How to adapt traditional Lebanese recipes for modern hippies

Photo: mpessaris (iStock)

When I moved to Seattle, my mom, Charlotte, dismissed it as a place “where hippies live.” But when she visits me, we gather the friends who have become my extended family—most of whom are dairy- or gluten-free or vegan and have only eaten hummus from plastic containers—to feast on her Lebanese food. My mom’s used to making adaptations to her recipes; she’s a modern woman who says traditional Lebanese recipes are time-consuming because women were expected to spend all day in the kitchen. So she found ways to prepare them more quickly and easily. Now, for my friends, she riffs on these dishes she has made for years to be dairy- and gluten-free and vegan.

Here are the recipes for tabbouleh salad and marinated beans and eggplant directly from my mom, in both their original and allergy- and diet-friendly forms.

Advertisement

Tabbouleh
Photo: Lee Nacozy

Tabbouleh

Mom’s note: This refreshing Mediterranean salad provides antioxidants and protein, while being both low-fat and low-carbohydrate.

Advertisement

Resist the urge to use a food processor for cutting up the ingredients. The sharp blades will bruise the tender leaves and vegetables, and your reputation as a continental chef will be in ruins.

Please note that all measurements listed are approximate, based upon the way our family’s passed down recipes. Increase or decrease the amount of any ingredient to your personal preference.

Advertisement

Classic

  • 1/2 cup fine bulgur
  • 1 1/2 cups flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 4-5 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 4-5 Persian cucumbers or 1/2 hothouse cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh finely chopped mint leaves
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice from 2 large lemons or 1 large lemon and 1 large lime
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Place the bulgur in a bowl, and cover it with 2 cups of cold water. Set it aside.

Advertisement

Dice the tomatoes and put them in a strainer or colander, allowing the liquid to drain completely.

Wash the parsley and pat dry with towels, discarding stems. Chop the leaves finely, and put them in large mixing bowl.

Advertisement

Taste the peeling of your cucumber(s). If the flavor is strong, peel and dice them. If the flavor is mild, only dice them. Add the cucumbers to the mixing bowl with the parsley.

Finely chop fresh mint leaves and add them to your mixing bowl.

Add the well-drained tomatoes to your mixing bowl and gently fold all ingredients together.

Advertisement

Drain any remaining water from the bulgur, with either the flat palm of your hand or a strainer. Add it to the mixing bowl.

Whisk lemon or lemon/lime juice with olive oil in separate bowl.

Pour the juice and oil mixture slowly around the bowl of leaves, tomato, wheat and cucumber. Gently toss to mix. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill well and serve! This should feed six to eight people as a side or four as a main course.

Advertisement

Mom note: Other ingredients you can add to tabbouleh for variety and more compliments include: 2-3 cloves minced garlic (whisked into the oil); chopped celery (either peeled outer stalks, or lighter, tender inner stalks); 3-4 chopped radishes; or 1/4 cup finely chopped orange bell pepper. Mediterraneans have also been known to serve tabbouleh with washed, trimmed endive or lettuce leaves for “scooping up” the salad.

Gluten-Free

Rather than making the above recipe with bulgur, use 1 cup of white or red quinoa.

Advertisement

To cook the quinoa, boil two cups of water in a saucepan with a lid. Add the quinoa when the water boils, and reduce heat until the mixture simmers. Cover the pan and set your timer for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and taste the quinoa. We want quinoa that’s cooked but slightly firm, that is “al dente.” If it’s not cooked enough, return it to low heat, covered, for 5 minutes.

Advertisement

Allow the quinoa to cool completely in a bowl before adding it to your tabbouleh. Once cooled, add 1/2 cup of the quinoa to the salad and gently toss. Continue to add quinoa gradually until the salad is prepared to your taste.


Photo: Lee Nacozy
Advertisement

Maghmour

Mom note: These maghmour recipes are blends of several Middle East dishes the way Lee remembers them from childhood, but are actually three recipes that merged in her memory. 

Advertisement

Meaty

  • 1 large eggplant, slightly firm
  • 1/2 lbs. green beans cut into 1-2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley, no stems whatsoever
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup (dry) basmati rice
  • 1 cup of a can of petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil, such as avocado, grapeseed, or olive oil
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 cup of vermicelli or thin spaghetti noodles broken into 1-inch pieces or smaller
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes and lay them on a stack of several flat paper towels. Sprinkle the cubes with 1 teaspoon of salt. The salt will draw out the bitter juices, “sweating” the eggplant.

Advertisement

Put the green beans in a big pan, cover with water, and cook over medium heat. Taste a piece after 10 minutes. If it’s cooked but crunchy, strain the green beans and set them aside.

Cook the beef in the big pan over medium heat, while breaking it into small pieces, until it is medium rare. Drain the fat and set the meat aside.

Advertisement

Use a tablespoon of oil or grease from the meat to coat the pine nuts in the pan. Turn the heat to medium low. Stir the nuts for a few minutes, and then push them to the side of your pan. Add the noodles, separately, to the other side.

While you’re waiting for the nuts and noodles to brown, rinse the rice under cold water. Now bring 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan.

Advertisement

Remove the pine nuts from the pan, and set them aside. When the water boils, add the rice. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook the rice for 15 minutes.

Remove the lid from the rice, and add the browned noodles and chopped parsley, tossing the ingredients together with a fork only. (This is my mother’s cardinal rule! Never stir cooking rice with a spoon or the world could come to an end.)

Advertisement

Now re-cover and remove the pot from the heat. Allow the rice to “steam itself” another five minutes.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan. Sauté the chopped onion over medium heat.

Advertisement

While cooking the onion, blot the eggplant with several more paper towels. Then add the eggplant cubes to the pan and gently flip them a few times over the next five minutes.

Add the whole can of tomatoes and the cooked green beans to the pan. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Cover and simmer the vegetables for about 15 minutes. Then add the beef and cook uncovered on low heat for five more minutes.

Advertisement

Serve the dish atop—yes, plopped atop—the cooked rice. Then top that with the pine nuts. Salt and pepper it to taste. Enjoy!

Vegetarian/Gluten-free

Omit the meat from the recipe above. Substitute in freshly cooked chickpeas or another bean, though not from a can because the beans will get too mushy. Look for fresh cooked beans on a grocery store’s salad bar.

Advertisement

Also, as opposed to the browned noodles, add one tablespoon of sesame seeds to your rice when you add the parsley to increase the nutrients while avoiding gluten.

Share This Story