Earlier this month, my good friend Sarah and I had the rare privilege to feast on a fantastic Lebanese lunch prepared by none other than our new friend and chef extraordinaire, Julie Taboulie. For those of you who don’t know Julie, I’ll do my best to describe her. A few adjectives will doubtless come to mind the very moment you meet her: radiant, gorgeous, sincere, intuitive, smart, talented, incredibly personable, passionate, delightful beyond belief. Need I go on? Basically, when you are in her presence, Julie just makes you feel like you are basking in gorgeous Mediterranean rays of sunshine. She is full of ideas and is determined to singlehandedly educate the world in the marvels, health benefits, and delicacies of Lebanese cuisine–and mark my words, she will do it! With her delightful (and adorable) “Mama” by her side, who Julie claims is her cultural fact-checker and quality minister, the world will be a better place once everyone has indulged in Julie’s recipes. Trust me. I am on a mission to help spread the word.
Her show, “Cooking with Julie Taboulie,” airs on Create TV. Check her website for listings and updates at julietaboulie.com.
This is what Julie prepared for our amazing lunch at our MacKenzie-Childs Studio. She was kind enough to recap for us here:
Mouthwatering Mezze Plate
Labneh, homemade Lebanese strained yogurt: creamy, dreamy, and deliciously strained, silky smooth yet substantially significant, Lebanese yogurt drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with savory and spicy spices, scooped up with warm wedges of Lebanese pocket pita bread.
Jibneh Mashallale, homemade Syrian string cheese: stringy, soft, and somewhat salty super-skinny strands of braided cheese, seasoned with subtle spices, sea salt, and spiked with itsy-bitsy black nigella slightly-smoky spiced seeds (Habbat al Barakah, meaning “blessed seed”).
Zaytoun, olive: the “unofficial official” olive of Lebanon. These small, salty, and spicy cracked, marinated green olives are seen spread atop small plate upon small plate, and presented alongside traditional Lebanese mezze and meals morning, noon or night, making mouths water for more and more of these zingy-zesty Zaytoun!
Za’atar, Lebanese “Thyme Seasoning” Savory Signature Spice
Za’atar: literally translates to “thyme” in Lebanese. This traditional and staple savory spice mixture is made of freshly dried wild Za’atar, Greek oregano, thyme, sumac spice, sea salt, and sesame seeds that are slightly toasted. Then this earthy and zesty thyme herb blend is finely ground together to create a truly one-of-a-kind taste that is tart, tangy, savory, slightly sour, and salty, yet suddenly sharp all at the same time. This alluring, appealing, and aromatic signature spice of Lebanon is, above all, addictively and appetizingly tasty.
You Just Found Your New Favorite Salad: Fattoush
Fattoush: belonging to the family of dishes known as “fattat,” meaning to use day-old flatbread as a base, this Lebanese-Levantine peasant bread salad is anything but peasant-tasting and full of sudden surprises! An exhilarating and eclectic explosion of colorful, fresh, and flavorful vibrant vegetable variety and hand-picked herbs meet a medley of mixed greens dressed in an extra virgin olive oil, lemon, garlic, and herb vivacious vinaigrette that is generously spiked with sumac spice, then tossed together with crispy-crunchy and toasted-to-perfection pocket pita bread pieces that place this salad in a whole other hemisphere. Unlike its ultra-finely chopped counterpart, taboulie, comparatively speaking this salad is roughly chopped into rather large rustic-style slices, and seasoned sour-to-taste, creating a truly out-of-sight salad!
Crave-a-licious Coosa Bil’ Lahme Mahshi! Stuffed Middle Eastern Specialty Squash
Coosa Bil’ Lahme Mahshi: Middle Eastern specialty squash stuffed with a mixture of lamb meat, long grain rice, and mint, slowly simmered away in a tomato-based broth.
I’m sharing with you my summer-licious Middle Eastern specialty summer squash called Coosa! It is light green in color, small in size, and unique in texture, with a thinner skin and a one-of-a-kind taste that separates this squash in a class all its own. Originating in the Middle East, Coosa is the staple of all the squash selections there, and now it has made its way across the Atlantic into our American heartland; it seems to be coming up everywhere! In our local farms, farm stands, regional markets, and more, I’ve personally noticed people becoming quite curious about it. Typical varieties you may come across are Magda, Bark, and Cancun, and thankfully I don’t have to go too far to find my Coosa, as Mama has her crops coming up in the garden!
Delicately cored, cleaned, and stuffed with a savory filling composed of ground meat, long grain rice, fresh mint, tomato paste, and seasonings that are slowly simmered away in a tomato-based broth, it tastes incredible. The deliciously savory stuffing is enclosed in a tender-to-the-taste squash. A tasty tomato soup is also created as the squash is simmering away, so you will also have two wonderful ways in which to serve it. You can ladle some of the tasty tomato soup in a shallow bowl and lay the cooked, stuffed squash right on top, or serve the soup alongside of the Coosa. So there you have it, one complete main meal or a side dish accompanying a main meal, and either way, as you serve it up, there is no doubt in mind that you will find it to be completely crave-a-licious!
Waraq Inab: Fresh-From-The-Vine Glorious Grape Leaves
Mahshi Waraq Inab Althah: Fresh-from-the-vine grape leaves filled with a vegetable, herb, and long grain rice mixture, slowly simmered in a fresh lemon juice and garlicky-good broth.
When most people think of grape leaves, they may think of the grapes themselves (and wines, of course), but grape leaves are actually delicious and nutritious edible leaves that are used in an array of recipes within Lebanese and Middle Eastern cuisines. And, this is one of my culture’s most famous dishes of all time: fresh-from-the-vine stuffed grape leaves. Mahshi Waraq Inab, literally meaning “stuffed grape leaves,” is just that! Freshly picked, filled, wrapped, and rolled up with a simply satiable mixture of vegetables and herbs along with long grain rice, layered alongside one another, then slowly simmered in a saucepot of fresh lemon juice and garlicky-good broth to succulent perfection, tender on the outside and luscious on the inside; it all makes my grape leaves gratifying! Lebanese grape leaves are traditionally served hot or warm right out of the pot, on their own, as part of the Mezze, or as a main meal in and of itself. Paired with my refreshingly cool and crisp Persian cucumber, fresh mint, and homemade Lebanese yogurt salad Khyar bi Laban, it makes one unmistakably mouthwatering Middle Eastern meal!
MacKenzie-Childs Blissful Baklawa
Baklawa bi Bunduq: a lusciously layered phyllo-dough pastry with a hazelnut filling, flavored with subtle sweet spices, vanilla essence, and orange-blossom water, doused in a sumptuous orange-blossom syrup. Delicately decorated with MacKenzie-Childs’ celebrated Courtly Check hand-painted pattern in a creamy milk chocolate and vanilla-bean white chocolate coating for a famously sweet finish. Memorable and moist-as-can-be, it can only be a MacKenzie-Childs sweet, you see! I was inspired by Courtly Check, along with my adoration and affection for the arrangement of hazelnuts and chocolate, to create this signature sweet. Together these two harmonious motivators made a sweet masterpiece!