A few weeks ago, I met Lea. She’sÂ a Nephrology Fellow at the Harvard Medical School, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Harvard’s Medical school’s second largest teaching affiliate) and Mass General Hospital in Boston.
Over lunch by the sea, picking really delicious mezzesÂ directly from the serving plate, we got to discuss many things about life. But what we talked about the most was, of course, say it with me, food. Lea is a vegetarian and prepares delicious meals that don’t have to include meat, chicken or any kind of animal. From now on, she will be sharingÂ her stories and recipes right here on Breadonbutter in a new series called “The Veggie Diaries”. So whether you’re sitting behind your screen in Lebanon or away from home in another country, or even if you’re not lebanese and want to try some easy and healthy vegetarian dishes, read on for Lea’s first log.
If you had to think about this one question you are asked the most in life, you would come up with “What’s your name?” or “What do you do?”. For me however, it’s: “What’s your accent? Where are you from??”
Being a Lebanese woman, with Russian descents and some Europeans origins, I apparently have an accent in all the languages I speak (I sound French when speaking Arabic and English, and I sound Lebanese when speaking French!). My patients feel it’s their hospital’s admission goal to figure out where I am from.
After spending an amazing vacation in Beirut and meeting interesting and inspirational people, I came back to Boston, happy but nostalgic. Within ten days, I had cooked Lebanese food to my American friends on multiple occasions… and I loved it! Being in Beirut, however, and having my 84-year old grandmother attempt to feed me chicken given that I am vegetarian- and for her, vegetarians = no meat but yes for chicken!- , reminded me how challenging adopting a meat-free diet could be in Lebanon. It shouldn’t though! Lebanese cuisine contains more vegetarian options that most of the world’s cuisines. Every meal has it vegetarian options, from breakfasts to lunch and dinner, the choices are endless!
I decided to jump into everyone’s favorite Lebanese morning pizza: mankoucheh. In the process, you can see my not-so-creative gene acting up in the I Cedar L! From zaatar brought from Beirut to simple shredded mozzarella for the cheese mankoucheh, the result was astonishingly good!
– Store-bought pizza dough (can find it in wheat for a calorie-restricted mankoucheh)
– Shredded Mozzarella cheese
– Olive oil
How to make it:
Thread the dough on a lightly oiled or floured surface; in a small plate, mix the zaatar with enough oil to get the desired consistency. Use a bowl to cut small and easy-to-store mankoucheh. Then spread some of the zaatar mix onto the dough to cover most of it, leaving ½ to 1 inch rim. Substitute mozzarella cheese for zaatar, or for the famous cocktail mankoucheh, a mix of zaatar and cheese! Pack few in aluminum foil and freeze them; surprise your friends on a Sunday morning for brunch!
In the same sitting, I also dived into another Lebanese dish, my childhood favorite: burghul. My mother used to make it with meat, but the taste is the same (or in my opinion, even better) without it. The dish is still very health conscious, as bulgur wheat has a high content of fiber and about 17 grams of protein in one cup, about three times the protein content in an egg! Add any vegetable you want, I pick zucchini (my personal best!) and tomatoes. Very easy to make and even better to taste! I added some fat-free plain yogurt (as a Laban replacement), and the result was nothing less than delicious!
– 2 cups of uncooked burgul
– 3-4 medium-sized zucchini, diced
– 5 small tomatoes, diced
– One yellow onion, chopped
– 1 tbs olive oil or vegetable spray oil
– 2-3 tbs of tomato paste
– Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
How to make it:
Bring a pot of water to boil and add the burgul; let it boil for another 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, sauté the onions till golden brown, add the zucchini till tender (remove from heat if preferred crispier). Finally, add the tomatoes at the end (you don’t want to end up with very sloppy tomatoes!). Once the bulgur is cooked, drain and bring back to pot. Add the vegetables and the tomato paste on low fire for an additional ten minutes. Cinnamon, added at the end, brings an interesting finale to this easy and healthy meal!