I have been exploring the history of Armenian and Lebanese foods. This topic may sound a bit odd, but I have a personal interest in these foods. My family is Armenian on my mother’s side and Lebanese on my father’s.
I grew up eating foods like kibbeh, mujaddara, and madzoun, but in exploring more healthy ways of eating over the years, I have eschewed many of these dishes because they contain grains or legumes. Recently, however, I have been interested in exploring my family’s history. And what better way to explore than through the foods they ate and the traditions surrounding those foods? As I read and learn, I wonder if more modern recipes have left out one essential step in the preparation of these dishes: fermentation.
Obviously, madzoun (Armenian yogurt) and laban (Lebanese yogurt) are fermented foods. But what about others, not so obvious? Many recipes call for soaking grains or legumes, but not long enough to ferment them. Are these versions of traditional recipes, which have been adjusted for our more fast-paced lifestyle? I don’t have the answer, but I’ve begun trying some different methods along this line as I prepare different dishes.
I recently made falafil and soaked the garbanzo beans for 48 hours, versus the 24 hours called for in the recipe. While the beans smelled a bit sour, after cooking the falafil, I couldn’t tell any difference in flavor. They were delicious, as always. The recipe I follow (with a few adjustments) is taken from A Taste of Lebanon, by Mary Salloum.
- 1 lb. chickpeas
- 1 medium onion
- 1 medium potato, peeled
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp. coriander, ground
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne
- 1 Tbsp. flour
- vegetable oil for frying
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- Soak chickpeas for 24 hours. Drain. Quarter onion and potato. Run all through fine holes of the meat grinder along with garlic two times.
- Add all remaining ingredients except baking soda and vegetable oil. Mix well. Run through grinder once more. Mix again. Cover and leave to rest for 2-3 hours.
- Heat oil for deep frying. While oil is heating add baking soda to the chickpea mixture. With dampened hands, form a mixture into balls the size of a walnut, then flatten slightly into a patty. Deep fry, making sure patties are cooked through and are golden brown. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
In the future, I will be experimenting with fermenting the bulgur wheat in kibbeh. My family’s recipe calls for soaking the wheat for 1 hour. And while that’s enough to soften it, I wonder if kibbeh was previously soaked in water and a little whey from the laban and allowed to ferment for a couple of days before mixing with the meat. It’s certainly worth a try to have my favorite dish, at least now and then.