The Best of Beirut
on Aug 7, 2014 By Danielle Issa
Talk about a miserable day. Your boss detested the project proposal you’d slaved over for weeks, spitting into it, wadding it up into a ball and chucking it into the hazardous waste bin. You found out that that cute co-worker you’d had your sights on for months has been secretly dating your officemate and sworn enemy. Lunch was an absolute dud, with your chicken wrap arriving cold, limp, and slick with grease. Traffic home was its interminably abominable self, and the nearest parking space you could find close to your building was a wretched six blocks away.
While perhaps the only redemption for a day like this would be winning the lotto, comfort food can be a great consolation. That warm, fuzzy feeling it inspires in the depths of your paunch will lift up your spirits in no time. Here are five infallible Lebanese dishes that can weather even the most turbulent of days.
Something about caramelized onions that perks up even the dullest of dishes. The iconic Lebanese lentil potage known as mjadra is a fragrant medley of boiled and shucked lentils ground into a paste and stirred with rice and caramelized onions. Served next to a cabbage slaw drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil, this dish has the density and texture to fill big emotional voids. Some prefer its sister dish, mdardra, which is more a pilaf than a porridge. Enab in Mar Mikhael makes a mean mdardra topped with charred-black tangy onion slices.
Nothing spells heartwarming like a slimy okra stew cooked with tender chunks of lamb, the kind that fall off the bone and melt onto your tongue with hardly any jaw action. Bemyeh bi mawzet, as it is called, is garnished with tomatoes, onions, and cloves of garlic galore. Served alongside basmati rice, it is a nourishing meal that will touch your troubled soul. You can also substitute okra for broad beans (fassolia) if you’re not fond of its mucilaginous texture. Try it at Tawlet’s kitchen for a real authentic homemade taste.
Heart n Soul Catering
We all know that anything even remotely fried transforms into irresistible comfort food. The same goes for cauliflower! White flowerets of this broccoli-like vegetable, fried to a golden hue, go wonderfully with a spiced tahini dip, easily demoting fries and ketchup to the ranks of amateur. Studio 43’s your go-to for 2arnabit me2leh, so be sure you pile it up liberally when you pounce on their mezze bar.
La Cour St Michel
Toum, or garlic paste, is the national treasure of Lebanon, and it has the power to dress up even the most tasteless spud into a winsome potato delicacy. We’re talking a “sandwich batata bi toum,” which is exactly what its name implies: thick, hand-cut French fries slathered in criminal doses of garlic sauce, and, if you can be bothered, garnished with the odd Romaine lettuce leaf. This is carb heaven (aka comfort food) if ever there was one on. Nab yours at Malek el Batata in Hamra.
The British have their beans on toast, the Americans cherish their sweet BBQ-sauced beans, and the Mexicans dote on their refried beans with chili. What do the Lebanese (and the entire Levant) counter with? Foul mdammas, of course, or boiled fava beans mashed with tahini and minced garlic and drizzled in olive oil to become one gratifying simpleton’s meal! Gorge on foul alongside spring onions, tomatoes, mint, and radish for an incomparable feast. I’m a huge fan of Al Balad’s reinvented dish foulna that comes lined with hummus.
No Garlic No Onions
Danielle Issa is a food blogger in Lebanon. You can find her on Twitter, and be sure to check out her blog, Beirutista.
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