Whenever my family gathers, the smell of barbecue beckons. Growing up in Zahlé, Lebanon, it was the scent of every Sunday afternoon when we’d cook lunch after church. These days, we come together on the Fourth of July at my brother’s on Staten Island for a family cookout. But no matter where we gather, our table is always laden with food. We start with mezze, like hummus, baba ghanouj, grape leaves, and tabbouleh, followed by meshwy, or grilled meats— especially lamb shish kebabs. We always serve them with muhammara, a roasted red pepper and walnut spread, and biwaz, a salad made with onions, parsley, lemon, and sumac. While we cook, we put on our music and dance. When the kebabs are ready, I cut a piece of pita, spread the muhammara inside, add a few pieces of lamb, some grilled vegetables, and biwaz. When all these tastes combine — the smokiness of the meat, the sweet spiciness of the muhammara, the sour sumac and lemon, the fresh parsley and onions—it’s heaven.
After the barbecue, we have fruit, then sweets, and we end with strong Lebanese coffee. We sit around and read our fortunes in the coffee grounds at the bottoms of our cups. We spend the whole day laughing and enjoying each other, celebrating an American occasion, but in a Lebanese way. When it’s time to leave, everyone packs some food to take home— scoops of leftover tabbouleh, a couple of grape leaves, and some tender bites of lamb kebabs and vegetables — so everyone has another meal already prepared for the next day. And as always, my brother calls over the fence and offers his neighbour a plate of food. We do this, as Lebanese. Even if you’re full, we’ll keep telling you, “Oh, you can have more.” This is our habit — we never stop offering food.
Lahem Meshwy (Lamb Shish Kebabs)
Simply spiced with paprika, salt, and pepper, these grilled lamb kebabs have been a mainstay at League of Kitchens instructor Jeanette Chawki’s family cookouts for years. Be sure to cut the lamb into equal size cubes to ensure even cooking, but feel free to mix and match the vegetables on each skewer.
Muhammara (Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip)
Smooth, thick, and layered with flavour, this mildly spicy dip of roasted red bell peppers and toasted walnuts is thickened with finely ground crispy breadsticks. Pomegranate molasses adds a welcome piquancy that plays off the sweetness of the juicy roasted bell peppers; spicy pepper paste brings just a touch of heat. This dip is delicious on pitas with grilled lamb, or serve it with fresh vegetables for dunking.
Biwaz (Parsley and Onion Salad)
Sumac adds tangy, floral flavour to this simple and refreshing herb and onion salad. It’s a classic partner for grilled lamb kebabs and other grilled meats.
Cook with Jeanette Chawki at League Of Kitchens
Jeanette Chawki teaches Lebanese cooking through the League of Kitchens, a culturally immersive culinary experience where immigrant women teach cooking classes from their home kitchens. Online or in-person, each cooking class offers opportunities for meaningful connection, cultural engagement and exchange, culinary learning and discovery, and exceptional eating and drinking. Classes are $60 (Baht 1,957) per session; register at leagueofkitchens.com.
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(Main and Feature Image Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell)
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