I’ve heard it said many times that Lebanese cooking is the best cuisine the Middle Eastern countries have to offer. Lebanese restaurants are the go to places when one has a yen for Arabic or Middle Eastern food. This seems to be one of the few things that Arabs from around the world can mostly agree on.
I must confess that in my experience this is usually true. Lebanese cooking is definitely top notch and any where we travel we look for a Lebanese restaurant. Among my favorites are Al Halabi in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates and Wafi Gourmet in both the Dubai Mall and Wafi Mall; Reem Al Bawadi in Amman; and Mandaloun not far from the Spanish Steps in Rome.
But what makes Lebanese cuisine so great? I’m not exactly sure, but I believe that one of its secrets are the spices they use. Their Lebanese 7 Spices Mix in my opinion is the key to their delicious entrees.
Lebanese 7 Spices Mix contains many of the spices found in cuisine in and around that region. It has cumin and coriander for sure and 6 other spices making it actually an 8 spices mix. Why it’s called 7 Spices is beyond me unless the ground black pepper isn’t counted as a spice.
Anyway whatever you call it seasoning grilled meats and stews with this Lebanese 7 Spices Mix makes for a delicious meal! I like to keep a jar on hand and use it in marinades and of course for one of the family’s favorite dishes Mesaf or Fatiyeh, a dish of stewed meat in yogurt sauce.
You can mix up a batch of Lebanese 7 Spices Mix to add to your stews too. Just be sure you store it in an airtight container. I use pint sized mason jars to store all my spice mixes.
Shawarma is a typical Middle Eastern street food that’s sold on street corner kiosks, fast food joints, and restaurants in Middle Eastern countries and beyond.
It’s sort of similar to the Greek Gyro but is seasoned with different spices and allowed to marinate for at least a few hours. It’s usually cooked very much like the Turkish Doner Kebab which is a cone of mixed meats (beef, lamb, and chicken) cooked on a vertical spit. Typically it’s served as a Shawarma Sandwich which is pita bread stuffed with shaved meat, tahini sauce, and fresh and pickled veggies. It can also be served as a plate with rice, salad, hummus, and pita bread.
Today most Middle Eastern restaurants and fast food places serve specific shawarma meats such as beef or chicken shawarma in a sandwich or as a plate. Needless to say both are very popular in our family!
But the real secret to Shawarma isn’t the meat or the way it’s cooked. The secret lies in the spices used. You can make shawarma in your oven, grill, and even in your Instant Pot. In fact I always make it in my Instant Pot! I’m working on an article to share how to make Beef Shawarma in an Instant Pot; but before I can make any type of shawarma using any method I have to season the meat!
I’m actually a big believer in spice rubs. I make all sorts of rubs for different things such as my Basic BBQ Chicken Rub. I mean sauces are great for adding flavor to meat after it’s cooked, but what really gives meat great flavor are rubs and marinades. So if you want to make homemade shawarma that tastes like you ordered it from a Middle Eastern restaurant you’ll need this Shawarma Spice Mix.
I usually mix up a large batch; large meaning enough mix to fill a quart sized Mason Jar. I store my Shawarma Spice Mix in a sealed jar in my pantry, it stays fresh for about 3 months, assuming you don’t use it all before then! The spice mix can be used for beef or chicken shawarma and can even be added to other recipes when you’re wanting to add a touch of exotic flavorings.
To use the mix as a marinade for shawarma I use a teaspoon of mix per pound of meat. Combine the mix with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar, and a pinch of salt then massage it on to the meat. Place the meat in a ziplock bag and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours but no longer than 24 hours.
When people think of stuffed grape leaves they usually think of the popular Greek specialty called Dolmades. These lamb and rice stuffed leaves can be served hot or cold, but in most Greek restaurants I’ve gone to they are served cold as appetizers.
I’m a big fan of Greek cuisine, but Dolmades are not among my favorites, mostly because I don’t care for lamb. I do prefer the Arabic version, at least the way I learned to make it. We stuff it with ground beef and rice and simmer it in tomato sauce. Often times we cook it with stuffed zucchini as well and serve it hot.
I don’t normally see this dish on an Arabic restaurant’s menu, it’s pretty much good old home cooking I guess. I don’t make them as often as my husband would like, mostly because it takes time to prepare and grape leaves were not easily found in my local supermarket until recently. I was surprised to find grapes leaves in Walmart the other day. It prompted me to make a big pot which made my husband very happy.
If you’re looking for something different to make for dinner here’s the recipe.
1 jar Grape Leaves
1 lbs. ground beef
1 cup Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice or any long grain rice
1 tbl. minced garlic
1 large onion finely minced
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 large can tomato sauce
1. Mix beef, rice, garlic, onions, and spices in a large bowl.
2. Drain liquid from grape leaves and gently remove leaves from the jar, separating the leaves.
3. Wrap meat in each grape leaves like you would a spring roll. Place stuffed leaves into a large deep pot that has a lid.
4. Pour tomato sauce over all.
5. Add water until all the stuffed leaves are covered in liquid. Gently stir liquid to combine tomato sauce and water as best as you can without tearing or unwrapping the leaves.
6. Simmer covered over medium heat until the sauce is reduced by 3/4. The sauce absorbs the grape leave’s flavor while cooking the meat and rice stuffing.
Serve with fresh crusty bread to scoop out the yummy sauce! Enjoy!