We’ve happily added falafel, fattoush and hummus into the Aussie diet, but there’s plenty more to Lebanese food than a late-night kebab. Get the lowdown on mastering mezza and spicing things up.
Siobhan Hegarty

16 Mar 2017 - 9:47 AM  UPDATED 19 Mar 2021 - 5:46 PM

In Lebanese culture, cooking, eating and entertaining guests is at the heart of everyday life. It’s traditional for meals to start with mezza – a selection of dips, flat bread, salads and pastries. The main may consist of flame-grilled kebabs, shawarma-spiced meat, grilled seafood, or a hearty moghrabieh (pearl couscous). Kibbeh, a mix of minced lamb, burghul and baharat, is said to be the national dish of Lebanon. It comes baked, fried or – best of all – raw (a la kibbeh nayeh), served with toum (Lebanese garlic sauce), pickles and bread.   

Lebanese breakfast makes toast seem trivial. A popular option is fatteh – chickpeas, yoghurt sauce and crispy Lebanese bread with hummus or lamb. According to Jasmin 1 chef Habib Akra, “Probably 90 per cent of people who live in Tripoli have this dish for breakfast”. When you look at the recipe you’ll understand why. And what would Lebanese cuisine be without the scrumptious sweets? Desserts tend to be syrupy (semolina slice) creamy (katayef), or a combination of both (mafroukeh).

Pantry essentials

Get your hands on a good quality Lebanese baharat (seven spice mix) or make your own. Stock up on chickpeas and tahini (hummus essentials); Lebanese bread and pickled veggies; pine nuts, olive oil, semolina and burghul (cracked wheat). Sweet-wise, grab pomegranate molasses, dried fruits and orange blossom water. And for the fridge, clotted cream (see below) and natural yoghurt will come in handy.


Fast five

1. Couscous rules: Fluff with a fork, not a spoon, to ensure the grains remain intact. 

2. Kitchen hack: Use the semi-circle shaped utensil manakra to hollow out veggies pre-stuffing. (Use it here.)

3. Dairy dream: Make your own clotted cream (ashta) by skimming boiling milk.

4. Double trouble: Lacking a spice grinder, but have one for coffee? Use it to grind spices after roasting – it’ll help maximise their volatile oils.

5. Easy entertaining: Mix thyme, roasted sesame seeds, sumac and olive oil to make za’tar. Season, serve with flat bread and snack away.


View our Lebanese recipe collection here.

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Get cooking: Lebanese

This rich Lebanese dessert is traditionally made using clotted cream, while some cooks use whipped ricotta sweetened with sugar and flavoured with orange blossom water. Needless to say, versions abound, but the condensed milk cream in this recipe works super-well. This dessert isn’t particularly hard to make (don’t be put off by the long roasting time for the semolina) but it is important that the syrup and semolina be completely cool when combined, or the semolina layer will set rock hard.

Chargrilled garlic chicken (farrouj meshwi)

This succulent chicken is often barbecued over charcoal for extra smokiness. With the lemony flavour of sumac, it’s the marinade that makes this Lebanese dish such a crowd-pleaser.

Baked kibbeh with onion and pine nuts (kibbeh b’sayneyeh)

Kibbeh is a dish of minced meat with bulgur (a crushed wheat also known as burghul) and spices with many variants, eaten raw or cooked. It's regarded as the national dish of Lebanon and there are as many ways to prepare and serve kibbeh as there are to spell it.

Fatteh with hummus

This recipe is a popular breakfast dish all over the Levant and dates back as far as the time of the Crusaders. I prefer to have this on a hot summer night as it's light and refreshing. Serve it individually or on a large platter for everyone to share, mezza-style. As we say in Arabic, sahtan – enjoy in good health.

Stuffed red capsicums

These vegetarian capsicums are stuffed with rice, herbs and baharat, an aromatic spice blend used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Other stuffings include pine nuts, chickpeas, sumac and paprika. Serve as an entrée or as part of a banquet.