Author: Nada Serhan
When I lived in the United States while finishing my graduate studies, I was equally surprised and stunned at how much lebanese food had become available not only in various restaurants but also in supermarkets. Their vegetarian dishes of Lebanese cuisine translated well into the vegetarian and vegan world of the West. Walking down an aisle in Whole Foods, or even SafeWay, I would see hummus, vine leaves, and tabbouleh just to name a few dishes. It has been the same in other countries I have lived in or simply visited.
In this piece, I’d like to give you a glimpse into how some of these foods we find now in supermarkets are traditionally enjoyed in Lebanon and its neighboring countries. These are what make up an authentic vegetarian breakfast.
Hummus حمص : A staple of our breakfast
At first I found it weird to hear friends and colleagues referring to hummus as a dip. Although I have now also come to consume it as a dip, I feel the need to tell the world about our favorite and most nutritious breakfast.
Imagine a world where you do not find hummus in supermarkets. Instead, you find tiny hummus connoisseur restaurants in all neighborhoods, towns and cities. Freshly made with no preservatives.
That is what you will find and enjoy in Lebanon no matter the city or neighborhood. These small restaurants make the best and most essential dishes; hummus, foul and other dishes made from chickpeas.
These dishes, and especially hummus, are usually served warm in deep bowls with olive oil sprinkled on top. They are served with freshly baked Arabic pita bread (that is usually thinner and larger than regular pita bread). An array of vegetables is served with the dish, a raw onion being that most crucial veggie that compliments the dish.
A thick yogurt-like dish, labana (classical pronunciation) or labneh (lebanese accent) can be presented the same way hummus is; in a deep dish with olive oil sprinkled on top and a few mint leaves.
You can also have labana as a sandwich or what we call this type of sandwich in Arabic Arousa (عروسة). You simply spread it on one side of the arabic pita bread, sprinkle olive oil, and you’re ready to go. To make it a full breakfast, you can add cucumbers, tomatoes, olives and onions and put them on top of the labana, then wrap the bread. Et Voila!
Thyme with olive oil زيت و زعتر
I realized thyme is mostly used as seasoning outside of our region. For us, thyme is an essential and one of the most nutritious breakfast foods. The mixture we use of thyme is a bit different as we add sumac, oregano, salt and sesame seeds.
This version of thyme is not for seasoning but rather is a tasty and flavorful breakfast option. This can be considered a dip in a now. We tend to mix it with olive oil (not just sprinkle) and then eat with by dipping the arabic bread in it. We can also spread the mixture and create another type of arousa sandwich.
A bit of all:
Don’t be surprised if you’re visiting someone there or if you’re going to an arabic restaurant for breakfast (there are plenty of western cafes in Lebanon that are oriented more for western breakfast options) that you will find yourself sharing your breakfast with your friends. It is habit to have several small plates that would include hummus, foul, labana, thyme and olive oil, scrambled eggs, an assortment of different cheeses and an bigger plate of vegetables including cucumbers, olives, tomatoes, onions, mint, and radish.
If you’re on the go and don’t have time for a seated breakfast:
Don’t fret for Lebanon is known for its amazing bakeries offering different types of vegetarian pies called manakeesh مناقيش. These are freshly baked pies that have several different toppings: zaatar with olive oil mix, cheese topping, and a combination of both the cheese and zaatar. A newer spicy version adopted from Palestinian cuisine (Palestinian cuisine tends to be more spicy and include different peppers and chilli) is the chilli pie; they spread a mixture of tomatoes, chilli, onions, and olive oil on the pie and bake it fresh.
Normally we tend to have red tea with our breakfast. Sometimes we include fresh mint leaves in the tea as it simmers. Be careful that some places make the tea quite sweet so make sure to double check with the server about the amount of sugar already added. They are more than happy to make the tea without any sugar.
Don’t be surprised that some servers, especially in the hummus connoisseur restaurants will ask if you’d like a coca cola with your breakfast. It is a weird custom I must confess and one I personally have never acquired so again. But if you want to give it a try, go right ahead.