One of the food groups I didn’t grow to like until my adult years were figs and dates (perhaps it was all the little seeds) – but now I love them. Figs and dates are found commonly as cookie fillings throughout the Mediterranean, and one of the most popular varieties is Ma’amoul from Lebanon. Ma’amoul are sweet semolina flour cookies filled with date paste (the filling may also include pistachios or walnuts), and usually shaped in wooden molds (though they can also be made and decorated by hand, as below). In Lebanon, they are popular around Easter, but they are now popularly eaten in the region to coincide with other holidays as well. So nowadays you can find Ma’amoul pretty much any time of the year! Here is a recipe with variations for date, pistachio and walnut filled Ma’amoul, and a version that combines dates, pistachios and walnuts into a single filling.
Tag Archives: Lebanon
Av. Treze de Maio, 23 – Centro
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is full of middle-Eastern restaurants, ranging from
four-star white-tablecloth places to corner botecos, owing to the large Arab Brazilian population. Al Kuwait falls into the latter category, and does a brisk lunch trade selling Middle Eastern dishes, salgados and juices. Moreover, we figured we had to try this place since Al Kuwait claims to have some of the best kibbe in Rio.
Kibbe is extremely popular in Brazil, and is found in almost all snack bars, Middle Eastern or not. A kibbe in Brazil is basically a miniature football-shaped meatball (again, sounds like something Ron Swanson would appreciate, right?) composed of ground meat, bulgur and other fillings, which are then fried. For lunch we each ordered a kibbe and an esfiha (one cheese and one meat), another iconic Middle Eastern salgado. Now, we always eat at Middle Eastern restaurants in Chicago and we have never encountered esfihas there. However, in Brazil they are nearly as ubiquitous as kibbe (you can even get them on the beach). Esfihas are savory triangle pastries filled with meat or cheese, which are prefect to eat on the go.
However, Al Kuwait had a nice outdoor seating area, so we took a seat to enjoy our snacks. The kibbe was much larger than we expected, but true to advertising, was excellent and had a great texture and flavor. The esfihas were also oversized, but not as memorable as the kibbe. We also enjoyed that we could wash down our somewhat-heavy meal with some fresh juice (Mango, Passion fruit and Pineapple were on order). There is also a full menu of entree-sized middle-eastern specialties if you would like something a bit more substantial, including hummus, baba ghanouj, kebabs and Brazilian specialties like picanha sandwiches. Al Kuwait is a great place for lunch, especially if you want a taste of typical Arab-Brazilian cuisine in a laid-back setting.
Various Locations in Chicago, IL
The Eaters – especially L – are pretty particular about falafel. It’s no exaggeration to say we make a point to try falafel in pretty much every city we go to. In all our travels, a few places stand out above the rest. Pita Inn in Skokie has some of our favorite falafel in Chicagoland; while the expanding fast-food joint Maoz remains our all-time favorite, owing to their great falafel and toppings. Maoz’ Philadelphia location remains the standard by which L judges all other falafel, a shining beacon of perfection on the Delaware River, never to be equaled….Until today.
Falafill, a brand-new falafel lunch spot in the Loop, may have perhaps the best topping bar we have ever encountered, and while its falafels may not be as good as Maoz, the topping bar and the excellence of the falafel otherwise may actually put this place over the top in L’s rankings. Falafill starts out appealingly, with a sleek and appealing dining area decorated with falafel witticisms perfectly suited to the Facebook generation. On the food side, the simple menu is complemented by an impressively wide range of sodas and juices: M got a mango yogurt drink , while our old salty yogurt favorite Ayran was also available. The menu is simple. Pick your falafel (classic, curried, or seasonal – all with fries) in a pocket or a bowl ($5.95/$7.95). The seasonal falafel when we visited was white bean, and we heard from our dining companions that it was out of this world. L opted for some classic falafel and M for the curried, and a side of some sweet potato fries ($2.95).
Both falafels, curried and classic, were cooked to order, and perfectly spiced. L’s classic had the hallmark appealing green color that means there ‘s fresh parsely and cilantro inside. Yum! The fries were also tasty and crisp, not soggy like many other sweet potato fries. Yet what REALLY sets Falafill apart is the Mezza bar, where you can select all the toppings you want for your falafel. As expected, the salad bar contained hummus, baba ghanouj, lentils, tatziki, harissa tabbouleh, all middle eastern standards we love. In addition, we were really excited to see some awesome new flavors at the bar, including cracked wheat with pomegranate, beets, toum (garlic sauce), zough (jalapeno sauce) black bean and corn salad, and cabbage and mint. Each order of falafel includes a trip to the salad bar, and there is no limit to how many toppings you can add. For those who are obsessed, you can order simply a bowl ready to fill with mezza toppings ($6.95). All in all, for under 8 dollars you can create an out-of-this-world falafel experience with a wide variety of contrasting flavors that will have you full for days. Falafill is now one of our go-to Loop lunch spots, and like L has sacrilegiously stated: if not her favorite falafel place in the United States, it is definitely giving Maoz a run for its money.
Rua Domingos Morais, 86 – Vila Mariana
Sao Paulo, 04010-000, Brazil
Of course we were pleased to see both kibbe and esfiha on offer at Jaber, both of which are pictured above. We sampled 3 types of esfihas, Za’atar, Cheese and Endive. The Za’atar esfiha really impressed us – the topping on the pastry crust was nothing but a solid layer of spice – Za’tar is a spice mix of thyme, oregano, sumac, sesame and salt – and the flavor of the esfiha was nothing short of explosive. Also on the menu were varieties of Esfiha that are “closed”, kind of a Brazilian/Lebanese take on Stromboli, with the pastry folded over the filling. Sao Paulo made us esfiha addicts! One thing about Brazil – they definitely have a lock on the pocket-sized savory pastry – who knew such myriad wonders even existed?
Taste of Lebanon
1509 W Foster Ave
Don’t think of this tiny cult-following Andersonville eatery as a restaurant – more as an indoor food cart. Sparse decor and simple tables and chairs line the path to the back wall where a hand-lettered signboard advertises an adequate menu of Middle Eastern favorites like baba ghanouj, shewarma, and falafel.
Anyone who reads reviews of Taste of Lebanon will immediately encounter reviews of the lentil soup declaring it one of the best soups in the city. It being a cold night when the Eaters arrived, of course we decided to give it a shot. We don’t have enough soups under our belt to judge it in reference to the rest of Chicago, but its rich, creamy texture with a potent peppery kick was delicious and surprising in a very good way. It was definitely the highlight of the meal.
M had the chicken shewarma, which was good – but not great. The chicken was a little on the dry side, and for a dish like shewarma its pretty important that the chicken’s natural flavors come out to interact with the other ingredients. Given how good the soup was, and that shewarma is such a standard dish for Middle Eastern restaurants, he was pretty surprised that it wasn’t a few notches higher on the tasty scale. L stuck with the falafel wrap and a hummus plate to share, two of her old favorites. Our table enjoyed the hummus, which was creamy and with plenty of tahini. The falafel wrap was also good, and the falafel freshly fried – it was advertised on the door as ‘world famous’ though I’m not sure I would go that far with the praise.
The only downside was that the pitas were anything but fresh (or good, for that matter). They came to the table in the package, and were bit dry and stale. Going a little dry on the chicken is acceptable, but it’s a bit of a sin not to have good pitas. Those non-withstanding, you can’t really go wrong at Taste of Lebanon. Overall, the food is delicious and your wallet won’t take a hit (a definite plus for us grad students). If you’re still hungry for more after dinner, for some dessert head across the street to Middle Eastern Pastry and Bakery (1512 West Foster Avenue).