Situated in the heart of the Middle East, bordering Syria and Israel, lies Lebanon. Known for its rich archeology, dating back to prehistoric times, as well as its vibrant, diverse culture, Lebanon is a small country that packs a big punch.
Lebanese cuisine is known around the world and is eponymous with Middle Eastern cooking. It is also a product of its history, having been ruled by various empires including the French, Ottoman Turks, Romans, Greeks and Egyptians.
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Most Popular Lebanese Dishes
Typical Lebanese dishes are made up of a variety of staple ingredients including fresh fish, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, chickpeas and seafood. Chicken is one of the most popular meats, lamb and goat are the go-to red meats. However, many dishes are vegetarian, a result of the country’s fertile lands and occasional religious meat fastings.
Lebanon is also known for its sweet and sticky desserts which are predominantly pastry-based.
Certain herbs and spices are prevalent within most dishes including sumac, garlic, tahini, za’atar and muhammara.
So without further ado, here are the absolute must-try dishes of Lebanon along with recipes for you to try yourself.
Fattoush is a salad dish prepared with pita bread and a variety of vegetables such as crunchy cucumbers, radish, tomatoes, lettuce, garlic, onions and pepper. Pita bread is cut into small bite-sized pieces and fried, grilled or toasted.
All the vegetables are finely chopped and are seasoned with herbs such as parsley and mint. This salad is traditionally served with a special dressing that is made with pomegranate syrup, olive oil and lemon juice.
Hummus is a dip or spread made from mashed chickpeas blended with lemon juice, garlic and tahini sesame paste.
It is usually eaten as a dip with main course dishes but can also be used as a filling for flatbreads such as pita bread. It is often garnished with a drizzle of olive oil.
Manakish, commonly known as ‘the Lebanese pizza’ is a popular breakfast food consisting of a round, flat bread topped with sesame seeds, olive oil, sumac and thyme.
The bread is often topped with cheese, spinach and minced beef and then baked in the oven.
Tabbouleh is a salad side dish prepared with chopped mint leaves, chopped parsley leaves, olive oil and bulgur wheat as the main ingredients.
Onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and lemon juice drizzled over to give it a tangy flavor.
Kibbeh, often considered the national dish of Lebanon, are football shaped croquettes made from either lamb or beef. They are seasoned with lots of spices, fragrant herbs and bulgur wheat.
It is generally eaten as a side dish or as an appetizer at celebrations. They are typically served with hummus and pita bread, and are garnished with mint leaves.
Sfeeha, traditionally known as open-faced meat pie, is a minced lamb pastry dish typically eaten as an evening snack with tahini.
The minced lamb filling is seasoned with lots of spices, chopped tomatoes, onions, yogurt and olive oil. Historically the dish was prepared by stuffing the spicy ground lamb in grape leaves but this has since become rare in favor of a pastry casing.
Sfeeha is garnished with fresh coriander, chopped cucumbers and pomegranate seeds to enhance flavor.
Shawarma is a type of meat and salad pita wrap that is available with a wide variety of fillings including chicken, beef, lamb or turkey.
It is one of the most recognizable dishes of Lebanese cuisine and is a staple throughout the Middle East. The word shawarma is derived from the Turkish word ‘cevirme’ which means ‘turning’.
The meat for shawarma is often cooked on a vertical spit. It is then shredded and wrapped in pita bread along with toppings such as chopped onions, tomatoes, parsley, cucumber, Lebanese pickle, tahini sauce and garlic paste.
Falafel are fritters or spiced balls that are prepared with ground chickpeas or fava beans. Rich in protein, falafels are one of the most popular street foods eaten around the world.
Ground chickpeas are flavored with spices, onions, herbs, parsley, fresh coriander and cumin. Falafel can be eaten on its own or wrapped in pita or laffa bread. Tahini sauce or hot sauce is also often added.
Maamoul is a dessert consisting of cookies that are stuffed with a variety of nuts and fruits. The most typical fillings include pistachios, walnuts and dates.
The shapes of Maamoul tend to be varied in order to differentiate the fillings from one other. Pistachio Maamoul is usually elongated and oval in shape, date Maamoul has a flat top, whereas the walnut version has a round top.
Maamoul are traditionally prepared for celebrations and festivals and are served with either tea or coffee.
Sujuk, popular throughout the Middle East, is a dry, spiced sausage often eaten for breakfast cut into slices with fried eggs.
In Lebanon sujuk sausage is often fried with tomatoes and eaten in a pita with garlic sauce.
Baklava is a sweet pastry that is prepared from thin and flaky layers of dough. The pastries are then brushed with melted butter and baked.
Once the baklava is baked, it is then soaked in sugar syrup. It is then served with tea or coffee as a hearty snack.
Toum (Garlic Sauce)
Toum is a garlic sauce condiment made from mixing garlic, oil, lemon and salt together. The texture is like a light fluffy paste rather than a sauce. The best texture is attained by using fresh garlic rather than canned or previously frozen. Young garlic has a milder garlic flavor than large mature garlic.
Arayes are grilled pitas stuffed with meat (typically lamb or beef) flavored with herbs and spices. The pita bread is sliced and the meat is stuffed into its pocket, then the pita is placed on the grill to cook the meat, where it develops a toasty crust.
Besides grilling (which is popular when prepared as street food) arayes are also baked and toasted. They are then commonly served with salad such as tomato and sauces like tahini, yogurt or toum.
Ashta is a sweet cream product often compared to clotted cream that is not only popular in Lebanon but also in many other countries in the Middle East. The traditional method of making Ashta is by cooking milk until it curdles and separates. The milk is then drained so that the lumpy curds can be collected.
Qatayef is a kind of sweet dumpling that is stuffed with cream or nuts (typically a mixture of hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios and raisins). Other ingredients include unsalted cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and cinnamon.
This Arab delicacy is typically consumed during the month of Ramadan. Some people also define it as a folded pancake. It is usually accompanied by a hot, sweet syrup or, occasionally, honey.
Bamia is an okra and beef stew popular throughout the Middle East. The meat and okra are cooked together with tomato paste, spices, water and pomegranate molasses to name a few of the ingredients. They are stewed in the tomato sauce until the meat becomes tender and the sauce thickens.
Ghraybeh is a traditional shortbread cookie that is popular throughout the Middle East, typically made with simple ingredients such as butter, powdered sugar, and flour. Some variations may include the addition of ground almonds or pistachios to add a subtle nutty taste. The dough is shaped into small rounds or crescent shapes before baking.