You may not have heard the term “levantine” before, but you’ve likely tasted the cuisine – think creamy hummus, perfectly spiced chicken skewers and garlicky, lemony eggplant dip.
So why are we using the term “Levantine” rather than simply “Middle Eastern”? The Middle East is actually a very large region that includes parts of North Africa such as Morocco and the states of the Persian Gulf such as the United Arab Emirates. From a culinary and cultural perspective, the Middle East is quite varied. The Levantine region, on the other hand, is more narrow, referring to countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, which share many cultural, linguistic and culinary traits. Although which areas are considered a part of the Levant has varied over time, they typically include all or parts of Jordan, Israel, Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza), Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. The name, derived from a French word, was coined in the late 1400s and was used to mean “the countries of the east.”
We reached out to acclaimed chef Himi Hunaidi to bring a taste of Levantine cuisine to the pages of Clean Eating. Born and raised in Jordan, Hunaidi is of Palestinian descent and spent her school breaks and summers in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Later, she was trained as a chef in the south of France before founding her own Toronto-based restaurant called Madame Levant. She’s the perfect person to translate Middle Eastern flavors into simple, easy backyard dishes for summer and beyond.
“Growing up in the Levant region, summer had many flavors and aromas, but the most dominant one would be the smell of barbecue,” explained Hunaidi. “Charcoal grills would be lit in public parks, backyards and even on sidewalks in cities. Each family has their trusted butcher, a family member who is in charge of the preparation, another person doing the grilling and finally everyone would gather to share delicious cold mezzes and hot skewers of meat or vegetables from the grill.”
Levantine cooking doesn’t have to be complicated – in fact, according to Hunaidi, the cuisine is actually relatively simple. It’s about cooking in season and using gorgeous produce paired with unique culinary techniques that she’s revealing here.
But the cuisine isn’t just about getting the techniques right, it’s also about sharing in the joy of a meal as the locals in the region do. “The cultures that have developed this cuisine see food as more than just nutrients on a plate. They see a meal as a gathering, an act of love and always a celebration,” says Hunaidi. This collection of recipes is a perfect way to celebrate summer with your family and sample the flavors of the Levant at the same time. We hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we did!
The marinade in this recipe uses Balkan yogurt, which tends to be a little more sour than regular yogurt. If you can’t find it, regular yogurt works just fine.
Serve these fragrant chicken skewers with salad and rice, or make it as a wrap: Split a pita open, leaving one side attached, add stuffing to the center toward one side, and roll it up like a souvlaki.
These bright mini bell peppers are stuffed with semi-firm halloumi cheese. We love the edge it brings to this recipe, but if you find it salty, soak it in lukewarm water for 10 to 15 minutes after chopping.
SERVES 4. HANDS-ON TIME: 20 MINUTES. TOTAL TIME: 30 MINUTES.
In the Levantine region, once the charcoal grill is lit, it stays on from noon until dusk, and it’s used to prepare snacks between meals. Grilled halloumi, semi-firm cheese with a high melting point, is one of Hunaidi’s favorite tasbeeras, Arabic slang for “snacks” (although the direct translation for tasbeeras is “patience,” as a snack is supposed to keep you patient while awaiting your next meal). These poppers use mini bell peppers, but you can swap for jalapeños if you prefer more heat.
8 oz halloumi cheese, chopped into ¼-inch pieces or grated
½ tsp dried oregano
1 lb mini sweet bell peppers
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1. Preheat a greased grill to medium-high.
2. In a medium bowl, combine halloumi and oregano. To a second medium bowl, toss peppers with oil, parsley and garlic.
3. Using a paring knife, cut a ½-inch slit on the side of each pepper, large enough to fit a cube of cheese.Stuff each with cheese, push to the bottom of pepper and pinch closed.
4. Grill peppers for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until tender and brown in places.
PER SERVING (¼ of recipe): Calories: 255, Total Fat: 19 g, Sat. Fat: 11 g, Monounsaturated Fat: 6 g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g, Carbs: 8 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugars: 2 g, Protein: 13 g, Sodium: 606 mg, Cholesterol: 43 mg
Lamb & Apricot Skewers with Cucumber Mint Yogurt
SERVES 4. HANDS-ON TIME: 25 MINUTES. TOTAL TIME: 30 MINUTES.
The flavors in these skewers are inspired by North African cuisine, specifically Moroccan tagines, where sweet and savory notes are often beautifully fused. Here, we pair them with a simple yogurt salad that is common in the Levantine region and is especially cooling on hot summer days.
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