My trip to Lebanon was so rich with inspiration that I’m still, in a sense, unpacking. Perhaps those sorts of experiences, like the finest meals, are meant to be savored and digested slowly, thoughtfully, and gratefully (p. 21).
So writes Maureen Abood in the introduction to Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Fresh & Classic Recipes from My Lebanese Kitchen (Running Press 2015). Not going to Lebanon this year? It is also possible to make food memories like the ones she formed in her grandparent’s homeland by creating those dishes from her good cookbook and sharing that food with your family and friends.
Lebanese meals start with maza (mezze) and salads, so why not start with Labneh Cheese Preserved in Olive Oil (p. 55). These are little balls formed from well-drained yogurt, dried until they are firm, and then preserved in olive oil. To serve them, you dust them with za’atar or mint or cayenne pepper, though Aleppo pepper or Turkish red pepper would also be a good choice. For a July picnic try Warm Potato Salad with Lemon and Mint (p. 75) that uses olive oil instead of mayonnaise and Avocado Tabbouleh in Little Gems (p. 77). The key is the proportion – adding only a little bulgur to all the parsley and mint.
If tabbouleh is the national salad of Lebanon, the raw and cooked kibbeh is the national meat. There are six kibbeh recipes, including a Vegan Tomato Kibbeh (p. 108) that is essentially a tomato bulgur mash up. In the photograph by Jason Varney that accompanies the dish, there is a bowl of those lovely Labneh Cheese balls and another of olives and a few rounds of flat bread (p. 192). It is a perfect picnic for vegans, vegetarians, and everyone else. Of course you could add Grilled Lamb Skewers with Fresh Mint Sauce (p. 118) or Yogurt Marinated Chicken Skewers with Toum Garlic Sauce (p. 123) for an evening meal.
Rose Water & Orange Blossoms is full of the homey and flavorful recipes of Lebanon. Build your meals one recipe at a time – make the yogurt cheese, and you’ll find you want to make the pita bread to go with it, and then the kibbeh to eat with that, and then pickles, meats, salads, and soups to go with the bread. Soon, you’ll have a meal and then many more.