LE­BANON’ S MOUNEH

Taste & Flavors - - SUMMER -

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.

SUM­MER­TIME AF­FAIR

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.

DIF­FER­ENT TECH­NIQUES

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.

LO­CAL SPE­CIAL­TIES

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

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