Lebanon has one of the most fascinating gastronomic cultures, where a thousand-year-old cuisine has developed, the result of many different influences. In this land rich in history, which over the centuries has been a crossroads of cultures and populations, lives a culinary tradition that today combines different styles, including Turkish, Arab and French.
The cuisine of this country on the eastern Mediterranean is made up of recipes that refer to the flavours of the Middle Eastern basin, with typical products ranging from lamb, introduced by the Ottomans, to dried fruit such as pine nuts and almonds, as well as vegetables and fresh fruit, chickpeas and condiments such as olive oil.
The Lebanese chef Maradona Youssef, a former competitor of Masterchef Italia 5, works in Milan as chef and partner of the Mezè restaurant, a project by the Seguilabocca group, which promotes the authentic gastronomic culture of his homeland, told through tasting events that simulate real journeys in the North and South of the country, with different dishes and flavours.
With the arrival of spring, the chef has introduced the Lebanese breakfast to his menu, a genuine weekend ritual, made of sweet and savoury mezé (typical sharing dishes), with specialities that refer to the most ancient Middle Eastern tradition.
"The abundant and vivid breakfasts of the weekend, at my house, were always a wonderful reason to get up and start the day with maximum energy. This gastronomic itinerary tells one of the most loved culinary traditions of our country, with recipes that are being lost like that of the fig compote,” explains Youssef.
Traditional Lebanese breakfast
The Lebanese breakfast proposed by Youssef features, alongside mezé such as hummus – classic or in a revisited version with beetroot – homemade yoghurt ricotta, mint, walnuts and pomegranate molasses; halloumi cheese served with tomato compote; labneh, a spreadable yogurt cheese; as well as a series of egg-based options, from baid w aarich (scrambled eggs with yogurt ricotta and clarified butter) to baid bi aawarma (fried eggs with minced lamb), to al eejè el baadounis (parsley omelette). There is never a shortage of fruit compotes – with figs and sesame, apricots, strawberries and butter – accompanied by saj, the characteristic Lebanese flatbread, freshly prepared with the traditional dome-shaped plate and served hot. To drink? Orange blossom-flavoured lemonade.
Lebanese fig marmalade recipe
The fig marmalade, in particular, is a thousand-year-old Lebanese speciality that is very dear to chef Youssef, both because it brings him back to when he was a child and because it is a traditional recipe that is slowly being lost in Lebanon today.
"Precisely for this reason I wanted to propose it again in the new Mezè breakfast menu," he says. “It is a unique, fresh and regenerating recipe that combines and narrates ancient Mediterranean ingredients and flavours such as that of mastice di Chios, a vegetable resin obtained from lentisk, a plant native to Greece – more precisely cultivated on the island of Chios – and which since 2014 has UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity status. The particularity of this vegetable resin is its refreshing flavour, reminiscent of pine or cedar,” continues the chef.
The history of Chios mastic, known for its gastro-protective, antiseptic and calming properties, has very ancient origins. Today in the kitchen it is used above all in dessert recipes and in the preparation of an aromatic and digestive liqueur, mastika. Known since the time of Hippocrates, mastic of Chios was used as a digestive or for the prevention of colds. The Romans used it for the preparation of conditum paradoxum, a spiced after-meal wine. During the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, it was worth its weight in gold and anyone who tried to pick and steal it was executed. This precious ingredient, which brings with it all the knowledge, heritage and history of the Mediterranean populations, characterises the typical Lebanese compote of figs, together with sesame seeds and geranium leaves.
Discover the recipe for Lebanese fig compote by chef Maradona Youssef, below.
Combine the figs, sugar, powdered Chios mastic and the geranium in ‘deset’ (a term which in Arabic indicates the traditional iron or pure copper pan with a large diameter).
Cook everything over a wood fire, over a moderate flame, stirring constantly for 20 minutes. On the side, toast the sesame with the salt and then add it to the compote.
Finally, pour the preparation into jars and store. The fig compote can last up to two years. For closing the jars, anyone who wants to can follow the ancient procedure: for conservation, it was once customary to seal the surface with beeswax.
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