The Origins Of Lebanese Cuisine and Favorite Vegetarian Dishes

By Camille Danielich
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Photo By Em Sherif Restaurant

Visit Lebanon for the stunning architecture, golden mosque domes, gorgeous views of the Mediterranean, and most importantly — the cuisine. While vegetarianism can be challenging when traveling and visiting new countries, Lebanon is the epicenter of delicious and accessible dishes, created from blended cultures over centuries and cooked with sustainability and seasonality in mind.

Bridging Europe and Asia, the Middle East is a hotbed of culture and cuisine. The heart of that is Lebanon (more formally, the Lebanese Republic), a country that borders Syria, Cyprus and the Mediterranean Sea. Due to its long history of conquest and colonization, most famously by the Ottoman Turks between 1516 and 1918, Lebanese cuisine is heavily influenced by Turkish, Arab and Mediterranean cuisines, not to mention early Roman and Phoenician influences, thanks to ruling dynasties.

A typical Lebanese meal includes an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, starches, seafood and fish. Meat is only consumed on occasion — when it is, it’s typically either lamb or goat, which are more locally sourced and regional to the area. Poultry, like chicken or fowl, is often consumed more than something like red meat would be, which is sustainable in and of itself. Lebanese stables include chickpeas, parsley, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. In later years, under French control, foods like flan and croissants — pastries and sweets — took hold, creating a multicultural melange of food.

Luckily for visiting vegans, animal products like butter and cream are extremely rare in Lebanese food, and the vegetable-centric dishes are often laden with produce that is either raw, cooked or pickled. Most Lebanese dishes are based around seasonality and also local availability and dishes vary across the region based on different produce growing patterns. It’s an incredible use of what’s available and local to the place while still honoring culinary traditions.

Beloved Lebanese recipes, keeeping it vegetarian include Kanafeh — sugary cake laden with orange blossom syrup and pistachios, Hummus — a universal favorite, Fattoush — a salad that incorporates crisped bread as a main ingredient, Manakish — flatbread topped with thyme, sumac, sesame and olive oil, and Tabbouleh — parsley, mint, tomatoes and lemon.

Traditional Lebanese seasonings that permeate pretty much every dish in the Republic include a seven-spice profile that includes black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and fenugreek, which all elicit an incredibly nostalgic taste and definitive “Lebanese” feeling. Other famed spices include za’atar, a mixture of marjoram, sesame, thyme and oregano as well as sweet-tasting cardamon and sour-flavored sumac.

So, if you’re looking for tasty, authentic and delicious cuisine that is not only steeped in history but rooted in sustainability, consider taking a food-fueled trip to Lebanon, if only on your plate.

To learn more about Lebanese and Middle Eastern cuisines and flavors, we have few of our favorite cookbooks.
They all have great vegetarian dishes with delicious Middle Eastern spices and ingredients.


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