Lebanese Dinner Party

I love birthdays—your birthday, my birthday, your kid’s birthday.  I want to celebrate and drink Champagne and lick frosting off of my fingers every chance I get.  I love presents, too, but really it’s the idea that everyone has one day out of the year that is completely and totally theirs (except if you’re a twin… I spend way too much time thinking what I’ll do about birthdays if ever I have twins. Would I have two different parties on two different days?  Would I alternate whose would come first? Would one think the other’s was better? I digress…).  When I was in law school, I met a guy who, in 25 years on this earth, had never had his own birthday cake.  This was outrageous to me, especially considering I was so spoiled rotten that my grandparents thought it best that I have TWO birthday cakes—one yellow and one chocolate—in case there were people who didn’t like one or the other.  Sometimes an ice cream cake would make an appearance, too.  I balance out the potential obnoxiousness of that by believing that everyone should feel that special when their day arrives and I do my best to make it happen (and yes, I did bring that guy a cake of his very own on his birthday).

Last month, a friend of mine was celebrating her birthday and planned a night of gallivanting.  She has an amazing group of lovely friends, and one of them is obviously as in love with cooking and birthdays as I am, because he opened his house and kitchen for a pre-dancing dinner party, saying that no birthday is complete without a beautiful meal to celebrate it.  Using recipes from his mother and others that he remembered, he created a Lebanese feast for nine on a snowy Saturday evening.  We started the evening standing around the counter in his kitchen eating herbed olives and thick slices of bread dipped in labneh, a tangy condensed yogurt with mint and garlic olive oil. 









Next he pulled a zaatar manouche out of the oven that looked as though it would take years to perfect, but that he assured me was a simple paste made with thyme and sesame seeds spread on a thin flat bread and topped with yogurt with cucumber and mint.  Zaatar Mounouche


He eventually moved us to the dining table where a leafy green salad with feta and a rich balsamic vinaigrette (walnuts on the side) waited next to individual bundles of soft dough stuffed with spinach (and dipped in a pomegranate syrup) followed by kibbeh bil souniyye, a meat pie.  feta-salad1


We finished dinner by singing happy birthday in each of our native languages and slicing into a homemade French chocolate cake. 

I felt special after all of that homemade goodness, and it wasn’t even my birthday.  The host’s birthday is eight days before mine in July; I’m already thinking about what we’ll cook up….


Kibbeh bil souniyye (meat and bulgur pie in a tray)


Recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden


For the shell:


Ø       1-¼ cups fine ground bulgur

Ø       1 large onion, quartered

Ø       1 pound lean lamb

Ø       1-½ teaspoons salt

Ø       ¼ teaspoon pepper

Ø       1 teaspoon cinnamon

Ø       2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil


For the filling:


Ø       1 large onion, chopped

Ø       3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Ø       1-½ pounds ground lamb, beef, or veal, preferably a little fatty, cut into pieces

Ø       Salt and pepper

Ø       1 teaspoon cinnamon

Ø       ½ teaspoon allspice

Ø       ¾ cup pine nuts


For the shell, rinse the bulgur in a sieve in cold running water under the tap and drain.  Puree the onion in a food processor.  Add the meat and salt and pepper and blend to a paste.  Remove the paste from the processor and mix with bulgur and cinnamon, then process, in batches to a soft well-blended pasted, adding iced water gradually by the tablespoon (start with 2-3) to achieve a smooth elastic consistency.


For the filling, fry the onion in the oil until soft.  Add the ground meat, salt, pepper, cinnamon, allspice and pine nuts and fry for 10 minutes, turning and crushing the meat with a fork, until it changes color.


To assemble the pie, grease a large round or rectangular (10x 14 inches) shallow baking pan with oil.  Press half the shell paste evenly on the bottom of the pan, about ¼ inches thick.  Spread the filling on top and cover with the rest of the paste.  This last layer of shell nets to be built up gradually.  Wet your hands, take large lumps of the paste, flatten them between your palms and lay them on top of the filling until it is entirely covered. Patch up any holes and press down firmly with your hands. 


With a pointed knife, cut crisscrossing straight or diagonal parallel lines right through to the bottom, making square or diamond shapes, and also run the knife around the edges.  Brush or sprinkle the top with 2-3 tablespoons oil and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 40 minutes, until golden brown.


Can be served hot or cold.  Yield 10.


4 Responses to Lebanese Dinner Party

  1. Uh, Heather? Just one word: YummityYumYuYum!

  2. Alethia Van Fleet says:


    Such a fabulous birthdy dinner party, with exotic food.

    I would never think of trying any of the recipes, but loved reading about them and enjoying the really GREAT photos.

    Loved your story.
    A. Van Fleet

  3. Denise says:

    I love this post, and I love this blog. I did not realize I had missed so many entries this winter. Keep it up, ladies!

  4. mangocheeks says:

    I wish I was at that party.

    Memories of a za’atar bread I had in Turkey are coming back.

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