Lebanon is one of the most famous Mediterranean tourist destinations. Before a long war slowed down the flow of visitors, Lebanon was known as the Switzerland of the Mediterranean. Boulevards, beaches, and casinos resemble the French Cote d’Azur. Lebanon is a country extremely rich in history and has monuments dating back to the Phoenicians. Forests, rivers, and green valleys are also favorite Lebanese tourist spots.
There are many similarities in the dishes of the different Middle Eastern countries. The names are also similar because Arabic is the main language soken in the southern and eastern side of the Mediterranean. On the other hand, to believe that all cooking of these countries is the same is wrong. Lebanon especially, with its multicultural and cosmopolitan population, combines European cuisine with the flavors and exotic foods of the Far East.
One of the peculiarities of Lebanese cuisine is the way the food is served, referred to as Mezze. This method of serving food is part of the way family and guests are entertained. It can be compared to the Tapas of Spain or to the Antipasto of Italy. While Tapas and Antipasto are snacks or an introduction to the meal, Mezze instead represents the whole meal.
A variety of different dishes is placed in front of the guests producing an assortment of flavors, colors, and fragrances. Mezze can be pickled vegetables, kibbeh, taboule, hommus and baba ganouche, raw salads, grilled marinated seafood, or meat skewers, all served accompanied by pita bread seasoned with zahtar (thyme-sumac seasoning) and olive oil.
Anice flavored liqueurs are common in all Mediterranean countries, with Pernod in France or Sambuca in Italy, and Lebanon is no exception; here Arak, a strong spirit, is the national drink. To finish, Baklava with honey and pistachio is served for dessert together with a strong coffee.
When Antoinette was a young girl she spent most of her summer vacations in her aunts hotel on the Lebanon mountainside, were she could escape the hot Mediterranean weather. And there, she found the hotel kitchen irresistible to spend time in, learning how to prepare all the different types of food. During the rest of the year, her mother, Regina, a great cook herself, would teach her home cooking. This is how Antoinette became a master in Lebanese cuisine.
These days it’s very easy for anyone to arrange a dish of Baba Ganoush or Hommus using the packages available in the grocery stores. But Antoinette will not compromise the quality of her food. Today, she’ll teach us how to prepare these two classic Middle Eastern dishes from scratch, using their basic ingredients.