Food for the Soul: 6 Lebanese Recipes

For most of America, taste in the 1950s was epitomized by iceberg lettuce and Wonder Bread. For Linda Sawaya, growing up in California in a family of Lebanese immigrants meant food backed by centuries of tradition, prepared with fresh, homegrown herbs and healthy doses of love.

| October/November 1999

  • Photography by Anybody Goes

6 Tasty Lebanese Recipes

Sumac-Marinated Onions Bassle ou Summaq
Lebanese Salad
Lebanese Omelette Ihjee
• Wheat Berry Porridge Ammah

A guide to Lenbanese Foods
Glossary of Foods

Remember spring, summer, fall, and even winters in Los Angeles when my mother and Sitto (Grandmother) Dalal pressed a pair of scissors into my small palm and lightly nudged me out the back door toward our backyard mint and parsley patch. “Jibbe na’na wa ba’doonis! Rouje!” (“Bring mint and parsley! Hurry!”) By the age of nine, I knew how much they wanted me to pick for our big family’s tabbouli or fattoush dinner salads. And if it weren’t enough, surely I would be sent back out to pick some more.

It was an adventure to go out in the late afternoon sunshine to the narrow space behind our garage. The garage had a cool, dirt-floored basement that was large enough for the annual winter curing of olives from our olive tree and for the baking of Mother’s Arabic bread, savory meat pies, and lemony spinach pies redolent of parsley and mint. The antique Wedgwood stove that Mother purchased was perfect for baking the flat loaves that were essential to our meals. The village baker of Douma, my parents’ hometown in Lebanon, and her tannour oven were not to be found in Los Angeles, nor was pita bread sold in the A & Ps of the 1950s.

Most Lebanese American families who could had their own backyard mint and parsley patch, because the curly-leaved parsley found in America was used only for garnish, and if you could find it in the stores, wilted it would be. The flat-leaved variety we favored has much more flavor. Na’na (spearmint) also was unavailable in groceries. Fresh or dried, its refreshing flavor embellished our salads, spinach pies, mashed potatoes, lemonade, and our delicious Lebanese omelette. And, as in American restaurants, Mother and Sitto used both parsley and mint generously to garnish their dishes.

The area behind the garage also held our precious loquat tree, our indispensable lemon tree, one of the ten fig trees that my father planted and tended with love, and our requisite grapevine, which we cherished for its leaves rather than for its grapes. Apricot, avocado, orange, fig, and olive trees stood on our back lawn with strawberry plants that Mother and I nurtured at their feet. Fragrant sweet peas climbed both sides of a classic white trellis that screened the garage parking area from the backyard.

Food from Another World 

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