For the past few years, Middle-eastern cuisine’s global profile has been on the rise. And of these, Lebanese food takes the top spot for its wholesome yet healthy offerings. Today, many fine-dining restaurants in India offer hummus and mezze platters as appetisers. Similarly, tabbouleh salad, a mainstay of Lebanese cooking, is celebrated on menus across the world. “Though this salad is a simple mixture of bulgur (broken wheat), tomatoes and parsley, it is traditionally an important dish, included on the menu for special occasions,” says Syria-born chef Maher Omran.
Based in Dubai, Omran is currently in the city for a 10-day Lebanese food festival. Though the reason for tabbouleh’s popularity is unknown, the chef says it defines the cuisine — local and healthy — and will be part of the menu during the festival. The menu also features moussaka, an eggplant-based baked dish, and yakhni, a stew made with Egyptian rice and chicken broth. “The Egyptian variety is like Sushi rice in size but not as sticky. We add vermicelli and flavour it with butter,” says Omran, who will use recipes handed down by his mother.
Growing up in Syria, Omran’s training began in his mother’s kitchen where he learned to make traditional dishes such as baba ganoush, kibbeh kebab and tavuk davutpasa (meatballs cooked in thick tomato gravy). “I give these recipes a modern spin. I stuff these meatballs with halloumi (cheese) and then cook them in tomato sauce,” he adds.
The dishes are being contemporised but the cuisine still holds on to its roots in other ways. While kitchens across the globe may obsess over dishes that are presented aesthetically, or as way Omran puts it, “big plates and tiny portions”, Lebanese people love their large braised lambs and meaty main courses. “Our appetisers are predominantly vegetarian because we like to prepare the stomach to attack the meats,” says Omran.
The Lebanese food festival at Sofitel, Bandra-Kurla Complex,is on till May 10