Lebanese meals consist of mainly grilled, baked, or sautéed dishes, comprised of starches, fruits, vegetables, seafood, garlic and olive oil, herbs, and lemons. I asked Upper School French teacher Micheline Ghattas some questions about her experience with Lebanese food and culture. When asked about the types of food she ate during her childhood and growing up, she said, “It was mostly home cooked meals, we rarely ate at restaurants, and on Sundays it was family day, meaning visit to Grandma’s house, the homestead in the hills overlooking Beirut, with aunts and uncles coming too with their families and the whole group would have a meal together and spend the day before going back home.” She said that the ingredients were very similar to typical Mediterranean fare: “A lot of fruits in season, oranges and apples and pears in winter and in the summer I loved the figs and the grapes.” She mentioned a long list of vegetables, and said that there was an abundance of olives since every family had to have a yearly supply of all kinds of olives, so they could be pickled and served at the end of a meal. In addition, she noted, “Many of the dishes would qualify as vegan dishes, but of course no one was thinking vegan when eating the lentils dish or the made from scratch hummus or baba ghannouj!”
Her most vivid memory is making her favorite, tabboule, from scratch, using fresh parsley, mint leaves, and tomatoes, to create a very colorful dish. Tabboule was made on special occasions when Lebanese people gathered in someone’s home. She made it with her family every time, and still does now! After tabboule, “The next best thing is something I still make here in the US and which my own kids absolutely love, we call it “labneh” and the best description of it is yogurt cheese, where you drain the yogurt of all water and it turns into something with the texture of cream cheese without the fat. It is great served with olive oil on a warmed up pita bread.”
Growing up with such a wide range of delicious and healthy foods, she says that if she were to choose a few dishes she thinks everyone should try, “the labneh and the tabboule are good, warmed up pita bread with anything (put it in the toaster before eating it! The smell is heavenly!).” As for restaurants in Portland that everyone should check out, she recommends Habibi, which is in downtown Portland (http://habibirestaurantpdx.com/), also Karam, on Stark Street(http://www.karamrestaurant.com/), and Hoda’s on Belmont (http://www.hodas.com/).
Et sahtein! (meaning may the food give you twice the good health)!
Image above citation: Picture: http://www.tasteofbeirut.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Labneh-and-herb-salad-2.jpg