When it comes to food, we Lebanese share a rich heritage.
Unfortunately, globalization, combined with today’s fast pace of life, is changing the way we cook and eat. As quick, store-bought meals become more commonplace, we sacrifice some of our cultural identity.
So this year, I decided to go back to our roots for Christmas. What foods did our ancestors prepare for this special family celebration? I decided to find out.
Google didn’t help. I searched through books in vain. I consulted a few chefs to no avail. Then, one day, when having lunch with my grandfather and grandmother, who are 92 and 80 respectively, I suddenly realized the answer was literally right in front of me. I’d ask my grandparents.
It was all very simple back then, they told me. All the family gathered around one big dish that might hold some baked potatoes with nuts and dried fruits, a home-range chicken served with “freekeh,” wheat that is harvested while still green, then smoked and roasted, or roasted lamb shoulder cooked with rice.
For my own celebration, I decided to adapt their recipes to my liking, maybe replacing the chicken with turkey or the lamb shoulder with boneless rib meat. After some consultation with Grandma, I headed to the market, where I bought a 4.5 kg of boneless rib along with 600 g of minced beef and a lot of local spices. In my adaptation of grandma’s recipe, I would replace tasty animal fat with olive oil. Would I be able to maintain the flavor of the original dish? We would see.
I returned to the best place to prepare this meal – my grandparents’ 150-year-old house, the perfect context for this exercise in going back to my roots. Besides, Grandma would be on hand to give me advice. Over the next few hours, Grandpa and I enjoyed a good bottle of wine, while tasting Grandma’s delicious but fatty treats. We argued a lot about my use of olive oil in the main dish.
Chef Ramzi Boulos, an excellent food stylist who collaborates with me to shoot TV commercials, joined us. We started arranging the dish for a quick photo shoot. Then, it was time for the real test—Grandma would taste my first-ever attempt at preparing boneless rib. She took a bite and smiled. She liked it, even though I didn’t use her favorite animal fat.
Stuffed Boneless Rib
4-5 kg of boneless rib
600 g of minced beef
4 cups of white rice
6 tbsp. of olive oil
3 big onions
3 big carrots
1 stalk celery
1/2 tsp. of nutmeg
1/2 tsp. of black pepper
1/2 tsp. of cinnamon
1/2 tsp. of all spice
1 tbsp. of seasoned salt
Several cinnamon sticks
Several bay leaves
200 g of pine nuts
1- In a large pot, fry the boneless rib from each side for few minutes then add the onion, carrots, celery and all the spices.
Cover the meat with hot water and cook on low heat for 3 hours, making sure not to lose the liquids.
2- Once the meat is cooked, remove it from the pot and place it in a warm environment and cover it.
3- In a separate pan, fry the minced beef with a chopped onion and some spices then add the rice and use the water from the boneless ribs casserole. Cook until the rice is done.
4- Place enough rice in the middle of the boneless rib, lift the sides and stitch them until you have a cylinder look, then add
more rice inside the rib until it’s full.
5- Put the stuffed boneless ribs on a big serving tray and add more rice and serve it hot.