Food is the star of Le­banese fes­ti­val

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Metro - By Liz Teitz STAFF WRITER

For three weeks, mem­bers of St. Ge­orge Ma­ronite Catholic Church worked in the kitchen, fill­ing 4,000 grape leaves with meat, rice and spices.

By Satur­day af­ter­noon, half­way through the church’s an­nual Le­banese Food Fes­ti­val, most had al­ready been eaten. The last few trays were packed tightly in­side sil­ver pots on the stove­top, ready to be cooked un­der Kitchen Cap­tain Yvette Haase’s watch­ful eye.

Haase pointed to an­other pot on the burner — in­stead of us­ing water, she planned to cook the grape leaves with a mix­ture of water, lemon juice and spices that she’d drained from the pre­vi­ous batch, to give the next pot more fla­vor.

“One gen­er­a­tion to the next,” she said — just like the way the recipes and other Le­banese tra­di­tions have been passed down through the com­mu­nity.

Haase, who was born in San An­to­nio, and Marie Saleh, who moved from Le­banon as a teenag- er, re­called learn­ing from the older women in the church grow­ing up.

Now, they teach the next gen­er­a­tion, Saleh said. They start pre­par­ing food for the fes­ti­val in the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber, as­sem­bling and freez­ing the grape leaves and the kibbe, a dish made of beef, onions, cracked wheat and spices.

Those are cooked dur­ing the three-day fes­ti­val ev­ery year, when ev­ery­thing else is made fresh to or­der. Larry Mon­sour, a re­tired Air Force colonel now serv­ing as “Cap­tain Falafel,” molded and fried a mix­ture of chick­peas, which Frank Rizzo topped with veg­eta­bles and wrapped in pi­tas for hun­gry cus­tomers.

The an­nual event, which in­cludes mu­sic and Le­banese folk-danc­ing, is a cel­e­bra­tion of the tra­di­tions handed down through the gen­er­a­tions, and a chance to share them with oth­ers, Fa­ther Charles Khachan said.

“We’ve been part of the city for over 100 years,” he said. While the fes­ti­val isn’t of­fi­cially part of the city’s tri­cen­ten­nial events, he said cel­e­brat­ing the com­mu­nity’s past and present along­side San An­to­nio’s his­tory “is even more spe­cial.”

“It shows the di­ver­sity of San An­to­nio,” he said.

St. Ge­orge Ma­ronite Catholic Church was es­tab­lished in 1925, formed by mem­bers of the com­mu­nity who had pre­vi­ously been wor­ship­ping with other Catholic parishes. The church has been at its cur­rent lo­ca­tion on Bab­cock Road since 1974.

At the fes­ti­val, “we bring peo­ple to­gether as a fam­ily, and we’re shar­ing our cul­ture,” Khachan said, ges­tur­ing to the booths where lines of peo­ple waited to buy food, and the gym­na­sium, where dancers pre­pared to per­form.

In­side, the Le­banese Folk Dancers of St. Ge­orge took the stage, while the au­di­ence clapped and tod­dlers too young to join in danced on their own.

Ja­son Mery, who started danc­ing as a 4-year-old, watched in be­tween his own dances with his son Keiran, 6, on his lap. He clapped for his daugh­ter, Kalila, 11, who skipped and spun with sil­ver beads jin­gling on the hem­line of her cos­tume.

“Danc­ing is in my blood,” he said, and now, it’s in his chil­dren’s, too. He teaches some of the younger men he per­forms with, and hopes to teach Keiran when he’s older, he said.

“It’s car­ry­ing on some­thing that’s very im­por­tant to us,” he said.

As all of the dancers per­formed to­gether in their fi- nal dance, some of the younger chil­dren stood on stage wav­ing Amer­i­can and Le­banese flags. At the T-shirt stand, one pop­u­lar pur­chase was a shirt printed with parts of the Texas and Le­banese flags and the words “Texas grown, Le­banese roots.”

“We’re not only cel­e­brat­ing,” Khachan said. “We’re invit­ing ev­ery­body to join us.”

Kin Man Hui / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Young dancers per­form dur­ing the 11th an­nual Le­banese Food Fes­ti­val atSt. Ge­orge Ma­ronite Catholic Church. The three-day fes­ti­val of­fers a taste of Le­banese cul­ture with food, dance and tours of the church.

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