Taste of Beirut started in 2009 and its main purpose is to share Lebanese heritage with the world through recipes, anecdotes, and cultural tidbits. I am Joumana Accad and I published my first cookbook Taste of Beirut, named after my blog.
I was fortunate enough to be invited recently to dinner at the table of a celebrity chef in Lebanon (and the region), Chef Richard. The dinner was to take place at Al Liwan, one of his restaurants in Beirut.
This is the perfect restaurant to take a crowd to, especially if they are Lebanese expats with lots of pent-up nostalgia for traditional Lebanese restaurants with that no-holds-barred ambiance; its a place for party animals, and even if you are not one by definition, its nice to loosen-up once in a while. Here, being boisterous, merry and hyper is encouraged. There is live entertainment as well.
The restaurant is appointed with antiques, miniature porcelain items and an over-the-top elevator upholstered in satin.
The menu is classic Lebanese, with lots of mezze, grilled meats and desserts. The food is delivered banquet-style, as this is obviously a kitchen for a crowd, not for intimate dining. A couple of unusual items got my attention. A green-colored hummus, which Chef Richard said was “basil-flavored hummus” and a halloumi plate smothered in a cheesy sauce topped with nigella seeds, both his signature. I decided to try and replicate them at home. Here is the basil hummus first.
One of the things that have changed between the Lebanon of my childhood and today’s Lebanon is that the Lebanese market scene is now filled to the brim with dynamic talent. A perfect example is this honey producing company, Atelier du Miel (tr. Honey Lab). From my vantage point, they ace every parameter. They are young and driven, creative, eco-conscious and filled with business-savvy; every so often, they come-up with fantastic ideas to promote their brand, such as workshops (making cool things using honey) or field trips to observe their beekeeping operation live.
I first noticed the actual honey, sold at their flagship boutique, as well as kiosks all over the city’s supermarkets and malls. In Lebanon in the olden days, one got a jar of honey, period! This time around, with L’Atelier du Miel, one gets to pick at least two dozen flavors based on what flower or herb the bees fancied. Each flavor is distinct and is recommended with certain foods or just plain with a piece of bread. I noticed eucalyptus, loquat, orange blossom, honeydew (forest trees such as cedar, oak or fir). In addition, these folks are offering pastries such as madeleine or financiers or the traditional mamouls made in partnership with a local NGO. Their gift packages include artisan honey dippers reflecting Lebanese tradition (glass-blown, brass, or inlaid wood).
Their business operating methods are eco-friendly: They are always on the move with their hives, from one location to the next, following blossoms and wildflowers as they appear throughout the country. After hearing about dishonest honey producers who feed sugar syrup to their bees it was heartening to meet folks who care and offer a pure, unadulterated product. Their bees are major travelers! Going North and South, feeding on banana, carob, cedar, Cherry, Clover, Eucalyptus, Fir, Jujube, Loquat, Oak, Cedar, Orange Blossom, Thistle, and Thyme blossoms , as well as wildflowers.
L’Atelier du Miel also opened a stylish restaurant and workshop in the trendy Mar Mikhael neighborhood and I had dinner there to check it out one balmy evening last Summer. The design of the restaurant is contemporary, Scandinavian, with neutral tones and a large outdoor terrace nestled between some crumbling old building. The menu was bistro food, with an emphasis on fresh salads and every item had one of their honeys in the ingredient list. I loved the apple smoothie and bulgur salad and my companion the endive salad with julienned candied orange rind. We also tried a platter of honey samplers matched with various cubed cheeses and fruits. I’d recommend this if you’d like to refine your honey knowledge, taste-wise.
Muted colors, greys, white and yellows and greens convey a peaceful feeling.
The sampler: A must if you want to learn something about honeys.
This bulgur salad was delightful and I would eat it every week if I could!
The apple dessert was my favorite.
This was a revisited tiramisu. The plating was a bit messy, the contrasts in flavors was just so-so. B+
L’Atelier du Miel also offers housemade confections (made with honey instead of sugar); since I crave sweets on a regular basis, but I am trying very hard to ban refined white sugar from my diet, I was tempted. I tried the mann wsalwa, a type of chewy divinity studded with nuts, and I tried the maamouls, both very good. In addition, they offer workshops at their restaurant location,in case you would like to learn how to make candied chestnuts and many other foodie delights, (all with honey, of course).
I was very fortunate to be invited last Spring to a treasure hunt which included brunch and a tour of the estate of a well-known socialite and businesswoman in Lebanon, Alice Eddé. I was eager to attend, curious to learn more about her, an American, and get a sense of how she had adapted to Lebanon and left her mark. I merely knew that she and her husband, Roger Eddé, owned a luxury Mediterranean beach resort in Byblos (Jbeil), Eddé Sands, which rivaled the best five-star Caribbean resorts in terms of amenities, in addition to its location in Byblos, a charming medieval port city with an 8,000 year history, “the longest inhabited city in the world”.
We were expected at their private mansion and brunch was served outdoors in the courtyard overlooking their vast expanse of gardens. It felt like being back in California visiting Hearst Castle. Bronze statues decked the rolling hills, and the landscape was a mixture of palm trees, ancient oaks, junipers, with acres of green grass, sprinkled with birds of paradise here and there and other tropical plants, and in a large cage a splendid peacock. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming and the setting felt as if one stepped into Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland.
The brunch was superlative. The tables were laid out with fresh flowers and beautiful chintz table covers. There was a fresh juice table, an omelet station, freshly picked veggies and flowers artfully displayed in wicker baskets, and a bread station with fresh puffy sesame bread in pretty wooden bowls. Nearby, a saj manned by a sweet lady who rolled fresh dough for manaeesh to order. Absolutely nothing was missing, the food was bursting with freshness and the tables were colorful and cheery. The crowd was delighted, including the Italian ambassador and his wife who were also included in the guest list.
Alice Eddé minutes prior to her short speech welcoming the crowd.
From the brunch we were to partake in a rally paper which took us in turn to a medieval chapel nearby which was having its icons painstakingly restored, Alice’s enormous nursery housing every plant under the sun (supplying her resort and shops) to finally end the tour at the old Byblos souk where the couple had created a cluster of shops, EddéYard.
Byblos boasts an 8,000 year history and one can visit crusaders era churches there and many other historical buildings; but it is its souk, a succession of cobblestone pedestrian alleys lined on both sides by sundry shops with the preserved vaulted ceilings and stone architecture which is the most alluring. Thanks to the Eddé and their passion for Byblos, the souk has experienced a revival and has become a model of successful restoration for all of Lebanon. The Eddé, and Alice in particular, have focused on promoting local talents, be it artists, craftsmen or women of all trades, to supply their array of shops. We toured the tiny bookstore, Gibran (named after the famous Khalil Gibran) specializes in books, etchings, posters, stamps, postcards, celebrating Lebanon. A jewel of a bookshop.
In the spice shop, we discussed how the shop manager sources local herbs and spices (he appeared very picky), and could not resist smelling and gawking at the enormous jute bags filled with dried herbs. I promised myself I’d be back and spend time there uninterrupted.
The day was winding down, and we were casually led to the é-café, an open air café right in the souk, with tables and even a bar with awning. We were offered some fresh fav beans and peas to munch on with our drinks and finally a robust meal of the best steak and frites with excellent wine and dessert.
What a dream of a day!
NOTE: If you are visiting Lebanon for the first time, or if you are living in the country but looking for a day of leisure and pampering, I’d highly recommend to head on over there into Alice’s world…
Anushabur is the name of a wheat berries and dried fruits (and nuts) pudding from the Armenian tradition for Christmas and the New Year. My darling online friend Sylva Titizian sent me her detailed recipe and I am sharing it now, slightly adapted.
Anushabur, as Sylva says, means “sweet porridge”; she mentions that it always has to be on a Christmas or New Year table.
Wheat berries for all peoples of the Levant are a symbol of celebration, harvest, and abundance (versus famine).
Beirut is a chocoholic’s dream city. Every city corner (or about) has one chocolate shop or another. It is part of the Lebanese social mores to offer a box of chocolates as a hostess gift or for any occasion deemed of significance. Well the Lebanese chocolate landscape, made-up mostly of local chocolate houses, has been endowed with a world-famous Belgian chocolate house, Galler. I peeked-in recently and wanted to report on my findings.
Galler is the name of Jean Galler, a pastry and chocolate chef who discovered his passion for chocolate at the age of 16. Galler trained at Lenôtre and chocolate masters in Paris and Switzerland, receiving the medal of “Best bakery-pastry chef apprentice of Belgium” in 1974. He took his talent, passion and energy as far as he could, first opening his own chocolate factory in Belgium, then expanding his retail outlets all over the world. Galler chocolate shops are now found from Dubai to Brussels or Paris. The Galler shop is elegant and understated, with a bright and warm color palette of golden pine and oranges. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. The range of choices is exhaustive, with flavors from the most classic to the most creative (such as curry and matcha!). The shop also carries sugar-free chocolate bars, candies such as mendiant or truffles or macarons, and a line of pastes such as hazelnut, caramel or cocoa. All the chocolate is made using the most stringent international standards of hygiene and quality and palm oil is NOT used. The chocolates are made and flown directly from Belgium.
I had to try some. Bittersweet.
The chocolate tasted delicious, and was silky smooth. The hallmark of a superior chocolate. The chocolate snapped crisply and was glossy and perfectly tempered; it was extra creamy with a lingering aroma. I then got a hold of an 85% cocoa bar, and plan to use it to make chocolate mousse tomorrow. Nothing equals superior chocolate to cook and bake with! Next, I will try the hazelnut paste on my baguette for a weekend treat.
The only drawback (for me personally) is that the shop is located outside of Beirut proper in a dense suburban area off the highway in Zalka. I hope they deliver!
Following Lebanese customs, they have devoted a second floor of their shop to discuss chocolate gifts and arrangements with their clientele for special occasions.
Galler Chocolatiers, Zalka, Le Baron Center, Ground Floor, Metn, Lebanon.
I have had the opportunity to collaborate with the brand MAGGI the past year and a half, and feel compelled to report on this very positive experience.
MAGGI is a division of the Swiss food giant Nestlé and has been firmly implanted in Lebanon (and the Middle East) for as long as I remember. Corner markets in the most remote villages carried MAGGI bouillon cubes in three flavors (chicken, beef or veggie) and housewives used them to add a je-ne-sais-quoi flavor to soups and stews and other homemade dishes.
Between this era and now came the food trends, such as vegetarianism, veganism, the Atkins diet, the fatfree diet, the glutenfree diet, the Paleo diet, the Keto diet and a host of others (I forgot most of them) along with the organic, natural food movement. Along with these surfaced reports in the media denouncing any type of packaged food as inherently bad or even toxic, and the company producing them as venal and solely profit-driven.
Personally, here is what I have concluded: Large, powerful companies can implement at 100% the type of quality control, hygiene, food preservation standards one would wish them abide by. It is a lot harder for smaller companies, almost impossible, as it eats greatly into profit. It is very expensive to make food products that are natural and healthy and stick to international health standards. MAGGI is following these standards to the letter, and I feel totally safe using their products.
Here are my findings, resulting from my interaction with this brand and their products.
I had, of course, used the classic bouillon cubes, but I’d like to report on the new products which are much more adapted to our busy lifestyle and geared to the Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cook in particular (with spicemixes such as kabsa or zaatar or hot chili).
A new chicken stock cube, with a layer of natural dried herbs compressed on top. (I carried it in my car for a while and the scent of chicken soup was wafting outside the package).
A line of spice mixes and a white sauce mix (Béchamel) for quick and flavorful dinners such as zaatar, Indian Masala, Kabsa, Chinese, Seafood, Shawarma, Hot and Spicy, Lemon and Pepper, Coriander and garlic.
A line of soups Excellence such as Pumpkin, Chicken with corn, Asparagus, Spinach, Broccoli, Mushroom.
The classic MAGGI soups such as Tomato and Beef Oat, Cream of Chicken, Mushroom, Vegetable, Chicken Oat, Lentil, Chicken with ABC pasta, etc.
I have used a number of these in my cooking and I noticed that they added a layer of flavor and enhanced the dishes noticeably. The mixes were a lifesaver in terms of ease of use and literally allowed one to make a wholesome meal in just minutes. As for the chicken stock, its strong chicken/herby flavor is a boost to just about anything requiring a liquid, be it soup, sauces, marinades, or even crumbled-up as a crust on roasted protein. (Check out this salmon recipe below)
In addition to visiting one of MAGGI’s factories (in Dubai) and meeting the executive chef Mehdi Katanbaf, I attended a conference hosted by Nestlé Middle East focused on highlighting the changes and directions MAGGI was implementing and following with speakers such as international nutritionist and public health expert Sarah Kanaan and nutritionist Lynn Al Khatib. The foremost goal was stated as follows:
To provide ingredients people love and would find in their cupboard. The coined “kitchen cupboard” motto; however, the parameters are as follow:
Make the food healthier, by cutting out trans fat, reducing salt and sugar,
and saturated fats. MAGGI is also increasing veggies, grains, seeds, nuts and legumes in their products.
MAGGI’s brand values are in line with mine and those of millions of consumers the world over.
“Kitchen Cupboard”. Creating products with flavors that people love
Putting nutrition at the core of the efforts in creating these products
Transmitting the goodness of “homemade” in cooking
Caring from field to home.
Check out this salmon recipe (quick and easy) for an elegant and fuss free meal.
Anyone who has grown-up in Lebanon will attest to the fact that zaatar is as essential to a Lebanese as milk and cereal to an American. Most of us also recognize that we will not get the best zaatar from a supermarket’s shelf. The lucky ones could count on a grandma or aunt who would painstakingly harvest the wild herb, dry it, take it to the mill and mix it with the traditional sumac, sesame seeds and salt. Lacking the benevolent relative, one had the option of a day-trip at a monastery somewhere in the Lebanese mountains or a producer at a farmer’s market. Any of the aforementioned options being infinitely better than an industrially produced zaatar mix containing more dust than flavor, and in which the sprigs are routinely milled with the leaves to increase volume and profit. Zaatar in our collective psyche is always packaged in a basic plastic bag with a sticker and a handwritten price. No frills and no surprises.
Well this is no longer the case. A new zaatar has appeared recently with a whimsical logo, clever branding and the revolutionary concept of many new zaatar mixes to choose from, not just the perennial classic zaatar mix of our grandmas and ancestors. This zaatar concept, The Good Thymes, is the brainchild of graphic designer Fadi Aziz and his entourage of zaatar devotees.
Here is why I personally was sold on this new product:
Quality: This is a superior zaatar grown in South Lebanon where climate conditions ensure the best flavor.
Artisan product: Here the zaatar is produced in an artisan fashion, manually harvested, dried and milled by experts in the community.
Creativity: Here zaatar is taken out of its stifling use as a condiment for labneh or a topping for manooshe for breakfast. With nine different mixes encompassing 48 different ingredients (from goji berries, to cranberries, pistachios, ginger, sumac, dried limes, to name a few). This concept is thus freeing the confines of zaatar to allowing the cook to use zaatar is many composed meals and layers of flavors with other foods.
Values: Fadi Aziz insists on hiring locals from his community, even if it means higher cost and less profit. He has also hired physically challenged people, in order to help them out and involve them in the business. When it comes to the direction of his business, he prefers to stay hands-on, as an artisan producer, with a keen concern for quality. He has embraced the help of seasoned zaatar growers, such as world zaatar expert Abu Kassem.
Taste: I have tasted many of the varieties on display and really liked the zaatar flavor and the different combos. I am going back to try the zaatar and keshek(made with goat yogurt) combo!
This is a bedside book, a “Bible” for anyone interested in health, nutrition and food and learning how they are intertwined.
It’s an arduous book, dense with scientific facts and lingo, yet it is an entertaining one as well; Dr Michael Fenster never forgets to be the teacher. He knows how to lighten the load with puns and popular Hollywood or television references. But his teaching is thorough and irrefutable. He demonstrates through exhaustive analyses how our modern societies have paradoxically become victimized by technology and so-called progress when it comes to our most vital need: sustenance.
He uncovers the myths and lies and treacheries perpetrated at the macro level and gets down to the nitty-gritty: Is salt really the culprit?
Are grains really what they need to be?
What type of fat do we need to stay away from?
What is sugar doing to our body?
Do calories matter?
Reading this book will be a source of tremendous relief. Dr. Fenster’s manifesto is a permission to live well, to eschew quantity for quality, to make sound and enlightened food choices. The book opens a new life chapter, and leaves the reader wanting for more.
Lebanon’s most famous wine producer, Ksara was founded in 1857 by Jesuit priests. It is Lebanon’s oldest and largest winery and the third most visited tourist attraction. When the winery was founded, Lebanon was under Islamic Ottoman rule; the Ottoman masters in Istanbul allowed the production of wine as long as it was used for religious purposes. Lebanon’s first red wine was created in the monastery and Ksara’s wine making tradition began. Of course, one cannot describe Ksara without mentioning its iconic caves, a truly remarkable subterranean structure dating back to Roman times (most probably built at the same period as the temple of Bacchus in Baalbek nearby). These mile-and-a-half-long caves were used as cellars as they provided the ideal temperature and humidity levels to store the wines.
Château Ksara’s core values are tradition, nobility and modernity. This is exemplified by its history and allegiance to its past, its constant effort on the part of both field workers and management to achieve the best and finest wines, and finally its adherence to international standards and state-of-the-art technology in production.
Some of the notable dates in its history include 1902, when the First observatory in the Middle East was established at Ksara in order for the monks to record rainfall and seismic activity. This landmark building gave rise to a wine bearing its name Le Blanc de l’Observatoire. In 1973, the estate was offered for sale as the Vatican felt its commercial success was not aligned with its religious objectives. At the time, the estate was selling 1.5 million bottles of wine annually. A radical change occurred in 1991-92 when Ksara planted noble grapes Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Semillon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. These thrived in the Lebanese terroir and produced fine wines garnering international applause.
In 2007 The winery celebrated its 150 year anniversary and created for the occasion Le Souverain.
Registrar Corp (Assistance with US FDA regulations)
2013 Le Souverain (Vinalies Internationales Gold 2017)
2015 Chardonnay (Chardonney du Monde 2017)
2015 Réserve du Couvent (Berliner Wine Trophy)
2017 Sunset (Sélections Mondiales des Vins Canada)
2016 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence
2017 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence
I am luckier than most in that I am spending my Summers in the Chouf Mountains in Lebanon and all the veggies are local or homegrown in our kitchen garden. In any case, here is a simple dish using a bunch of veggies and a MAGGI soup mix for a quick and easy boost of flavor. The veggies can be interchangeable of course, based on what you have at hand. It is similar to a crustless quiche.