There is something magical about dinner parties. I love hosting people and connecting over food and drinks. This was particularly true when we recently had friends over for a Middle Eastern themed dinner party to try serving some of the Lebanese comfort food that my husband grew up with as a child. With Middle Eastern food front and centre in the Toronto food scene right now (think Byblos and Fat Pasha), it’s fun introducing people to a new side of Middle Eastern cooking.
After years of hovering around my in-laws kitchens taking notes (occasionally translated right from an Arabic cookbook), and my husband diligently tasting every single item that has ever come out of his Mom’s kitchen, we were finally ready to introduce others to the hidden world of traditional Lebanese food.
But first things first – decor! I think most people know by now that this is my favourite part of hosting a dinner party. I love using colours, fabrics and lighting to reflect a theme. That being said, I was actually pretty stumped when it came to decor for this occasion. Cedar trees? Green, red and white themed? It all seemed forced. Eventually, I decided to forego the themed direction in exchange for bright colours and patterns with elegant candle lighting. This to me is a reflection of the vibrant Lebanese culture.
We decided to use appetizers as a way to taste bite-sized versions of the most classic foods.
- Za’tar is a classic Middle Eastern blend of herbs, including Thyme and sesame seeds, served on freshly baked thin crust dough.
- Seasoned beef baked in fresh pockets of bread. As far as comfort food goes, this dish is pretty hard to beat! Recipe coming soon.
- Labneh is a spread similar to cream cheese or yogurt. Served with sliced cucumbers, fresh mint leaves and pita, this is one of my absolute favourite Lebanese foods!
Truth be told, by the time we made it through appetizers there was little room left for dinner. But, alas, we were troopers and persevered!
For an entree, we settled on Molokhia – a dish that I’d never heard of before meeting my husband, and haven’t seen at a restaurant since. In essence, it’s a four part dish that is assembled at the table, consisting of toasted pita, rice, a stewed vegetable called Molokhia, and a vinegar and onion sauce. With literally half of the dishing being carbs on carbs, it is the quintessential comfort food. Not to worry adventurous eaters, recipe coming soon!
For a vegetable side dish, I highly recommend Fattoush, which most people have likely had. It is very healthy and delicious in it’s own right – it actually makes a wonderful lunch.
And of course, it almost goes without saying, there was lots of hummus on hand. Two types actually. And enough for guests to take some home. We can probably all guess who was in charge of the hummus…
And that takes us to dessert. This is where I copped out a bit… or left it to the experts. Depends on who you ask. But seriously, there are so many amazing Lebanese desserts that it would almost be a disservice not to offer our guests all of them! The Middle Eastern pastry store saved the day, and all was well.