Lebanon is a small country located in the Middle East by the Mediterranean Sea.
Its capital city Beirut is so amazingly charming and inviting that it’s called the Paris of the Middle East. Beirut has everything a capital city could offer visitors, beautiful locales, rich cultural heritage, clean and refreshing ambience, and scumptious cuisine. If you are planning to visit Lebanon, prepare yourself for some yummy sweet and savory delights.
Lebanese cuisine is truly the Middle East’s best-kept secret.
Believe me; Lebanese dishes are worth trying and you might adopt some of them like me as I have Shish Taouk at least once a week. It’s full of protein, high in fiber and truly delicious.
Check out some of the most delicious foods that I got to relish on my trip to Lebanon.
Lebanese Salads, Starters and Side Dishes/Mezzés
Fattoush is a traditional Lebanese salad that includes baked or fried bits of pita bread. The bread is crushed and mixed with an exquisite dressing of lemon, olive juice, salt, and garlic.
Basically, Fattoush is a Levantine bread salad that can be prepared using mixed greens or different veggies like tomatoes or radishes, etc. It belongs to the Fattat family of dishes in which stale flatbread is used as a base followed by layers of veggies and herbs. It’s important to chop the veggies finely, while to give it a sour taste Tanner’s sumac is added. It’s a guarantee that once you taste Fattoush, you’ll forget about other salads because of its dressing.
It’s also called Fattush, Fattouche, Fatush, and Fattoash.
2. Baba Ghanouj
Baba Ghanouj is a type of dip just like hummus, so, if you’re a fan of hummus, you’ll like it too for sure. It’s eaten like hummus as well, but the flavor of both is quite different. Baba ganoush and baba ghanouj are the other names of Baba Ghanouj.
Eggplant is mixed with tahini to prepare Baba Ghanouj.
Eggplant is mashed and cooked with olive oil, seasoning, and tahini, which is butter made from sesame seeds. Eggplant is first baked or broiled before peeling to give the pulp a distinct smoky flavor.
Baba Ghanouj is typically served as a starter or meze and eaten with either pita bread or khubz as a dip.
Tabbouleh is another yummy vegetarian salad from Lebanon. It’s a heart-healthy dish that is very delicious as well.
To prepare Tabbouleh, onions, tomatoes, mint, bulgur (cracked wheat), and parsley are mixed in a lemon juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil dressing.
It’s eaten in a variety of ways such as; it can be wrapped in lettuce or in the pita bread. Tabbouleh has many variations such as it can include lettuce or garlic. It’s possible to replace Bulgur with couscous. It’s a popular meze or starter in the Arab world and has become famous in the West as well.
Falafel is deep-fried balls made from ground chickpeas or fava beans or both. It’s served in the form of a sandwich in pita bread along with different types of veggies.
Falafel is also served with tahini. It’s staple Lebanese food that can be prepared as a patty, ball or doughnut. Pita bread serves as a pocket for Falafel to be wrapped in.
It may also be served in taboon, another variety in flatbread. To prepare Falafel sandwich, the patty or balls are laid over a bed of pickled veggies and salad while the hot sauce or tahini-based sauces are drizzled over to add flavor.
Falafel is a popular Middle Eastern dish, which originated in Egypt but gradually traveled across the Middle East and captured the taste buds of Lebanese wholesomely. It’s served as a mezze, Lebanese term for a snack.
In the western world, Falafel is known as fritters and has become quite famous among vegetarians worldwide.
Perhaps the most famous of all Lebanese and Middle Eastern dips is the Hummus.
It’s quite unlikely that you haven’t heard about it as yet. It’s the healthiest and tastiest dip that you will find anywhere in the world. This Levantine dip is also a good spread for sandwiches.
To prepare Hummus cooked chickpeas are mashed or processed in a food processor to form a thick paste.
Salt is used for seasoning, and to add more flavor lemon juice, tahini, garlic, and olive oil are also mixed into the dip.
It tastes divine and compliments almost any assortment of vegetables from carrots to cucumber.
Fatayer is a kind of meat pie but can be stuffed with sabanekh (spinach) or jibnah (cheese) like Akkawi or Feta.
It’s a typical Middle Eastern dish and is widely made in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and other Arab countries apart from Lebanon.
Akkawi is the name of a cheese that is hand-packed into square-shape draining hoops and then cured in salted whey brine for at least two days.
It’s a white brine cheese that originated in the city of Acre and can be stored for about a year. Its white color, smooth texture, and slightly salty taste make it the perfect option for a quick snack. Traditionally, Ackawi is made with pasteurized cow’s milk, goat milk or sheep milk.
Ackawi is largely produced in Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and Cyprus. So, you can expect to find it almost everywhere in the Middle East. Typically, people like to eat it at lunch time or dinner.
Ackawi’s consumed with a soft flatbread. It may also be paired with fruit or eaten as it is. Its texture is similar to Feta, Mozzarella or Mizithra because it doesn’t melt easily.
Lebanese seem to have a penchant for chickpeas more than any other Arab country as every other dish is made with chickpeas.
Balila is yet another dish made by boiling chickpeas with garlic, lemon juice, and different spices.
Balila’s also a mezze, but it’s served hot.
9. Batata Harra
It’s a vegetarian’s dream come true since Batata Harra is quite inexpensive and very healthy. Made with potatoes, coriander, garlic, chili, and red peppers, Batata Harra is a bit on the spicy side.
Everything’s fried in olive oil until the potatoes turn soft.
10. Ful Medames
Ful medames is also called fūl. Fava beans are cooked in vegetable oil and cumin and served with chopped parsley, onion, lemon juice, garlic, chili pepper.
It compliments almost all veggies, herbs, and spices.
This Levantine dish is made with minced onions, bulgur, and finely ground lean meat. Usually, lamb, goat, beef or camel meat is preferred to make Kibbeh.
A variety of traditional Middle Eastern spices such as cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice are used to make Kibbeh. There are many types of kibbeh; it may be in the form of balls or patties.
There are diverse ways of cooking Kibbeh as well such as it can be baked, served raw or cooked in broth.
It’s also the national dish of various Middle Eastern countries.
12. Kousa Mahshe
It’s a simple dish made by stuffing meat and rice in zucchini.
Eggplant and tahini are simmered to prepare Mutabbel.
14. Shanklish Salad
Shanklish can also be spelled shinklish or shankleesh while sorke and sürke are its other names. Shanklish salad is a type of cheese made from sheep or cow’s milk.
Part of the typical Levantine cuisine, Shanklish is shaped into 6cm balls and covered in Aleppo pepper or za’atar after which it’s left to age or dry.
Usually, Shanklish is seasoned with thyme, which gives the cheese its dirty tennis ball type appearance.
It can also be bought unformed or in small ball form.
15. Wara’ Enab
Meat and rice are stuffed in grape leaves to prepare Wara’ Enab.
Alternately, the leaves may only be stuffed with rice and lemon sauce.
Labneh is yet another type of traditional Lebanese cheese that is also known as lebneh, labneh or zabedi. Labneh is an ancient food and has remained a key part of Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries.
It’s a healthy and delicious dish that happens to be a powerhouse of proteins and boosts the immune system. In fact, Lebanese believe it to be a probiotic food. Labneh is also eaten as mezze preferably as a dip with fresh pita or falafel balls.
Usually, it’s eaten at breakfast in combination with fresh za’atar with a drizzle of olive oil.
People like to use it as a spread to make pita sandwiches, and other veggies may also be added to enhance the flavor.
It’s an unripened, semi-hard, brined cheese made from combining sheep and goat’s milk and curdled with Rennet. Sometimes, cow’s milk may also be used to make halloumi.
Also known as Haloumi, this cheese is different because it has a high melting point. This feature makes it perfect for frying or grilling. Another feature that makes it unique is that acid-producing bacteria are not used to prepare halloumi.
It’s believed to have originated in the Island of Cyprus, where it’s produced by a multi-ethnic population for centuries. It’s broadly referred to as the Levant and is famous all over the region.
However, it’s still not clear who invented the quintessential Halloumi’s recipe and where.
Did it originate in Cyprus and reached Lebanon and Levant? It also still remains a mystery whether the main techniques for a melting-resistant cheese evolved in the eastern Mediterranean over time or Cyprus.
Meaning “mixture” in Arabic, Makhlouta is a delicious Lebanese dish.
Rice, lentils, beans, and bulgur are the main ingredients of this high protein and high fiber hearty whole grain stew. Makhlouta is a very filling, healthy and inexpensive dish.
By pairing it with a salad you can have a satisfying dinner with only 500 calories.
19. Maghmour – Lebanese Moussaka
Maghmour isn’t exactly the same as Greek Moussaka. It’s true that both the dishes use olive oil, eggplant, and tomato. But that’s just about it.
The Atlantic noted in an article that moussaka originated in the late nineteenth century. Surprisingly, moussaka isn’t a Greek but an Arabic word.
Throughout the Mediterranean region, you’ll find many varieties of Moussaka. For example, the Balkans make it with potato instead of eggplant while the Turkish make it by combining meat and eggplant.
The Greeks also combine meat and eggplant, but they add peppers and don’t layer it like the Turkish.
Lebanon adopts a vegan-friendly version of Moussaka, which they’ve named Maghmour. Lebanese Maghmour is a chickpea and smoked eggplant dish that’s more like a stew than a casserole.
You may have heard of spicy meat pies, which are everyone’s favorite.
However, in Lebanon, it’s not covered but made as an open-faced tart.
Lebanese Main courses
21. Shish Taouk
Just like any other country in the Middle Eastern region, Kebabs are an integral element of Lebanese cuisine.
Shish Taouk is also a type of kebab. Shish taouk is made by marinating the meat overnight in lemon juice, garlic, yogurt, paprika, and tomato paste. Shish taouk is typically served with pita bread, and people like to make shish taouk sandwiches too.
Kofta is a type of ball prepared using ground meat, which is mixed with onions, parsley, and spices. Any meat can be used to prepare kofta from lamb and beef to chicken.
Kofta can be served in a variety of ways such as with a dip and pita bread or cooked in tomato curry with potatoes.
Kofta is an integral part of Turkish cuisine as well, but they call it kafta and eat it with yogurt dip.
A spit is used to roast the meat for shawarma. This flavorful sandwich is popular the world over and has become a staple Middle Eastern and Arabic dish. The flavor of shawarma may remind you of the gyro.
Usually, meat is shaved off the spit and wrapped in pita bread with an assortment of pickled vegetables and hummus or tahini sauce.
24. Kibbe Nayeh
Kibbe Nayeh is an intriguing dish that resembles steak tartare.
Raw lamb or beef is grounded with spices, some bulgur, and pureed onions. It’s typically served with fresh veggies and pita, just like many other dishes in Lebanon.
Manakeesh is Lebanon’s version of the Italian pizza. The word Manakeesh is derived from Naqasha, which means to carve out. It’s entirely different from the original pizza though, and you will love it for sure.
Manakeesh’s dough is rolled flat and pressed with fingertips to create little dips.
The dips are then filled with different kind of meats and cheeses and sprinkled with zaatar. The dish is served with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and fresh mint leaves.
Manaqish, Manakish, Manaeesh, and Manakeesh all are the names of the same dish. Like pizza, Manakeesh can also be folded or sliced and is a popular choice for lunch in Lebanon.
26. Roz Maa Dajaj – Lebanese Chicken With Rice
This traditional Lebanese dish is prepared on special occasions.
It reflects the importance Lebanese give to spices in their foods. Roz Maa Dajaj is a dish comprising of delicately spiced lamb meat served with salad, golden almonds, pine nuts, and cinnamon-dusted chicken.
27. Daoud Bacha
Daoud Basha is another type of meatball that is prepared in creamy tomato sauce and served with vermicelli and rice. It’s quite like the kofta kebabs and made with ground beef marinated with spiced, parsley, and onion.
It can be either grilled or baked. The kebabs are very moist and tender and believed to be the perfect comfort food.
Lentils are cooked with groats and rice to prepare Mujaddara.
The dish is garnished with sautéed onions.
Lebanese Desserts and Sweets
29. Lebanese Baklava
Contrary to popular belief, Baklava isn’t a Greek dish.
It originated in Lebanon. Baklawa is a divine delicacy made with multiple layers of filo dough while honey and nuts are used as the filling. It’s then baked for 30 minutes at 180 °C or 356 °F.
Baklava is available everywhere around the world as a traditional Middle Eastern sweet, but it tastes heavenly in Lebanon.
It’s the staple dessert of the Levant, Balkans, Caucasus, Maghreb, and West and Central Asia.
It’s prepared in a large casserole dish or pan. Some varieties of baklava may only have a single pastry layer on the top and bottom while some have multiple layers. Before baking, Baklava is cut into pieces, usually in the form of parallelograms, diamonds, triangles or rectangles.
After baking, honey or sugar syrup is mixed with rose water or orange flower water and drizzled on top of Baklava to give it a distinct aroma. The dish is garnished with ground nuts.
Kunafeh is one of the most exciting and creative desserts that you will try in Lebanon.
Preparing Kunafeh is quite a trick as it’s made with thinly shredded vermicelli or semolina dough pastry. The pastry is stuffed with cheese or cream and baked to give it the typical golden brown color.
After baking, Kunafeh is soaked in sugar syrup and garnished with nuts.
Halva dish is known by many names including haleweh, alva, aluva, halwa, halava, helva, chalva, halua, and chalwa, etc. It’s a traditional Arabic dessert that is generally cooked in two different styles flour-based and nut butter-based.
Flour-based halva is made from grain flour or semolina, and cooked in butter, ghee, and sugar. It has a distinct gelatinous texture.
Nut butter-based halva has a crumbly texture and is prepared using tahini or any other type of nut butter like sunflower seed butter. It’s made with sugar and nut butter.
Different grains such as lentils and beans and vegetables like pumpkins, carrots, squashes, and yams are also used to make the halva.
32. Maamoul Cookies
Maamoul, which means stuffed, are traditional Arabian cookies that are an essential part of cuisine in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.
These delicious cookies are stuffed with different kinds of fillings, but walnuts to pistachios and spiced date paste are most common. These cookies have a long history, and even ancient Egyptian temple carvings and paintings depict Maamoul.
Muslim families make Maamoul cookies a few days before Eid-ul-Fitr, the three-day long festival celebrated after the end of the month of fasting, Ramadan.
Christians also prepare Maamoul cookies to celebrate Easter to end the Lenten fast.
The point to remember is that it’s served to guests as a gift or a reward after a certain period of fasting.
Mouhalabieh or Muhallebi is an ancient dish dating back to the period of Sassanid Persia (224-651). It’s a type of milk pudding made with rice, sugar, milk, and rice flour.
The dish was made for the first time in the 10th century.
The Ummayad general al-Muhallab bin Abi Sufa liked it so much that he named the dish after him.
If you want to feel how food can reflect romance and pleasure, then try Namoura. It’s a famous Arabic sweet that has a dense, chewy, and rich semolina crumble soaked in flower syrup.
It’s an egg-free cake that is doused with rose water or vanilla flavors syrup soon after baking.
35. Lebanese Wine
Do you know that Lebanon produces some of the world’s finest and purest wine varieties? It’s also one of the world’s oldest wine producing nations.
Hence, an utterly enjoyable activity in Lebanon would be to check out the beautiful vineyards and trying the exquisite wine.
Meaning “perspiration” in Arabic, Arak is a traditional Lebanese beverage that compliments almost every dish in the country.
It’s a distilled spirit in the anise drinks family with very strong alcohol content, ranging between 40-63%.