Friday, July 4, 2014

A Lebanese Mezze

The food of Lebanon is very similar to the rest of the Middle East. Lot's of healthy and fresh ingredients of the region come together to make meals filled with several dishes. Dinner is always preceded by a "mezze", or appetizers that are nibbled on for a couple of hours before the actual meal. Dozens of small plates can make up a mezze, and it can sometimes become the meal itself (like in our case).

On tonight's menu is kibbeh and tabbouleh. Kibbeh is the national dish of Lebanon, and it is seldom served without a colorful bulgur salad called tabbouleh. By themselves they make great mezze platters, but combined with some accompaniments, they make a great meal.

No Lebanese meal is complete without pita bread and labneh cheese. Enjoy some fresh baked bread spread with the labneh, drizzled with olive oil, and topped with a little sea salt. It makes a great accompaniment to any Middle Eastern meal.
I think tabbouleh might be the prettiest salad ever. It's great for you, too. Served tucked into leaves of romaine lettuce, this salad packs in whole grains, fresh herbs, and fresh produce. My mom and dad liked it, Harper said she would have loved it without the tomatoes, and Sydney said it tasted good as well. Carson, unfortunately, would not let a spoonful of it come close to her face. She is getting closer and closer to 2 every day...

serves 6
1 cup bulgur
1 cup boiling water
5 green onions
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup fresh parsley
2 tomatoes, seeded and cored
¼ cup olive oil
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the bulgur and boiling water in a large bowl with a lid. Cover and set aside for 1 hour. Thinly slice the green onions, dice up the tomatoes, and finely chop the fresh herbs. Mix everything together in the bowl with the cooked bulgur. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to let the flavors blend.

Kibbeh is a dish loved all over the Middle East. It can be served raw, fried in a ball, or baked. I baked ours because I like to avoid getting worms and foodborne illnesses. I was surprised to find cinnamon and allspice found mixed in with the ground meat and onions. It lended to a great flavor that I would not have expected. My dad said it tasted like Cincinnati chili. Meatloaf fans will love this dish as it is very similar to the favorite comfort food.

Baked Kibbeh
serves 6
For the filling:
½ lb ground beef or lamb
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1 onion, finely chopped
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp salt
dash of ground black pepper

For the outer mixture:
1 lb ground beef or lamb
2/3 cup bulgur
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1 onion, finely chopped
½ tsp salt
dash of ground black pepper
olive oil, to drizzle

To make the filling, heat the oil over medium heat in a pan. Add the onion and cook for about 8 minutes, or until golden. Add the meat and seasonings. Cook, chopping up the meat with a wooden spoon, until there is no more pink. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the pine nuts.

To make the outer mixture, soak the bulgur in 2 cups of cold water for 30 minutes. Drain through a fine mesh sieve. Mix the onion, spices, and ground meat. Add the bulgur. Mix until everything is well combined.

To assemble, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Divide the outer meat and bulgur mixture in half. Spread one half evenly out in the bottom of an 8” round baking stone. Top with the cooked filling mixture. Seal everything in with the remaining raw outer meat mixture. Press everything down evenly, and make crisscrosses across the top. Sprinkle olive oil over it. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the center is 160 degrees.

We all thought that the Lebanese food was okay. Nothing spectacular, but not bad at all. the meat was a little dry in the kibbeh, so I would recommend a fattier choice of beef or lamb. The tabbouleh was very good, but everyone said that they would prefer it without the tomato. (I made some for myself without tomatoes since I am allergic, and it was very good.) I think we could all survive in Lebanon, and I am sure it is a very interesting place. Today, though, I am proud to be an American and celebrate the food cultures of the world while living in one of the best nations on earth. Happy 4th of July! Enjoy Lebanon from this side of the world. (A much more peaceful one thankfully.)

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