The Healthy Kitchen

September 4, 2009  • 

Review of:  The Healthy KitchenRecipes from Rural Lebanon, compiled by Malek Batal

ا لمطبخ الصحي – وصفات من ريف لبنان

توثيق مالك بطل

This book is important. It represents a project carried out at the American University of Beirut (AUB) Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences. The premise of the book is the following:  The westernization of the Lebanese diet  has caused a surge in chronic diseases as well  as nutrient deficiencies in both the urban and rural population.

The good news is that the region produces  many wild and edible plants that could alleviate these problems.


This book compiled recipes gathered from local women in certain rural communities in Lebanon (Baalbeck, Hermel and Chouf) The recipes all use wild, edible  plants and are very traditional. These recipes were tested at the laboratories of the AUB in the presence of trained dietitians and analyzed to check nutrient levels. It was  found (not surprisingly!)  that these recipes provide a very high level of vitamins and minerals.

What I liked about the book:

  • It brings to our attention wild,  edible plants that we may not have been aware of, such as eryngo, Spanish thistle, borage, gundelia, water parsnip, etc.
  • Each recipe is explained in detail and in both English and Arabic, with detailed nutritional analysis.
  • Each recipe is accompanied by a large, color photograph.
  • Recipes are for the most part very easy to follow.
  • A lot of the recipes are not known and therefore very interesting to the urban dweller, such as tabbouleh with lentils, grape molasses cookies, borage with yoghurt.
  • The book contains a section that offers a detailed description of each wild edible plant, growing conditions and homeopathic uses.
  • The book provides a link that is very useful: www.wildedibleplants.org
  • The proceeds from this book will be used to help bolster biodiversity conservation in these rural communities in Lebanon.

What I did not like about the book:

  • These plants may be extremely healthy and all but how I am going to get a hold of them? Not a very practical option for an urban dweller in the United States!
  • Some of the recipes involving a dough like fatayer bel-kishk (kishk turnover) do not seem accurate: for example, the recipe calls for 3 1/2 cups flour for 2 1/2 water. With these proportions, you don’t get a bread dough, you get a soup! In addition, for the stuffing, the recipe calls for only 1/4 cup kishk, 2 tablespoons walnuts and sesame seeds and 1/3 of a medium onion! With this stuffing, I can probably stuff 3 turnovers only!

In conclusion, even if you are not able to get a hold of this book (I did not see it on Amazon), I will try to find these plants or their equivalents in the US market, because I strongly believe that we should make a conscious effort to include more wild greens into our daily diet. I will try all of the recipes listed and post the results on this blog.

Comments

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  1. Leyla says:

    Hi Joummana,
    Here is the Spanish thistle
    http://calphotos.berkeley.edu/cgi/img_query?stat=BROWSE&query_src=photos_flora_sci&where-genre=Plant&where-taxon=Centaurea+iberica&title_tag=Centaurea+iberica
    Does the book tell you how to collect the plant so you will not eredicate it.
    Does it give any information and photos about similar plants,so we will not get confused and get poisened!!:(
    This is a wild plant it is not cultivated so it is difficult to find in grocery stores.
    It grows in California 🙂

    • Joumana says:

      Wow! Leyla, you are amazing! Well, the book gives good photos of the plants as well as information on the type of soil they grow on. It also lists all the nutritional benefits of the plants. It is mainly a cookbook though so there are no specifics on how to cultivate or distinguish it from other (poisonous) plants. I guess I am going to have to have another book on that topic! I do know that zaatar is cultivated now all over Lebanon after it started declining (because of wild harvesting)

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