The Lebanese experience

Posted on: 3rd November, 2014

Category: A Flavour of West Cork

Contributor: Karen Austin

Lettercollum Kitchen Project, 22 Connolly Street, Clonakilty; Email:;; (our blog).

recipeBeirut is a big busy city and the traffic is appalling! Trying to cross the roads was a bit like playing ‘chicken’, making mad dashes between the cars. The main highway out of Beirut, which runs along the coast, is three lanes wide, but in fact a lot of the time there are five lanes in action. Everyone puts their foot down and goes for it, honking their horns. Somehow the lack of road regulation seems to keep everyone super alert and we only saw one prang during our visit and we did quite a few road trips.

Being alert seems to be the order of the day, hardly surprising considering that Lebanon is sandwiched between Syria and Israel. The people are incredibly hospitable and optimistic, as they get on with their daily lives.

We were made so welcome by the Lebanese people. Everyone, from food ambassadors to taxi drivers went out of their way to ensure we enjoyed our stay.

It is a very diverse country, which is in fact only the size of Co.Cork; although a completely different shape, metre for metre it’s pretty similar.

Saturday night in down town Beirut could be compared to Saturday night in Temple Bar with everyone out rocking on the streets – less alcohol involved but plenty of singing and dancing, then go 70kms up the coast to Tripoli and it’s a totally different story. Fully manned tanks, machine guns and sandbags everywhere and don’t forget your headscarf, which considering there are ladies running round in mini skirts and high heels in Beirut, is easily done. I learnt to take nothing for granted.

The food was always delicious and super fresh. As the main aim of our trip was food, we spent a lot of time cooking and eating.

We hung out at a place called ‘Tawlet’ Souk el Tayeb in Beirut. It’s a food initiative that was set up by a man called Kamal Mouzawak, which supports small farmers and local producers. There’s a weekly farmers market and also a daily restaurant where there’s a different cook each day who prepares typical food from his or her own region.

The daily feast is amazing, a huge variety of salads, vegetable mezzes, meat, fish and different grains. The tabbouleh that we ate is nothing like the tabbouleh that we make. It’s pretty much the opposite, comprising 90 per cent fresh herbs and 10 per cent bulgur.

I went to the kitchen at 8 o’clock each morning to hang out in the kitchen, help with the chopping and pick everyone’s brains. It was an amazing experience and I am so grateful to all the cooks for their time and generosity.

Here’s a recipe for a simple and warming soup.

Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard and Lemon Adas bi Hamod


300g green or brown lentils

2-3 large onions

4-6 cloves garlic

2 tbs olive oil

2 potatoes

1 large carrot

10 chard leaves

1tbs ground coriander

1tsp ground allspice

the juice of 2 lemons

a bunch of fresh coriander, chopped


Sort and wash the lentils. Check there are no small stones. Put the lentils into a saucepan and cover with 2 litres of water. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Peel and dice the potatoes and carrot. Peel and chop the onions and garlic.

Wash the chard and strip the stems from the leaves. Chop the stems and reserve the leaves.

Heat a frying pan then add the oil and onions. Cook them on a medium high heat until they begin to brown then stir in the garlic and chopped chard stems. Cook for a few minutes then tip into the pot with the lentils

Stir in the potatoes, carrots, coriander and allspice then cook for about fifteen minutes – until the potatoes and carrots are tender. Season with salt and pepper

Chop the chard leaves into ribbons and stir into the soup, cook for a few minutes, until the leaves have wilted then stir in the lemon juice.

Take off the heat and check the seasoning. Stir in the chopped coriander and serve.

The cooking classes are now under way. There are still a couple of places on the Thai class – lots of zingy dishes on Saturday, November 8 and the Winter Warmers – exciting healthy recipes – on  November 22.

The Lebanese class has been very popular and we now have a second class on Saturday November 29

If you are interested or would like more information please call to the shop or drop us an email.

We’re very happy to announce that the Lettercollum Cookbook has now been published. It is available in our shop, The Lettercollum Kitchen Project in Clonakilty and various bookshops around the country.

We hope you will enjoy it!


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