LEBANON’ S MOUNEH
Constituting a big part of Lebanese food culture, Mouneh is considered a sacred ritual. Virtually every house in the country still practices some form of mounehmaking, and every house claims theirs is the best! To learn more about this ageold tradition, we speak with mouneh expert Set Balkis.
Mouneh was initially a way of preserving produce and crops, which are mostly in season in spring and summer. Thus, mouneh-making mainly takes place starting late spring until the end of summer, with some mouneh being made in the fall. Keeping in mind that some preserves are made during winter, and some all-year-round, here is a general breakdown of the mouneh making timeline:
Spring: Making mouneh usually begins as early as late April – early May, where some jams (strawberry, for instance). Summer: Most mouneh is made during the summer, since most food is in season during this period. Also, the weather conditions are optimal for some processes such as sun-drying. Some examples of mouneh during this time include: apricot jam in June, peach jam in July, kishk starting mid-august until September, and eggplant makdous starting mid-august; however, Set Balkis claims that the makdous made in the last week of September is always the best batch of the year.
Autumn: The most important mouneh item made in the fall is olive oil, which is arguably one of the most important ingredients in the entire Lebanese food culture. Harvest begins after the first rain of October and olive oil production could last until mid-november.
Depending on the product, there are different ways to make provisions. The most common ways are:
Drying: One of the most common ways many preserves are made not just in Lebanon, but the entire Arab world. Most notably in village houses, wicker baskets and trays hanging on the front porches or the roofs with produce ranging from fruits to herbs to grains (and even meat) is a common summertime sight.
Pickling: Another way of preserving foods is pickling, the most common way being with the use of vinegar.
This practice is used on various vegetables, including (but not limited to) cucumbers, onions, carrots, cauliflower, chili peppers, turnip and beetroot. Preserves: Another common summertime sight is large pots of mashed produce boiling over wood-fire, making all sorts of jams, jellies and pastes. These commonly include fruits such as apricots and figs as well as some vegetables such as tomatoes and chili peppers.
Oil-packing: This process is very similar to pickling, with oil substituting for vinegar. The most common items include dried labneh, dried kishk balls and eggplants (makdous).
Some mouneh items are made in different ways. For instance, meat preserves (also known as awarma) is made by rendering the fat of the animal, then slowly cooking the minced meat and storing it (with very large amounts of rendered fat) in a jar. The meat preserves would then be added to hot stews and dishes during the winter.
Though most mouneh is made everywhere in Lebanon, some regions shine brighter with their mouneh variety. Here are a few regions in Lebanon and the mouneh they are most famous for making:
Baalbeck: Eggplant makdous, kishk, apricot preserves, goat labneh
Byblos: Rose water, pomegranate molasses, verjus, apple vinegar, apple preserves, kishk
Hammana: Anything with cherries Kesserwan: Cheese, notably goat cheese
North Lebanon: Olive oil, sumac, zaatar South Lebanon: Burgul, zhourat, freekeh, zaatar, sesame, orange blossom water