Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Slow Food Beirut's Earth Market - Authentic Traditional Lebanese Food in the Heart of Beirut!

After visiting Furn El Sabaya just couple of days ago, the ladies enlightened me about a market they join every Tuesday in Hamra, Lebanon in which they sell their home made goodies. Therefore, not to be missing on the action of real authentic Lebanese food prepared from scratch, I had to visit this Slow food Beirut - Earth Market (Souk El Ard)!

Turns out the market is totally worth it!!
I met with Chirine, the coordinator of Souk El Ard, and asked her about the concept and mission behind this weekly market 
>> Souk El Ard is an activity organized by Slow Food Beirut, a non-profit Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) branched from the International NGO, Slow Food, that has been founded in Italy in 1989 opposing the 'fast-food' lifestyle and supporting 'slow-food' instead. Slow Food now encompasses more than 150 countries with over 100,000 working to ensure slow authentic food does not go unseen! Slow food organizes similar Earth Markets in different countries and aims to serve 'Good, Clean and Fair Food'. 

  • 'Good' - Authentic, diversified, fresh, and artisan local food products preserving the countries' culinary heritage
  • 'Clean' - Organic food, free from genetically modified organisms and pesticides that does not harm the environment, animals and humans
  • 'Fair' - Fair trade for small-scale agriculture and producers with sustainable approaches to fishing and farming as well as ensuring accessible prices for consumers

Slow Food supports local farmers and producers by organizing educational programs about sustainable diets, farming, fishing, GMOs, slow fish, as well as local markets in which those producers sell their own home made produce. The founder of Slow Food has also founded the first university, University of Gastronomic Sciences, in which one can study links between food and cultures

So bottom line, ou have to check what this market has to offer.
My friends and I actually got (here goes the list): 

  • For lunch: Purslane pies (fatayer), spinach pies, wild green pies, pumpkin kebbe, wild thyme and cheese pie, vegetarian stuffed cabbage leaves
  • For dessert: Sugar-less carrot cake and sugar-less chocolate & orange cupcakes
  • Beverages: Water and freshly squeezed orange juice
  • To take home: More greens fatayer (for the family), pumpkin kebbe, organic carrots, organic zucchini, preserved vine leaves, thyme with sumac, sesame and sunflower seeds, eggplant compote (my dad loves those) and best part of it all, my new baby basil plant

Baked dandelion, purslane, wild thyme and spinach fatayer made with whole wheat

Furn El Sabaya's Mouwaraqa along with their healthy chocolate cupcakes,
orange cupcakes and carrot cake

I wish I had taken a 'hotter' version of this photo, but this one must go up!
In the market, you can actually find Lebanese and Armenian home made lunch meals which you can have right away or take home such as baba gahnouj with sprinked pomegranates, swiss chard (dlou3 sele2) & tahini, dandelion (hendbe) with chickpeas, fresh fava beans (foul) & tomato sauce, stuffed cabbage leaves (me7she malfouf) and the list goes on! So if you are craving your mom/teta's cooking, thank me later!

Em Ali's live saj (flat bread), preparing manakich with rocka & cheese , wild thyme & labne, kechek, labne with hot sauce, thyme with assorted veggies or cheese - with someone actually chopping the food in the background, preparing everything fresh!

Beans, thyme, sumac & sesame fix, kechek, bulgur, rice, wheat, sesame, sumac, flax seeds, herbal teas...

Home made sweets, maamoul, marzipan, biscuits and cookies

Different authentic honey wax and honey flavors too!

A seriously delicious set of nut butters (cashew, peanut, walnut, almond and hazelnut)
as well as sesame paste

Freshly picked wild greens (ors 3anne, orra, wild dandelion, wild mint...) with Lebanese moune (pantry) of preserved marmalades, tomato paste, olives, olive oil, strained yogurt & olive oil, vinegar, vine leaves, plum preserve, gherkins, pickles, just to name a few

A huge variety of seasonal organic fruit & veggies

Best part of it all, I got my new baby organic basil plant. The farmer there taught me how to actually take care of it, water it with details on needed sunshine/shade hours and on how to properly pick the basil leaves to incorporate in dishes such as pasta, pizza... Yum (will keep you posted on this one!)

So you see, this market is playing a crucial role in preserving authentic and traditional Lebanese pantry, produce and dishes and it has an invaluable importance in helping local farmers keep doing what they love to do while profiting from their small-scale businesses. 
In fact, anyone who believes in slow food, their vision and their objectives can join the Slow Food Beirut movement for 10,000LL (almost 7 USD/year). Members can be both dormant and active supporters - You can contact the events' coordinator Chirine Alayan at or 70944308.

I see this market is a win-win situation for both producers and consumers, especially that I love our authentic traditional Lebanese food as well as the healthy and diverse nutrition it has to offer! In addition, the fact that this market is in the heart of Hamra from 8 am till 2 pm, students and employees walking by can actually make benefit of the healthy deliciousness as well! I am sure this won't be my last visit, I already know what I'll have the next time I'm there.

Slow Food Beirut Blog
Slow Food Beirut Facebook Page
Earth Market's Facebook Page

Monday, May 20, 2013

Furn El Sabaya - Savoring Every Bite!

I am finally going to tell you about my favorite place to eat at when having a long beach and bicycling day in the North of Lebanon: Furn El Sabaya. I pass by this place at least twice per month and I decided, just now especially that we are still revolting for real food (Food Revolution Day), that this place is too yum not to mention here!

Furn El Sabaya is not just another furn in Lebanon, it's different. It serves real clean delicious and best of it all, home-made food. The sabaya actually make their own kechek, harvest their own pumpkins, make their own thyme and harvest seasonal wild herbs for their pies. I had the chance to meet Lorenza, Martha and Lucy today, the 3 'sabaya' working there and asked them briefly about the history, concept, food offered and activities in their furn.

History and Concept - The ladies started the furn in Amchit (just after Byblos, Lebanon) 19 years ago because they craved to make their own bread, clean, real, authentic with whole wheat, and wanted to have actual control over the quality of the food they eat. Lorenza and Martha have 3 more sisters while Lucy is their cousin, hence the name 'Furn El Sabaya' in Arabic meaning 'The Ladies' Oven' in English.

Foods offered - As I said, this is no ordinary furn. This actually took me a while to write down as I asked the ladies what the place offered. They have a section for foods and pies
Cheese and thyme manakish!
commonly sold, No.1-asked-for meals section, a vegan one and a healthy sweets section.

  • Commonly sold food - Manakish (thyme, cheese, labne, home-made keshek, minced meat), pizzas and pies
  • 'No.1-asked-for meals' - Mouwaraqa, such a delicious sweet pastry with sugar and chopped walnuts and almonds (You really have to check the video to know what I'm talking about. I unfortunately inhaled the one I got today and forgot to take a photo!), sesame & sugar man2ouche, pumpkin kebbe, and egg-like quiche.
  • The healthy/vegan section
    - Furn El Sabaya has a vegan section offered as both meals in their furn as well as raw & frozen for home use. The seitan meat, wheat-based vegan meat substitute, is cooked into shawarma meat strips, meat-like manakish (lahem b aajin) and sold as minced meat pies on site. Vegan kebbe, sambousek, burger patties, minced/cubed meats for stews and meat strips for shawarma or stroganoff meals are on the other hand frozen and can be bought for home use.
    - This section also has cold-pressed thyme mankouche done with no oil prior to baking to avoid the formation of the oils' free radicals once subjected to heat, then olive oil is added afterwards.
    - Vegan pizza with broccoli, sweet corn, bell pepper and tofu.
    - Vegan pumpkin (which they grow by the way) pies stuffed with spinach, chard and seasonal wild greens with chickpeas.
    - And last but not least, pies made with spinach, purslane, wild greens like 7omayda or qors aane, Swiss chard, and the list goes on varying with seasons!

    Best part of it that all dough is whole-wheat!
    Now the reason why this place has a vegan section is, yes, the ladies are vegetarian and so is the whole family. I mean I had to ask why they had this section given that it's not that common in the country. They first started by preparing their own vegetarian/vegan meals for home use, but Lorenza said that people loved the vegan food and asked for more so they simply started selling them!
Watching Martha as she prepares delicious purslane pies.
I'm definitely visiting Tuesday's Earth Market to try these!
Spinach pies and pumpkin kebbe
  • The last section is their healthy sweets - This section is not available unless you pre-order it. All sweets are free of added sugars, free of sweeteners or sugar substitutes as well as free of dairy and eggs, you know, vegan! It includes molasses cake, carrot cake, apple cake, chocolate cupcake, maamoul (no butter with either dates, almonds or walnuts) and choco dates (chocolate chunks made out of cocoa and dates).

Last but not least, these ladies are active! They have catered brunches/lunches at their shop, seminars and conferences, they have taken part in food exhibitions done at Terra Madre day at AUB, Byblos International Festival, Biel's national food exhibition as well as they are part of Slow Food Beirut's weekly Earth Market. They always advocate healthy, authentic and real Lebanese food.

Long story short today we had pumpkin kebbe, vegan shawarma, vegan pizza with tofu & broccoli, kechek pies and mouwaraqa! And to be honest, I have really savored more than 75 % of the foods this place has to offer over few years, I am a real fan! Whenever I go to the beach, go bicycling, go road-trip-ing or I'm invited to a breakfast, I pass by this place to get some 'goodness'!

So given that I inhaled my Mouwaraqa and forgot to take a photo of it,
this one was taken by
I promise I will take my own when I visit the Earth Market.
So just in case you want to have some of the yummy food, they open from 7.30 am till 2 pm every single day in Amchit (Lebanon) sea side while on Tuesdays, one of the ladies visits the Earth Market in Hamra to sell the place's goodies!

Eating Healthy When You're On the Road

Whether you are on vacation or you are traveling for business, you know how hard it can be to eat well. One of the ways in which we take care of ourselves is to eat well, and though we think about staying safe and securing our belongings when we are on the road, we seldom think about what we are putting in our bodies. The food that you can get on the road is often full of fat, salt and sugar, leaving your body tired and weary and getting in the way of planned activities. Therefore, you need to be conscious in making right healthy decisions.
Be Wary of the Airports
Not only is airport food overpriced, but it is also terribly unhealthy for you. Airports rely
Pre-packed fast food at airports
on people being hungry, tired, in a rush and uninterested in worrying too much about the food choices in front of them. Most food choices are from fast food restaurants: packed, ready-to-eat, with large amounts of additives and preservatives. Make sure that you eat a healthy balanced meal before you head to the airport. Eat a full meal; just make sure that it is relatively light. A meal with a lot of vegetables and fruit will keep you in good shape while you are trying to make your flight! During connection flights, keep your intake of airport food moderate, ditch all greasy croissants, high cheese sandwiches, sugar-loaded coffees, creamy dips and deep-fried foods.
Choose Your Restaurant Carefully
When you are the road, make it a point to avoid places that serve a wide variety of fried food. Fried food is high in grease, and a single meal can run you up to a thousand calories if you are not careful. Look for menus that offer green salads/tossed greens with grilled white meats and meat alternatives. Fish restaurants, especially those offering steamed fish are a good choice. One strategy to use when you are looking at a menu is to look into appetizers, as they are portion controlled. Middle Eastern restaurants can be a good choice, especially if you are looking at hummus with pita and vegetables. In addition, sharing meals can be a good strategy to taste local cuisines while sparing the extra pounds. Try to have filling meals to decrease uncontrolled snacking during the day and when snacking, try new local fruits instead of high sugar/fat snacks.
A balanced meal: Hummus, pita and vegetables
Finding healthy hotels and restaurants can often be a difficult task, especially when you are in unfamiliar areas. I have found that reading reviews online from other experienced travelers is the best way to gain knowledge and find the right places for you. I most recently found a great site that listed reviews for Las Vegas hotels that not only had great reviews regarding the amenities and services offered, but also provided an abundance of reviews regarding the restaurants in the surrounding area. This made it so much easier to not only pick the right hotel for me, but to also plan out which restaurants that I could visit to eat both nutritiously and deliciously while in the buffet ridden Sin City.
Skip the Alcohol
When you are on vacation, it is easy to have a few extra drinks because you are having a great time. If you are on business, you may feel that you need to unwind at the end of a busy day. The problem is that alcohol, in cocktail or dry form, is full of empty calories and it adds up so quick! Alcohol also spares fat burning and leaves your body dehydrated, draining all your energy! Make sure that you refuse the key to the minibar in the room and that you skip the hotel bar. When you go out with people, stick with ginger ale or an intriguing exotic fresh fruit juice.
If it is in your budget, think about choosing a hotel room that has a kitchen in it. If you are willing to cook while you are on the road, make sure that you take the time to shop at the supermarkets for healthy ingredients and snacks. Fruit, vegetables and low calorie snacks are best, such as cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, apples, bananas, soaked almonds or walnuts. Not only will this save you money, you will find that this can keep your calorie count low as you will feel full between meals. If you decide not to get a room with a kitchen, instead bring along a crock-pot or a toaster oven. This allows you to prepare hot food, which mitigates the need to go out and get restaurant food.
Take a moment to consider how you can stay healthy when you are traveling. It will sure pay off when you are full of energy during your trip and it only takes a little bit of consideration and conscious preparations.

This post is by the guest blogger, Cole Millen>> Blog:
Cole Millen is an avid traveler and foodie who never forgets that life's best memories are made through real life apprehension of legitimate "experiences." Some people plan a trip to "get away," while others realize benefit of adding something greater to their current repertoire of knowledge, thought and emotion. Through his writings, Cole hopes to influence the earlier, and connect with the latter.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Healthy Ice Cream - Strawberry, Cashew or Chocolate Flavor?

I'm still munching on healthy snacks this may and this time it was ice cream time.
I looked up healthy ice cream recipes and found a one-ingredient ice cream only made from bananas! This was intriguing to try as it was totally healthy and I get to have my snack and fruit serving in the same time, win-win!

So the whole process is easy and it can be mixed up with different flavors, with one base of course - bananas. Therefore, I decided to have mine chocolate flavored, my sis wanted strawberry ice cream and my friend wanted his plain with cashews chops.

For 3 servings, each with a different flavor
  • 6 medium bananas
  • 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons liquid unsweetened milk (I went for unsweetened rice milk)
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 frozen strawberries
  • 8 raw unsalted cashews
Chop bananas into coins and freeze
those little babies

Banana ice cream base
  • Start by chopping all the bananas into small coins and freeze them for few hours (I froze mine for 5 hours).
  • When your bananas are frozen, toss the 6 of them into your food processor, add 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract, add 4 tablespoons of rice milk and blend till you get a smooth creamy texture. This should probably take just a few minutes!
    >> Now we have our ice cream base which I divided into 3, given that we each wanted a different flavor.

Cashew chops with plain
banana ice cream

For a plain ice cream with cashew chops
  • Slightly grind the cashews into tiny chops.
  • Mix them with 1 banana ice cream serving.
    * Any kind of nut/nut butter can be mixed with the banana ice cream: cashew, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, coconut flakes/chops - You name it! 
Strawberry banana flavor

For a strawberry flavored ice cream
  • Get 6 fresh strawberries, wash, chop and freeze them for 2-3 hours.
  • Once frozen, blend them pretty well with your base banana ice cream and garnish with some fresh strawberries.
    * Any kind of fruit can be tossed in here as well! Raspberry, blackberries, mango, kiwi, lemon, apricots - I mean summer is here and the fruit season is about to bloom.
And my favorite, chocolate!

For a chocolate flavored ice cream
  • Mix the plain banana ice cream with 2 teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and that's it! This was my favorite by the way!
    * You can also mix your base with instant coffee powder or cinnamon as well.
And after preparing your flavored banana ice cream >> Freeze for few hours till solid. All flavors are easy, healthy and icy - perfect for a summer treat!

Friday, May 3, 2013

The 'Taste Lebanon' Project - Delicious Lebanon Revealed

First of May happens to be towards the very end of Mangroves-season, in which you can still harvest these tiny shrubs you see off the shores of Lebanon. We usually buy mangroves' pickled leaves, my dad seems to love them with everything and enjoy them with anything that includes lentils. So this year, I decided to go harvest those shrubs and pickle my own! We went off to the coastal shores of Amchit, North of Lebanon. Many seem to harvest the leaves as shrubs were harvested already, but we managed to find our own. There are different types of mangroves shrubs, we got lucky with some of the semi-immersed ones, those that tolerate salty tidal seawater twice per day.

Nevertheless, this post is not about my mangroves hunting, it's more about our after-harvesting part of the day. We passed by Furn El Sabaya in Amchit, which deserves its own post soon, and bumped into Bethany Kehdy with a small group of tourists. So you see this tiny post is about the amazing (and might I add fun) work Bethany is doing in giving an excellent image about the culinary & cultural life of Lebanon. I have followed Bethany on twitter, kept myself busy with her recipes on Dirty Kitchen Secrets and checked her updates on food blogging conferences, Food Blogger Connectbut the best part of it all is her Taste Lebanon project.

In case you're not familiar with what Taste Lebanon's aim is, this is it.
Bethany Kehdy cooking
Courtesy of MidEats
We were having some fatayer (Lebanese good spinach pies) when Bethany and 3 tourists came in. She introduced them to the place and ordered the place's specials. The group enthusiastically watched how food was prepared and took photos as Bethany explained the whole procedure, what ingredients went in, the way of cooking as well as the cultural background of the food, all in English.

>> That's what Bethany does in Taste Lebanon. She highlights the good, delicious side of Lebanon to tourists from all over the world. Bethany guides tourists on a 7-day culinary trip all over Lebanon. The tours are private, as you see the group we met were just 3. It's a combination of a fun, cultural and super delicious trip. 

Few of the places/food you'll get to experience touring Taste Lebanon [And I got these just by recapping FEW reviews on Taste Lebanon! You might wanna click on those links and check their latest youtube video for savory food!]

Pita bread making
- Falafel making and tasting
- Touristic visits to Baalbeck ruins then heading back to mountain wineries
- Fish markets, seafood restaurants and of course, swimming!
- Beehives and honey making
- Saj bread preparation
- Lebanese sweets making (such as baklava, middle eastern pastries & mwaraqa)
- Wild-thyme farms (that I've never been to)
- Lunches with full Lebanese meze
- Authentic chicken and kebab lunches
- Breakfast options you can have in Lebanon >> labne, manakich, croissants, yum!
- Ice cream tasting
- Arak tasting
- Kaak making
- Maamoul making
- Pita bread making
- Orange flower water making

- Beef/lamb meat market / Sheep for dinner!
- Kibbe preparation (I'm sure by now you know you'll taste those too!)
- And the best of all, tours around old authentic Lebanese old souks and street markets!

If you love learning about and tasting good food, you will be drooling. I couldn't but link all those photos. You can check David Lebovitz posts on his latest tour with Bethany and many more here. I couldn't stop reading the tourists feedback about how easy it was to go around the whole country with Bethany while having all the amazing culinary experiences I haven't had in my own country, makes me want to re-organize my to-do list! Of course, there's a lot to do in such a short period of time so not all the culinary trips I mentioned can fit into one visit I guess. As Bethany explains, tours may differ from one time to another.
All I know is that if I were a tourist, I would want to have this delicious trip. So if you know similar (as cool & as delicious!!) trips around Europe or Asia, I beg thee to link me!

My Healthy Homemade Peanut Butter

I assume they mean something extraordinary,
especially that the brain creates new neural pathways with new experiences!
However, cooking new (easy) recipes and exploring the healthier side of snacks are on my to-do list.

Still 'revolting for food' with the Food Revolution Day coming up on the 17th of May, I'm creating my own homemade peanut butter for the first time! 

I love peanut butter, it's delicious, creamy, nutty and in the same time a healthy snack! Of course, it's caloric dense but in the same so rich in nutrients! Peanuts provide you with the good kinda fat, monounsaturated ones, along with minerals (copper, magnesium, manganese, iron), vitamins (E, B6, folate, niacin) and antioxidants (p-coumaric acid & resveratrol).
Sugar and hydrogenated vegetable
are major ingredients in
commercial peanut butter!
It has been a while since I last had peanut butter so I went shopping! Nevertheless while shopping for peanut butter, I couldn't help but notice most were super processed with hydrogenated fats and sugars. 

So I decided to make my own. Turns out, the 'recipe' is super easy. I got raw unsalted peanuts, dry roasted them in the oven, blended them and voila. It's really this simple! The whole process took around 20 minutes tops. 

  • 400 grams raw peanuts (depending on how much you want to make)
  • A pinch of salt, honey, molasses or unsweetened cocoa powder, if desired

  • Spread the raw peanuts evenly in a pan and roast in your oven for around 8 minutes. Stir the mix mid-way. You can make the butter with raw peanuts, but roasting really enhances the flavor!
  • Blend the roasted nuts in your food processor (Steps 2 through 8) for 10 to 12 minutes.
    > Make sure not to blend them for straight 12 minutes, it might burn your food processor;s motor. 1-2 minutes per spin will do.
    > Don't worry about adding any extra oil. Once crushed, the peanuts release their own oils, softening the blend.
    > After every spin, briefly scrap down the mix with a spoon.
  • I wanted mine crunchy so I took few tablespoons from step 3 and mixed them with the final peanut butter product (Step 9).
  • I added a pinch of salt throughout the whole process. I don't like mine sweet so I didn't have to add any honey. So this depends on your taste buds!
  • Place your healthy peanut butter in a container and refrigerate. Now note that given its natural peanut butter with no emulsifiers, you will notice that the oil will slightly separate to the top when stored. Just stir it a bit before use.
So my healthy May after-workout snack was peanut butter with bananas and crushed hazelnuts. Quick, easy, satisfies my cravings and healthy!

My next butter, probably next month, will be cashews butter, rich and creamy!