BEIRUT: For the most devout fasters, 40 days of Lent means 40 days of lentils and the like in these next five weeks before Easter.
The yearly fast has given rise to traditional vegan recipes like loubieh bil-zeit (fava beans in oil), maghmoor (eggplant casserole) and a slew of lentil stews and casseroles. As another season of ascetic eating begins, modern vegan desserts can also supplement more traditional fare without losing the spirit of the fast.
Traditions during this period vary greatly among the country’s Christians. The less pious give up a vice like alcohol or sugary sodas temporarily, and while some only abstain from eating meat Fridays, others cut meat out of their diet for the full 40 days.
The most religious stop eating any sort of animal products, including fish.
The length of Lent also varies between the different sects of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, falling somewhere between 40 and 55 days.
Whether giving up ice cream or the full gamut of animal produce, believers deny themselves certain foods during Lent as an act of penitence that ends in the celebration of Easter.
For those Lent observers with a sweet tooth, Le Gustav bakery, located on a Hamra side street near the Crowne Plaza, offers a handful of confections that allow a little indulgence without technically breaking the fast.
Le Gustav makes a popular vegan cake from ginger, carrot and raw, unrefined sugar, said co-owner Khaled Kara.
“The cake is suitable for people during Lent, it has no animal products,” Kara said. “We make fun of it; we say all the ingredients have no mother, no father and no eyes.”
He said the key to making vegan baked goods is to substitute eggs with fibrous ingredients like carrots.
“Fiber will make it fluffy and [help it] rise,” he said. But an old oven with poor temperature control can cause vegan or sugar-free baked goods to come out lumpy and unsatisfying, he added.
Le Gustav also offers the “Pave” cake, made from Belgian dark chocolate and without added sugar or wheat flour.
The gluten-free, diabetic cake is suitable for those who’ve ruled out sugar or who are simply trying to show some piety by abstaining from overly sweet confections – though beware, Kara’s cake still sounds slightly sinful.
“It is a very rich chocolate that goes well with an aromatic tea or with a little dry red wine,” he said. “You should take little bites to extend the flavor; you get a long-lasting effect.”
Joumana Accad, a local foodie and author of the popular blog Taste of Beirut, offers another vegan confection: a brownie recipe made from tahini.
“I’ve had a lot of people post this recipe, but I have to tell you that it’s completely not traditional,” she said with a laugh.
In contrast, nothing seems more rudimentary and centuries-old than a meal of lentils or other legumes like fava beans. Traditionally, these recipes have very little flavor added except the sweetness of sauteed onions and a little salt and pepper, Accad said.
“In traditional Lebanese food there’s hardly any spices, maybe a little cinnamon, allspice and black pepper,” she explained. “Recently when you see people putting cardamom in stuff, it’s been taken from the Gulf.”
Main dishes for Lent include many of the typical vegetarian offerings like green beans or sunflower leaves (hindbe) in oil, or a traditional eggplant and veggie casserole called maghmoor.
“There are also all the dishes called ‘bil-zeit,’ or ‘made with olive oil,’ made specifically for Lent,” Accad said, “like dandelions, beans, green beans, okra, maghmoor, etc.”
One dish, kibbeh hileh – which literally means “trick kibbeh” – refers to stuffed balls that look like meat but are a mixture of bulgur or saturated breadcrumbs stuffed with pine nuts, onions or chickpeas.
She also offered her own recipes, like pumpkin and bulgur kibbeh.
Local caterer Rima al-Khodr recommended horrak esbaao, a lentil casserole with pomegranate molasses, a bit of pasta and topped with fried onions.
She also suggested a versatile meal for either green or brown fava beans.
“There is a magnificent recipe for foul – foul bil-zeit – you [saute] the finely chopped onion, and then the garlic and coriander. Then you toss in the foul as it is, but cut [each bean] into three parts,” she said. “You cover them with water – not much, one glass and a half – you put some salt and put it in the [pressure cooker] for half an hour.”
Brown dried fava beans are traditionally served for breakfast, she said, and require soaking over night before they become edible.
“I like both; they are different and [have a] different taste.”
- 1 cup of 60 percent chocolate chips (125 grams), melted in the microwave for 1 minute
- 2/3 cup of tahini (light-colored, 150 g), stir the jar first and pour
- 1 1/4 cup of whole-wheat pastry flour (150 g)
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 2/3 cup of grape molasses (or date or carob molasses) (150 g)
- 2/3 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice (150 g)
- 2 Tablespoons of orange rind (20 g)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
In a bowl, add the tahini, the orange juice and orange rind, melted chocolate and the grape molasses and stir.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Sift into the wet ingredients, and stir until the flour mixture is no longer visible.
Transfer the brownie batter into a pan lined with parchment paper. Bake in for about 23 minutes.
Check by inserting a toothpick into the cake; if dry or almost dry, it is done and the cake will be cakey. If you like it fudgy, check after 20 minutes and see how wet the batter is. It should stick but be thick. Cool a few minutes and serve with Lebanese caramel if desired.
Recipe courtesy of Joumana Accad.
- 1/2 kilo of turnip greens or any other (spinach, arugula, purslane, etc.)
- 2 large onions, chopped and divided in half
- 1 can of chickpeas (or 2 cups of cooked chickpeas)
- 3 tablespoons of sumac
- 1/3 cup of pine nuts
- 1 kilo cooked pumpkin
- 1 1/2 cups of fine bulgur
- 2 slices of American-style white bread (or any soft bread)
- 2 eggs (optional)
- Spices for the kibbeh: 2 tsp of Aleppo pepper (or paprika or chili powder),1 tsp each of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, allspice, salt, white pepper
- Clarified butter or olive oil or any other oil, as needed
Cook the pumpkin until soft (either in the oven or steam); peel, and mash the pumpkin flesh in a processor. Place in a large sieve and drain for several hours or overnight to remove much of the water.
Make the filling: Steam the greens until soft and drain them well. Stir fry the onions in some olive oil until caramelized. Add the drained can of chick peas and about one cup of caramelized onions to the greens in a bowl. Sprinkle with sumac and some white pepper, taste to adjust seasonings and set aside. (One can also add some pine nuts, previously roasted).
Take the drained pumpkin and place in a large bowl. Rinse the bulgur in a bowl a couple of times and let it sit till soft a couple of minutes. Drain the bulgur and press to remove all water from it. Add to the bowl with the pumpkin and the chopped onion.
Add the fresh breadcrumbs, the eggs, the spices and mix well. Taste to adjust the seasoning. Grease a square cake pan and place half the kibbeh batter all over the pan. Add the filling on top, using a plastic sheet to help spread it evenly. Cover with the other half of kibbeh, smoothing it out with a spatula.
Score the kibbeh with a knife, forming two diagonal lines. Decorate with pine nuts if you like and cover with a few knobs of butter or brush with some oil. Bake in a 180 degrees Celsius oven for about 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
3 6 servings
- 1 cup of brown lentils
- 4 large onions
- 2 bunches of cilantro
- 10 cloves of garlic
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1/2 cup of lemon juice or 1/2 cup of Seville orange juice
- 1 large pita bread or 2 medium pitas
- Spices: 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 cup of small shell pasta or orechiette (small ears)
- 1 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
Rinse lentils. Place in a pot and add six cups of water on medium heat until it boils; simmer for 20 minutes until the lentils are almost cooked.
Slice the onions into rings; heat the oil and fry the onions till golden-brown; drain the onions on paper towels.
Chop the cilantro fine. Mash the garlic in a mortar with a dash of salt and add to the cilantro. Place on a skillet with 1/4 cup of oil. Stir gently until the cilantro wilts, then remove from heat immediately.
Add the salt and spices (cumin, black pepper) to the lentils and half the cilantro mixture as well as half the fried onions, the lemon juice (or orange) and pomegranate molasses. Place the pot over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Cook the pasta and add to the lentils.
Cut the bread into small squares with kitchen scissors and fry in 1/2 cup of oil till golden-brown. Place half the fried bread on a platter and pour the lentils on the bread. Garnish the top of the lentils with the rest of the cilantro pesto, fried onions and fried pita croutons. Serve warm or hot.
Note: the lentils need to be thick, like porridge.
3 8 servings
- 1 kg eggplants, preferably small ones
- 1 kg vine tomatoes or 1 32oz can of Italian tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 kg of onion, chopped
- 2 tsp of mashed garlic or toom (garlic paste) and 6 cloves of garlic, peeled (more or less, to taste)
- 2 cups of cooked garbanzo beans or 1 can, rinsed and drained
- 1 tbsp of red pepper flakes or 1 red chili pepper (optional)
- A handful of fresh mint or 2 tablespoons of dried mint
- 1 tsp of sugar (optional)
- 1/2 cup of vegetable oil or olive oil
Wash and dry the eggplants; if you are using large eggplants, cut them in medium slices and sprinkle salt on them for 30 minutes then rinse them and dry them really well. If using small ones, simply cut them in chunks and dry them well with a paper towel.
Heat up to 1/4 cup of oil in a saute pan, and slide the eggplants in the pan carefully, maintaining a cautious distance. Fry them on all sides for about five minutes until they get tender and nicely browned. Remove from the pan and dry them with several paper towels to take as much of the oil off as possible. Set them aside.
In a deep pot, heat 1/4 cup of oil, add the chopped onions and saute for 15 minutes until golden. Add the chopped tomatoes, garbanzo beans, garlic cloves and spices (sugar, red pepper flakes, salt). Cook at a gentle simmer about 30 minutes.
Add the eggplant and continue cooking at a slow simmer another 15 minutes.
Mix the mint (fresh or dried) with the mashed garlic. Add to the pot, mix it well throughout, and cook briefly for another 3 minutes. Remove the chili pepper.
Serve at room temperature, either on its own or with rice or on toasts as an appetizer.