Don’t kibosh new dishes before you try them

Published 11:59 pm Friday, January 23, 2009

My husband and I were shopping in Baton Rouge the other day and we were hungry around noon and came upon a Lebanese restaurant by the name of Serop’s. It was a busy place; the parking lot was full and that is always a good sign. I am a big fan of Lebanese food anyway and eat it whenever I get the chance. It is healthy and fresh, and kebabs – one of my favorite dishes – is usually on the menu.

My favorite food when I lived in the Middle East was goat kebab. Yes, goat. The goat meat was marinated in yogurt for a full day and they cooked it in tiny pieces on a skewer over an open fire. Then it would be served up on big Arabic bread with onions. Even the roaches on the wall didn’t diminish my enthusiasm. The food was the best I found in the little sheikdom of Sharjah near where I lived in Dubai, in the UAE.

When my son lived in Beirut for his junior year of college, we went to visit for a week. We ate many meals at a little hangout called Kabab-ji. I just loved the name and the food was great also.

One finds some Lebanese food in the local supermarkets these days, such as hummus, baba ghanoush, and the bulgur (cracked wheat) for the famous tabbouleh salad.

At Serop’s we had a beginning course of hummus with warm pita bread. Then my husband had a gyro plate and I chose the chicken schwarma. Both came with a garlicky salad with olives and feta cheese. We, of course, ate too much, but it was such a treat to find this really nice little restaurant in Baton Rouge.

Making hummus is not a big deal. I have found Rachel Ray making it on the food channel quite a lot. Children love it because they can dip a chip or veggie into it.

The baba ghanoush is a little more complicated since you have to cook the eggplant.

Falafel is another great Lebanese dish. It is a spicy vegetarian appetizer that is fried.

I am giving some easy recipes for these dishes.


Serves 3-4

2 cups dry chickpeas (to be rinsed and drained before use) soaked in water and ½ tsp. bicarbonate of soda overnight

3 cloves of garlic crushed

½ cup tahini (sesame seed paste)

¼ cup lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Drain the chickpeas and rinse well, then put in a saucepan with plenty of water and cook until it starts boiling, then lower the heat and simmer covered for about one and one half hours until the peas are soft to the touch. Alternatively, use tinned chickpeas (two tins of 445 g each). Put chickpeas in the food processor with all the other ingredients until they become soft and decorate with some parsley and drizzle with some good quality olive oil. Serve with warm pita bread.

Baba Ghanoush

Serves 3-4

2 big eggplants

2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons yogurt

1 garlic clove, crushed

Salt and pepper

Make a slit in the skin of the eggplants and place under a hot grill for a few minutes until the skin blackens on all sides. Leave it to cool down, then peel off the skin. In a colander put the pulp and drain until all the liquid is gone. You can squeeze this with a towel if necessary. Put the eggplants and the other ingredients in a food processor to make it into a dip. Serve cold topped with some olive oil and warm pita bread.

Lebanese Style Tabbouleh

Serves 4-6

2/3 cup bulgur (in all grocery stores now)

2 cups water

2/3 cup minced red onion

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ cup finely chopped mint leaves or 1 tablespoon dried, crumbled

2 ½ cups finely chopped fresh parsley leaves (flat-leafed)

½ cup finely chopped scallion

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ cups finely diced seedless cucumber

Put bulgur in a heatproof bowl. Bring water to a boil and pour over bulgur. Let stand one hour. While bulgur is soaking, in a large bowl stir together onion, salt, allspice, and dried mint, if using (do not add fresh mint now), and let stand 30 minutes. Drain bulgur in a sieve, pressing hard to extract as much water as possible, add to onion mixture with remaining ingredients including fresh mint, if using.

Toss salad well and season with salt and pepper.


Serves 4-6

1 cup dried broad beans

1 cup dried chickpeas

1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda

4 cloves of garlic crushed

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 onion chopped

½ cup fresh coriander chopped

½ cup fresh parsley chopped

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying (peanut or vegetable)

Soak the beans and the chickpeas in water and bicarbonate of soda overnight or for two hours. Rinse and put in the food processor with the rest of the ingredients. Mix until you get a semi-smooth mixture and then remove to the fridge for 1 hour before use. Divide and shape the mixture into the size of a small walnut. Flatten with your hand and fry in hot oil until golden brown. Can be served in pita bread or with salad.

If you do not have time, use canned broad beans and chickpeas. They work fine in this recipe.