Beirut, nicknamed “Paris of the East,” is the capital of Lebanon. It is the culinary capital of the Arab world, with an unmatched cuisine that has ancient roots and is influenced by several civilizations and cooking styles, including Arab, Turkish, and French. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and one of the most cosmopolitan and religiously diverse in the region. Situated on the Mediterranean coast and flanked by the majestic Mount Lebanon, it boasts an abundance of flavourful ingredients and spices, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and seafood.
Written by renowned Lebanese chef and award-winning cookbook writer Barbara Abdeni Massaad, Forever Beirut is a collection of 100 easy-to-prepare recipes that celebrate Beirut’s rich culinary heritage, resilience, and healing power. It is Barbara’s way of honouring the city of her childhood, her dreams, her Lebanese family kitchen, and the food that roots her. It is filled with stories and anecdotes about the customs, food, people, and traditions, with sections for soups, salads, breads and savoury pastries, mezze, kibbeh, grilling, main dishes, pickles and preserves, and sweets. With beautiful food and location photography, Forever Beirut is a must-have for cooks who love healthful and delicious Middle Eastern food.
Eggplants with Chickpeas and Tomatoes
In this dish, eggplants are cooked in a rustic tomato sauce flavoured with tangy pomegranate syrup. As its name suggests (msa’ka’ means cooled), it is served at room temperature, usually with bread to scoop up the delicious sauce. You can cook it on the stovetop or finish in the oven for a rich flavor. Use in-season eggplants for best results.
¾ cup (150 g) dried chickpeas, or a 15 oz (400 g) can chickpeas
½ teaspoon baking soda (optional)
2¼ lb (1 kg) medium eggplants
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced into half-moons
1 whole garlic bulb, peeled and left whole or chopped (to your taste)
4 tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped; plus 2 sliced, if oven-baking
2 tablespoons tomato paste diluted with ½ cup (120 ml) water
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
Pinch ground dried mint, or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint, to serve
Soak the dried chickpeas overnight in plenty of water. Add the baking soda to the soaking water if your dried chickpeas have been sitting in your pantry for a while. The next day, thoroughly rinse the chickpeas under cold running water, drain, and place them in a large pot with fresh water
to cover them. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until tender but still holding their shape, 30 to 45 minutes. If using canned chickpeas, rinse well. Drain and set aside.
Rinse and dry the eggplants. Cut off and discard the ends. Peel vertically in stripes, then quarter them lengthwise. Arrange in a colander, sprinkle with salt, and leave to sweat for about 30 minutes to drain excess moisture. Rinse with cold water and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
Pour vegetable oil into a large pot or deep-fryer to a depth of 2 in (5cm). Heat until the oil reaches a temperature of 350°F (180°C), or until small bubbles gather around a small piece of bread dropped into the oil. Working in batches, fry the eggplant pieces for 2 minutes, until cooked and golden. Transfer to a metal colander or a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté the onion until golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, diluted tomato paste, cinnamon, and pomegranate molasses and simmer for 10 minutes until the tomatoes soften. Add the drained chickpeas and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes until the mixture thickens. You can finish the dish on the stovetop: Add the eggplants to the pan and simmer, covered, for 15 more minutes, then spoon the eggplants onto a serving dish and top with the sauce. Alternatively, finish in the oven: Preheat the oven to
400°F (200°C). Carefully arrange the eggplants in one layer in a baking dish or pan. Cover with the tomato sauce and arrange the sliced tomatoes on top. Bake for 20 minutes, until the tomatoes soften and begin to brown.
Let cool to room temperature. Sprinkle with mint just before serving.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Interlink Books.