Clean Eating

TASTE OF THE LEVANT

Bring the flavors of the Middle East to your barbecue with these easy recipes including gorgeous mezze, fragrant meat skewers and standout homemade sauces.

- By Himi Hunaidi

We’re bringing the Middle East to the West with fullflavor­ed Mediterran­ean meals like shish tawook, muhammara salad and a quick baba ghanoush.

So why are we using the term “Levantine” rather than simply “Middle Eastern”? The Middle East is actually a very large region that includes parts of North Africa such as Morocco and the states of the Persian Gulf such as the United Arab Emirates. From a culinary and cultural perspectiv­e, the Middle East is quite varied. The Levantine region, on the other hand, is more narrow, referring to countries of the Eastern Mediterran­ean, which share many cultural, linguistic and culinary traits. Although which areas are considered a part of the Levant has varied over time, they typically include all or parts of Jordan, Israel, Palestinia­n territorie­s (West Bank, Gaza), Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. The name, derived from a French word, was coined in the late 1400s and was used to mean “the countries of the east.”

We reached out to acclaimed chef Himi Hunaidi to bring a taste of Levantine cuisine to the pages of Clean Eating. Born and raised in Jordan, Hunaidi is of Palestinia­n descent and spent her school breaks and summers in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Later, she was trained as a chef in the south of France before founding her own Toronto-based restaurant called Madame Levant. She’s the perfect person to translate Middle Eastern flavors into simple, easy backyard dishes for summer and beyond.

“Growing up in the Levant region, summer had many flavors and aromas, but the most dominant one would be the smell of barbecue,” explained Hunaidi. “Charcoal grills would be lit in public parks, backyards and even on sidewalks in cities. Each family has their trusted butcher, a family member who is in charge of the preparatio­n, another person doing the grilling and finally everyone would gather to share delicious cold mezzes and hot skewers of meat or vegetables from the grill.”

Levantine cooking doesn’t have to be complicate­d – in fact, according to Hunaidi, the cuisine is actually relatively simple. It’s about cooking in season and using gorgeous produce paired with unique culinary techniques that she’s revealing here.

But the cuisine isn’t just about getting the techniques right, it’s also about sharing in the joy of a meal as the locals in the region do. “The cultures that have developed this cuisine see food as more than just nutrients on a plate. They see a meal as a gathering, an act of love and always a celebratio­n,” says Hunaidi. This collection of recipes is a perfect way to celebrate summer with your family and sample the flavors of the Levant at the same time. We hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we did!

YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD THE TERM “Levantine” BEFORE, BUT YOU’VE LIKELY TASTED THE CUISINE THINK CREAMY HUMMUS, PERFECTLY SPICED CHICKEN SKEWERS AND GARLICKY, LEMONY EGGPLANT DIP.

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