With its focus on herbs and spices, fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses and nuts, Lebanese cuisine is known to be one of the healthiest in the world. It is also a cuisine that celebrates many meat-free dishes, making it a perfect culinary experience to delve in to on World Vegetarian Day. The below recipes are taken from A Lebanese Feast by Mona Hamadeh – which features a feast of healthy, simple and flavoursome recipes from Lebanon using vegetables and pulses cooked in the traditional way.
Date and Tahini Balls (Tamer Be Tahini)
Dates are frequently eaten in the Middle East, served with coffee, in pastry fillings or simply enjoyed on their own. One time, I was watching friends dipping dates in the tahini jar and thinking, why spoil the flavour of the dates? I reluctantly tried it and was surprised by what a lovely combination it made. I worked on this recipe, finally achieving the right balance.
375g dates, pitted
4 tbsp water
20g sesame seeds
20g desiccated, unsweetened
25g chopped pistachio nuts
25g chopped almonds
Preparation time: 45 minutes
- Blitz the almonds in a food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs.
- Mix the dates, tahini and 4 tbsp of water together, blending until they form a paste and then combine with the almonds.
- Dry-roast the sesame seeds in a frying pan and keep stirring until they turn slightly brown, if using for coating.
- Pour them onto a plate to cool.
- Roll the date mixture between the palms of your hands into balls about 3–4cm in diameter, then roll in one of the coating ingredients.
- Place the truffle-like date balls in the fridge to set for about 1 hour before serving.
A lovely treat to serve at Christmas time, these will keep for few weeks in an airtight container so they don’t dry out. Serve with tea and coffee.
It helps if your coatings are poured onto plates so you can easily roll the balls around and ensure they are fully covered.
Mixed Pulses and Herb Patties (Falafel)
Falafel is the most popular street food in all Middle Eastern countries. People rarely make falafel at home because there are falafel shops on almost every street in every city open from morning to late night. Nutritious, flavoursome and very economical, everyone can afford to buy a falafel wrap. However, they are easy to make and if dried broad beans are unavailable, they can be made using only chickpeas.
150g dried chickpeas
150g skinless, dried broad
beans (if unavailable
substitute with chickpeas)
1 medium onion, coarsely
5 cloves garlic, peeled
30g fresh coriander
20g fresh parsley
50g ground coriander seeds
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp baking powder
Oil, for frying
Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus soaking overnight
Cooking time: 30 minutes
- Soak the chickpeas and broad beans overnight.
- Drain the chickpeas and broad beans and finely mince in a food processor. Add the onion, garlic and all the herbs, coriander seeds, salt and pepper and process all together to form a dough.
- It is always better to allow the falafel mixture to absorb the flavours for a few hours before frying
- When you are ready to start cooking, add the baking powder to the mixture. Roll pieces of dough into little balls slightly pressed between the palms of your hands to form small patties.
- Heat the oil and deep-fry the falafel for about 10 minutes over a medium heat until they turn brown and are cooked in the middle.
- Falafel is always served with pickled turnips, tomatoes and chopped parsley and drizzled with Tahini Sauce. You will also need either Lebanese Bread (page 134) or pitta bread to make the wrap.
Falafel mix freezes well for up to 6 months if you prefer to make a large batch, but don’t add the baking powder until it is defrosted and you are about to start cooking.