lebanese cuisine and is enjoyed as a main dish or as part of a meza spread.
Raqaqat is a popular Lebanese meza dish made of crispy and flaky phyllo pastry dough filled with either savory or sweet fillings. The savory fillings often include cheese, spinach, or meat. Raqaaqat are typically served as part of a meza platter or as an appetizer in Lebanese cuisine.
Lebanese meza is a delicious and diverse cuisine that has something to offer for everyone. From the savory flavors of hummus and baba ganoush to the crunchy texture of falafel and the aromatic spices of tabbouleh, there is no shortage of options to explore. Not only is Lebanese meza a tasty dining experience, but it also carries a rich cultural history that has been passed down through generations. So, whether you're a foodie looking to expand your palate or simply looking for a tasty and unique meal, Lebanese meza is a great choice that is sure to satisfy.