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. Dishes include copious amounts of garlic and olive oil, and dishes are often seasoned with lemon juice. Chickpeas and parsley are also staples of the Lebanese diet.[1][2][3][4]

Well-known dishes include baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, sfeeha, falafel and shawarma.[5][6] An important component of many Lebanese meals is hummus, a chickpea puree dish, and many dishes are eaten with flatbread.[7][8][9] Well-known desserts include baklawa, sfouf and ka'ak.[10] Some desserts are specifically prepared on special occasions; for example, meghli (rice pudding dessert, spiced with anise, caraway, and cinnamon) is served to celebrate a newborn baby in the family.[11][12]

Arak is an anise-flavoured liquor, and is the Lebanese national drink, usually served with a traditional convivial Lebanese meal. Another historic and traditional drink is Lebanese wine.[13][14][15]

History

Lebanon (in red) is at the crossroads of the Mediterranean basin and the Arabian hinterlands, Western Asia
Lebanon (in red) is at the crossroads of the Mediterranean basin and the Arabian hinterlands, Western Asia

Lebanese cuisine has ancient roots and is part of the culinary tradition of the Eastern Mediterranean. Many dishes in Lebanese cuisine can be traced back thousands of years to eras of Phoenician, Persian, Egyptian, Neo-Babylonian, Roman, Greek, Byzantine, Arab and Ottoman rule.[16][17] 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 (1914–1918), France took control of Lebanon until 1943, when the country achieved its independence. The French introduced foods such as flan, caramel custard, eclairs, french fries and croissants.[18]

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.[19][20]

Overview

Most 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 (such as sfiha), and north Lebanon and Saida (Sidon) for its sweets.[21][22]

Typical Lebanese dining, with mezze and arak, taken at a restaurant in Beirut, Lebanon, 1950

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.[23][24] 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.[24]

A typical mezze will consist of an elaborate variety of 30 or so hot and cold dishes, which may include:

When dining as a family, the mezze typically consists of three or four dishes, but when served in the restaurant, the mezze can range from 20 to 60 dishes, as the variant combinations and dishes involved are plenty.[28] Family cuisine also offers a range of dishes, such as stews (yakhneh) which can be cooked in many forms depending on the ingredients used and are usually served with meat and rice.[29][30]

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 (janarek).[31][32] Although baklava is the most internationally known dessert, there is a great variety of Lebanese desserts.[33]

Dishes and ingredients

Lebanese dishes are heavily influenced by the multiple civilisations that have existed within the region, which has accumulated together to form the modern Lebanese cuisine we know today. Using fresh, flavourful ingredients and spices, Lebanese cuisine combines Turkish, Arab, and French cooking styles. Characteristics include the use of lamb (introduced by the Ottomans); the abundant use of nuts (especially almonds and pine nuts), and dressings made from lemon juice.[34]

Bread

The Lebanese use bread, usually flatbread, as an integral part of a meal and food is generally not served without it.[35]

Dairy

Cheese, as well as yogurt and eggs, are commonly used in Lebanon.[43] One of the more recognizable dishes within Lebanon is labneh. Unlike regular yogurt, labneh is strained so as to remove the watery whey, leaving a thicker, creamier consistency. It is spreadable and garnished with olive oil and sea salt.[44] It is an extremely versatile dish that can be served in a mezze platter for either breakfast or dinner. A variant is mixed with garlic.[44] Ejjeh is the traditional omelette of Lebanon.[45] It is made with egg, chopped parsley and scallions. Within Lebanon, people make this omelette with different herbs that are cultivated from their village.[46][47]

The traditional cheeses of Lebanon originate from around the world
Kashkaval cheese originates in Balkan cuisine
Nabulsi cheese is named after Nablus in Palestine
Halloumi cheese originates in Cyprus
Akkawi cheese from the city Akka
Feta cheese originates in Balkan cuisine

Cheeses

Stews

Lebanese stews, often served with rice or flatbread, are made with ingredients found locally available.

Vegetarian

Vegetarian cuisine plays an important role in the cuisine of Lebanon. Being located in the Levant, vegetables and herbs (wild or cultivated) are abundant in the fertile landscape and serve as a main base of the cuisine.[69] For Lebanese Christians, including Catholic (Maronites and Melkites) and Orthodox, fasting from meat is practiced over the Lenten period (from midnight to noon) during Easter. Where abstention of meat is observed, the food is referred to as akl aateh (meaning food "cut" from the diet, such as meat or absent from meat). The particular food that is "cut" varies over different traditions.[70]

Locally sourced vegetables and herbs are key ingredients within Lebanese cuisine
Ingredients for fattoush
Vegetables including radishes for sale in a Beirut market
Fruits for sale including pears and apples
Traditional toum preparation

Salads

Ingredients for the Lebanese salad tabbouleh include parsley, bulgur wheat, olive oil, mint, lemon, tomato, salt, pepper, sumac  and scallion
Ingredients for the Lebanese salad tabbouleh include parsley, bulgur wheat, olive oil, mint, lemon, tomato, salt, pepper, sumac and scallion

Stuffed dishes

Chickpea-based dishes

Lebanese Fatteh b'hummus
Lebanese Fatteh b'hummus
Mutabbel mashed cooked aubergines (eggplants) and tahini
Mutabbel mashed cooked aubergines (eggplants) and tahini

Aubergine-based dishes

Bean and legume dishes

Meats

Lebanese meat dishes are usually made with chicken or lamb, though pork is also eaten (albeit not as widely, due to Islamic dietary laws).[1] However, meat is expensive everywhere and not always readily available. Meat was traditionally precious and usually served on the weekend. It is sometimes eaten mixed with bulgur to prolong the shelf life.

An example of a meat-based Lebanese dish
Raita, salad with sumac, kafta, and a prepared plate of kafta with sides

Mixed meat

Lamb

Lahm b'ajin

Chicken

Kibbeh nayyeh

Beef

Sayadieh

Fish

Sweets

A close up of booza ice cream
A close up of booza ice cream

The modern form of Lebanese desserts have been influenced by Ottoman cuisine and share many similarities with other neighbouring countries. Semolina is used in the preparation of several prominent Lebanese desserts.

Condiments and spices

Sumac is a spice used in many salads, hummus and other dishes giving it a tangy, lemony taste
Sumac is a spice used in many salads, hummus and other dishes giving it a tangy, lemony taste

Beverages

See also: Lebanese wine and Phoenicians and wine

Lebanese Arabs drinking out of a briq and eating a mezze, 1889, Beirut
Lebanese Arabs drinking out of a briq and eating a mezze, 1889, Beirut

See also

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