Lebanese cuisine is the culinary traditions and practices originating from Lebanon. It includes an abundance of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fresh fish and seafood. Poultry is eaten more often than red meat, and when red meat is eaten, it is usually lamb and goat meat. It also includes copious amounts of garlic and olive oil, often seasoned with lemon juice. Chickpeas and parsley are also staples of the Lebanese diet.
Well known savoury dishes include baba ghanouj, a dip made of char-grilled eggplant; falafel, small deep-fried patties made of highly spiced ground chickpeas, fava beans, or a combination of the two; and shawarma, a sandwich with marinated meat skewered and cooked on large rods. An important component of many Lebanese meals is hummus, a dip or spread made of blended chickpeas, sesame tahini, lemon juice, and garlic, typically eaten with flatbread. A well known dessert is baklava, which is made of layered filo filled with nuts and steeped in date syrup or honey. Some desserts are specifically prepared on special occasions: the meghli for instance, is served to celebrate a newborn baby in the family.
Arak is an anise flavoured liqueur, and is the Lebanese national drink, usually served with a traditional convivial Lebanese meal. Another historic and traditional drink is Lebanese wine.
HistoryLebanese cuisine is an ancient one and part of the cuisine of the Levant. Many dishes in Lebanese cuisine can be traced back thousands of years to eras of Roman, Greek, Persian, Byzantine, Arab, Egyptian, and Phoenician rule. In the last 500 years, Lebanese cuisine has been influenced by the different foreign civilizations that held power. From 1516 to 1918, the Ottoman Turks controlled Lebanon and introduced a variety of foods that have become staples in the Lebanese diet, such as cooking with lamb. After the Ottomans were defeated in World War I, France took control of Lebanon until 1943, when the country achieved its independence. The French introduced foods such as flan, a caramel custard dessert dating back to the 16th century AD, eclairs, french fries and croissants.
The Lebanese diaspora who live worldwide have introduced new ingredients, spices and culinary practices into Lebanese cuisine, keeping the cuisine innovative and renowned both beyond and within its borders.
OverviewMost often foods are grilled, baked or lightly cooked in olive oil; butter or cream is rarely used other than in a few desserts. Vegetables are often eaten raw, pickled, or cooked. Like most Mediterranean countries, much of what the Lebanese eat is dictated by the seasons and what is available. Lebanese cuisine also varies by region. South Lebanon is famous for its kibbe, the Beqaa Valley for its meat pastries, and north Lebanon and Saida for its sweets.In Lebanon, very rarely are drinks served without being accompanied by food. Similar to the tapas of Spain, mezeluri of Romania and aperitivo of Italy, mezze is an array of small dishes placed before the guests creating an array of colors, flavors, textures and aromas. This style of serving food is less a part of family life than it is of entertaining and cafés. Mezze may be as simple as raw or pickled vegetables, hummus, baba ghanouj and bread, or it may become an entire meal consisting of grilled marinated seafood, skewered meats and a variety of cooked and raw salads and an arrangement of desserts. The assortments of dishes forming the mezze are generally consumed in small bites using a piece of flatbread. A typical mezze will consist of an elaborate variety of thirty hot and cold dishes and may include:
- Salads such as tabbouleh and fattoush, together with dip such as hummus, baba ghanoush.''
- Kebbeh and falafel.
- Some patties such as the sambusac.
- Stuffed grape leaves and pickles.
- Roasted nuts, olives and vegetables.
- Condiments like toum and taratour, ideal for spread on sfiha.
Although simple fresh fruits are often served towards the end of a Lebanese meal, there is also dessert, such as baklava and coffee. When sweets are not available, fruits are typically eaten after meals, including figs, oranges and other citrus fruits, apples, grapes, cherries and green plums. Although baklava is the most internationally known dessert, there is a great variety of Lebanese desserts.
Dishes and ingredientsLebanese dishes are heavily influenced by the multiple civilisations that have existed within the region, especially the Arab-Muslim contribution, which has accumulated together to form the modern Lebanese cuisine we know today. Using fresh, flavourful ingredients and refined spices, the Lebanese combine the best of Turkish and Arab cuisine with a French twist. This is especially noticeable in the prevalence of the use of the lamb, the abundant use of nuts, especially almonds and pine nuts, and dressings made from lemon juice.
BreadThe Lebanese use bread as an integral part of a meal and food is generally not served without it. Khubz is a round flatbread baked in a mud oven. It can be used in almost all kinds of Lebanese dishes. Similarly, taboon bread is traditionally baked in a taboon oven or a tannur, and is similar to the various tandoor breads found in many parts of Asia. Marquq is a similar bread to khubz, but is prepared much thinner, almost paper thin.
Manaeesh traditionally garnished with cheese, za'atar, spicy diced tomatoes and may be eaten for breakfast. These are made in many variants in any number of local bakeries or Furns, Some bakeries allow customers to bring their own toppings in order to build their own customized manaeesh for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Variants include manakousheh zaatar and manakousheh jebneh which has only cheese. Manaeesh can also be eaten with minced meat and onions.
Ka'ak is another common Lebanese street bread that is usually consumed as a snack. There are many variations of ka'ak, from being sprinkled with traditional sesame seeds on top, to being stuffed with cheese and zaatar.
DairyCheese is common in Lebanon and the traditional cheeses originate from all over the world. Ackawi, named after the city Acre is a salty white cheese made from pasteurized cow's milk but can also be made with goat or sheepmilk.
Halloum is a semi-hard unripened cheese, perfect for grilling and frying. Along with Ackawi, these are traditionally stored in brine giving them a strong, salty taste, however modern methods have allowed a variety to be sold fresher with moderate salting.
Nabulsi, also spelled Naboulsi, is similar to halloumi and is made by boiling fresh ackawi cheese in a mixture of spices and seeds to be fried, grilled or eaten and is used in the important and integral dessert, knafeh, a cheese pastry soaked in a sugar based syrup.
Another popular cheese, shanklish, is made from cow's milk which is salted, fermented and seasoned with thyme and pepper and formed into cheese balls, coated in red pepper chilli flakes.
Kashkaval is a cheese popular in many Eastern European countries that made its way into Lebanese cusine. It melts very quickly and is practical for pasta, pizza and sandwiches.
Ejjeh is the traditional omelette of Lebanon. It is made with egg, chopped parsley and scallions. Within Lebanon, people make this omelette with different herbs that are cultivated from their village.
Labneh is strained yogurt which is spreadable and garnished with good olive oil and sea salt. A variant of this, labneh bi toum is mixed with garlic.
StewsLebanese stews, often served with rice or flatbread, are prepared in many varieties depending on the accessibility of various ingredients. Daoud Bacha, another meat-based stew consists of beef meatballs with cinammon, parsley and stuffed with pinenuts in a tomato sauce and tomato stew|leftOkra stew is another popular, hearty tomato based stew. This stew combines the distinct flavor of okra with a flavourful tomato sauce. A alternative version to this, bamya bel lahmeh adds small pieces of fillet lamb or beef that have been sautéed beforehand to avoid a boiled taste.
chicken stew, served with rice, vinegar, onions and toasted pita bread
Mulukhiyah is a stew with mallow leaves, chicken, beef, and in the Lebanese fashion, topped with raw chopped onions, and vinegar. In northern Lebanon, a similar dish to Mulukhiyah is called mloukhiye b'zeit. it is made using fresh leaves and shoots of the Nalta jute plant, cooked in olive oil, onions, garlic, tomatoes and chilli peppers; it is a popular summer side dish, especially in Miniyeh-Danniyeh and Akkar districts. In summer one of the easiest and simplest ways to make use of the abundant summer zucchini is Mfaraket Koussa.
Bean stews are commonplace due to the accessibility of various beans grown. A example of a mixed bean Lebanese stew is makhlouta which is prepared with a variety of beans, wheat, and legumes and is popular in the town of Baskinta. Others include fava bean stew, kidney bean stew and another kidney and lentil stew called mjadrat fasoulya popular in Rashaya. Taro and lentil stew and spinach stew are a few more of the many different stews available.
Vegetarian cuisine plays an important, and specific role in the cuisine of Lebanon. Being located in the Levant, vegetables and herbs are abundant in the fertile landscape and serve as a main base of the cuisine. Some of the most popular street foods in Lebanon are vegetarian including fava beans, hot roasted peanuts served in a paper cone, prickly pears, ful medames and balila.
Nearly everything can be cooked either with meat or b’zeit, from beans to fish, stews and spinach. Meat was traditionally precious and usually served on a Sunday, but was expensive and usually eaten with bulgur or rice to prolong the shelf life. For Lebanese Christians, Catholic and Orthodox Christians, fasting from meat is practiced over the Lenten period during Easter. Where abstention of meat is observed, the food is referred to as 'akl aateh', the particular food that is "cut" varies over different traditions.
Saladsis made with khubz flatbread, cucumbers, tomatoes, chickweed, and mint. Tabbouleh is a diced parsley salad with burghul wheat, tomato, mint and served with lettuce, eaten within a mezze or as a standalone dish as a precursor to a main course.
Stuffed dishesis a dish commonly served as a mezze and is stuffed with either rice and meat or just rice. Another stuffed dish kousa mahshi consists of various kinds of squash or zucchini stuffed with rice and sometimes meat and cooked on the stovetop or in the oven.
Chickpea-based dishesChickpea dishes include falafel, hummus and its variants including, Hummus Ras Asfour and Fateh b'hummus,. Balila, is a simple Lebanese dish that has been boiled along with lemon juice, garlic and various spices.
Aubergine dishes are common in Lebanon. They include well known dishes such as baba ghanouj, mutabbel and makdous, a stuffed eggplant dish served with olive oil. Fried aubergine is also served alongside other fried vegetables including potatoes, courgettes onions and tomatoes. Usually referred to as a "mixed fry up". One of the most popular dishes in the Levant is fatteh and the popular variant fatet batinjan is served with yoghurt, fried bread and aubergine, served with mate. Unlike the Greek style, Lebanese moussaka is a vegetarian eggplant dish, made with fried eggplant simmered in an onion and tomato sauce with chickpeas.
Bean and legume dishesLebanese style ful is a slow cooked mash of brown beans and red lentils dressed with lemon, olive oil, cumin and is best served with various vegetables and pita/khubz. Riz bil-Foul is another dish with fava beans, seasoned with various spices and served with rice. Mujaddara is a popular dish found throughout the Middle East and consists of cooked lentils together with wheat or rice, garnished with onions that have been 'sauteed'.
Meats----Lebanese meat dishes are usually made with chicken or lamb, though pork is also eaten. However, meat is expensive everywhere and not always readily available. Dehen, somewhat like a meat shortening made from lamb suet, fried lamb pieces and spices, is often used to give dishes a light meaty flavour without the expense of bulk meat. Habra is essential for most dishes involving lamb. It is the foundation for many popular dishes including habra nayeeh, kibbeh nayyeh, kafta nayyeh and others including variants of kibbeh. The fillet needs to be prepared and chilled for a minimum of 2 hours, and can even be prepared one day in advance.
Mixed meatis a commonly found form of street food made with slow-cooked skewered meat that is thinly sliced and served as a sandwich with toppings such as onions, pickles and tomatoes. Styles of this dish include shawarma lahmeh, grilled meat with parsley, onion and tarator and shawarma djeij which is grilled poultry with toum and lettuce.
Sambousek is a small stuffed pastry often filled with meat and served as an appetizer. Though usually filled with ground beef or lamb, sambousek can also be filled with cheese or other fillings.
Kibbeh is a filled bulgur dough made with ground meat and can be made in different forms including fried, uncooked, baked, and all may be served with yogurt. Some regional versions of kibbeh are a pumpkin-flavoured kebbe lakteen and kebbe zghartweih which is a oven-cooked version popular in Ehden.
Kubideh is a type of kebab served with pivaz, a relish made of minced parsley, onions, ground cumin and sumac.
Kafta is made with spiced ground meat that is shaped into small patties or rolled into meatball-shaped balls which are then baked, pan-fried or charcoal-grilled on skewers. Kafta is served with bread and other side dishes.
- Barout del batata – spicy lamb served with potatoes
- Deleh mehshi – stuffed rib cage of lamb.
- Laban Immo – cooked yoghurt and lamb with rice.
- Kafta meshwi – minced lamb mixed with finely chopped onion and parsley, broiled on a skewer over charcoal.
- Qawarma – originates from a centuries-old custom that was to buy a fat-tailed lamb in the spring and force-feed it day and night with mulberry and grape leaves, wheat hulls and other ingredients ending in a succulent chopped lamb dish, salted and kept in the grease of the animal.
- Lahm bil ajĩn – a pastry covered with mutton minced meat, onions, and nuts from the Lebanese town of Baalbek.
- Shish barak – meat dumplings in yogurt sauce.
- Khash – boiled sheep parts, which might include the head, feet, and stomach.
- Chich taouk – charcoaled grilled chicken marinated with garlic lemon and various oriental spices
- Djaj meshwi – grilled, spiced mildly chicken on bbq marinated with a garlic lemon sauce.
- Farrouj meshwi – grilled chicken, served with garlic sauce.
- Jwenih – chicken wings cooked with coriander, garlic and lemon, served as mezze.
- Riz bi-djaj – chicken and rice.
- Shish taouk – grilled chicken skewers that utilize only white meat, marinated in olive oil, lemon, parsley, and sumac, served on a bed of rice with almonds and pine nuts.
- Pastirma – cured, seasoned dried beef, introduced by the Ottomans.
- Tabbouleh bi dehn – another version of tabbouleh and is cooked with lentils and beef ghee.
- Ghameh – a delicacy of stuffed cow intestines.
- Kafta bithine – spiced meat with sesame concentrate, popular in Beit ed-Dine.
- Samkeh harra – grilled fish that has been marinated with chili, citrus, and cilantro.
- Akhtabout – grilled octopus.
- Siyyadiyeh – delicately spiced fish served on a bed of rice. Fish cooked in saffron and served on rice with onions, sumac, and a tahini sauce originated in Sidon.
The modern form of Lebanese desserts have been influenced by Ottoman cuisine and share many similarties with other neighbouring countries. Muhallebi, a milk pudding made with rice, milk and sugar. Like many other Lebanese desserts, it is sweetened with atar syrup and served with a garnish of assorted nuts.
Barazeh, also found in Syrian cuisine, are cookies with a light and crumbly texture; one size is decorated with sesame seeds and the other pistachio. Ma'amoul are crumbly cookies filled with pistachio, walnuts or dates. Lebanese Christians serve ma'amoul with atar syrup for Easter, as well as a cake flavored with anise and mahlab. is a popular sweet anise infused cake decorated with almonds
Pastry shops in Tripoli offer baklava along with other local specialty pastries like halawet el jibn, filled with sweetened cheese and topped with atar, pistachios, clotted cream and rose jam. Baklava is made of a layered pastry filled with nuts and steeped in attar syrup, usually cut into a triangular or diamond shape when served, which is the particular style that originated in Lebanon. Znoud al-sit is a syrup-soaked rolled pastry filled with clotted cream and garnished in typical fashion with nuts, orange peels and dates to the 19th century. Kanafeh is a dessert stuffed with white cheese, nuts and syrup made with made with kadayif dough.
Semolina is used in the preparation of several Lebanese desserts like the pistachio-filled cookie karabij, flavored with mahlab and cinnamon, and served with natef, a topping similar to meringue. Mafroukeh is a semolina dough layered with caramel and butter, soaked in atar and served with clotted cream and assorted nuts. It can also be used to make cakes like nammoura. Sfouf is a cake made with semolina flour and tumeric. It is cake consumed on birthdays, family reunions, and religious holidays.
Lebanese ice cream is popular with its Asian flavors, including amar al-din made from dried apricot paste.
Condiments and spices
- is a spice used in many salads giving it a tangy, lemony taste along with Hummus and other dishes|alt=Tahini – sesame paste.
- Tarator – cucumber, yogurt, garlic and lemon dip.
- Toum – garlic sauce.
- Sumac – a tangy spice used in many salads.
- Za'atar – dried thyme and sumac that can differ from region to region and from family to family. Most are made in house, but can be bought at Lebanese larders.
- Lebanese Spice Blend – a mixture of equal parts of allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, nutmeg and ginger. It is commonly used to flavor many Lebanese dishes.
- Arabic coffee.
- Lebanese beer, also contains non-alcoholic versions made with malt instead of hops.
- Arak – an alcoholic beverage.
- Ayran – yogurt.
- Black coffee.
- Non-alcoholic beverage made from the carob tree.
- Jallab – sweet drink made from carob, dates, grape molasses and rose water.
- Lebanese wine – Lebanon is among the oldest sites of wine production in the world. The Phoenicians of its coastal strip were instrumental in spreading wine and viticulture throughout the Mediterranean in ancient times. Lebanons Beqaa Valley contains more than 30 vineyards, including the renowned Kefraya, Ksara and Château Musar labels.
- Mate – a caffeine-rich infused drink and is consumed frequently in Shouf and Aley. It was thought to have been brought from Argentina by immigrants in the Lebanese diaspora returning home, where its important ingredients are grown.
- Turkish coffee.