The Great Lent that precedes Easter is observed among the Christian communities across Lebanon for over 2000 years, with some changes that have been implemented in recent decades to ease its dietary strictness.
Some families continue to abide by the old ways (cutting off fish and dairy from their diet) and some do not. Yet, one matter remains in common: People abstain from eating meat during all the Lent period. At home, the cooked meals are vegetarian or vegan.
Known as “qate3”, these meatless dishes have been passed down in the families from generation to generation, forming a big part of the Lebanese traditional cuisine and heritage; with some recipe variations.
These dishes are the most consumed family meals during this season among the Christian communities in Lebanon. They are very healthy meals with nutritious ingredients.
This is a protein-rich dish of rice and lentils. It is cooked with fried onions, which gives it its particular flavor. It is then topped with caramelized onions and served with salad, often the fattoush, or Laban (plain yogurt)..
The Mjadra, which some regions call Mdadra, is also the Friday dish in many Lebanese households that fast on Fridays throughout the year.
There is a slight difference between the Mjadra and the Mdadra though, and it is mainly in the final step where the preparation is kept moist enough to be pureed.
A vegetarian version of the Green Bean stew, this dish is often consumed with Lebanese vermicelli rice and comes in 2 different versions: cooked with tomato sauce or without it with a flare of lemon juice.
Note: Some in Lebanon called this dish Fasoulia bil zeit; not to confuse it with the dish below.
In this Lenten version of the baked Kibbeh, the recipe uses mashed pumpkin instead of meat, and Burghul (wheat). The center layer (filling) is usually a cooked blend of spinach (or chard), onion, chickpeas, and the added option of walnuts; with some slight variations depending on the recipe.
A popular dish in northern Lebanon, Kibbet Raheb is mostly prepared during Lent, thus its name. It’s a protein-rich meal that consists of balls of flour and burghul (wheat) cooked with lentils and some fried onions to enhance its flavor. It is then flared with Lemon juice.
Unlike what its name suggests, the a3dass Bil Hamod is not just a dish of lentils cooked in lemon juice. It is a nutrient-rich soup of chard, potatoes, lentils, and carrots, enhanced with lemon juice. It is quite fulfilling and super delicious. (A must-try!)
A light and super delicious dish (mostly served as a side dish), the Burghul Bil Banadoura is simply made of Burghul (wheat) cooked in tomato sauce with chunks of tomatoes. It is consumed with Lebanese bread (Khebez). Toppings are optional.
Fun Fact: Burghul was originally a main component of traditional Lebanese cuisine until the rice made its way into Lebanon, replacing the Burghul in many recipes as it was deemed easier to cook.
Hence the famous saying: العز للرز والبرغل شنق حالو The prestige is for the rice and the burghul hanged himself, which became a folklore sarcasm used when someone is replaced by another.
The Moussaka is a traditional Lebanese velvety stew of eggplant, chickpeas, tomato chunks, garlic, and onions, cooked in tomato sauce. Some call it Maghmoura for the ingredients being cooked “submerged” in tomato sauce.
It is consumed cold, hence its Arabic name Moussaka, which means chill or cold.
It is believed that the Greek Moussaka originated from our region having the same Arabic name and a very similar recipe.
A delicious and light vegetarian dish, the Mehche Selek has stuffed chard leaves rolls filled with a mixture of rice, minced onion, chickpeas, parsley, and tomato dice. They are cooked over a layer of sliced potatoes and enhanced with lemon juice.
#10 Selek bil Fasoulia
A popular vegetarian dish in north Lebanon, and super nutritious, it is made with fresh selek (swiss chard) and black-eye beans cooked together with a fried mixture of fresh cilantro and garlic, and generously flavored with lemon juice. (A must-try!)
In some Lebanese regions, it is called Selek bil Loubieh.
#11 Kibbet Samak (Fish Kebbeh)
A highly praised dish of the Lebanese northern cuisine, Kibbet Samak is the seafood version of the traditional Kibbeh bil Saynieh. It is made with boneless white fish fillets, fine burghul, onions, cilantro, parsley, and pine kernels, and has a subtle lemony taste.
Note: Seafood takes the lead in the Lebanese Lent menu, for obvious reasons. Lebanon and its earlier civilization (the Phoenicians) have long relied on the sea along its coast for food as well as on its inland agriculture. Hence, the many seafood dishes in Lebanese cuisine.
The Fish Sayyidieh is one of the most praised dishes in Lebanese cuisine and is among the select “honoring dishes” in our culture. The fish filet is marinated in a blend of multiple seasonings before being boiled. The rice is then cooked in the same liquid, hence the brownish color.
#13 Samke Harra
The Lebanese Samke Harra (Spicy Fish) comes in two different versions: the Beiruti and the Tripolitan. Both are also part of the selective “honoring dishes” in Lebanese cuisine.
The Tripolitan Samke Harra is made of fish bathed in a tahini sauce cooked with fried garlic and fresh cilantro and plenty of lemon juice. It is served topped with a generous layer of fried or toasted nuts (almonds, pine kernels, etc).
The Beiruti Samke Harra is made of Cod fillets, spicy tomato sauce, peppers, and pine nuts.
#14 Ejje Korass (Veggie Omelet Patties)
These fried veggie omelet patties are a delight to consume, soft and crunchy, and nutritious. They are made with eggs, onion, parsley, fennel, and garlic, and seasoned with cumin, black pepper, and red pepper.