Lebanese cooking wouldn’t be quite the same without its utilisation of a wide array of vibrant herbs and spices. Where the latter impart the vivacious, earthy flavours that Lebanese cuisine is known for, its the herbs that make certain dishes really sing. Used deliciously in meats, salads and dips, Lebanese herbs like wild thyme and parsley are the stars of many of our most treasured cuisine.
From the subtle freshness of spearmint to the vibrant earthiness of za’atar, Lebanese food would be the same without its liberal use of fresh herbs.
Few words will evoke more pride and nostalgia in a Lebanese person than za’atar. Fresh, vibrant and aromatic, za’atar is a delicious mixture of wild thyme, oregano, marjoram and lightly toasted sesame seeds.
The result is a versatile herb amalgam, used in a range of Lebanese dishes; you’ll find it mixed with olive oil and spread on bread for traditional manoushe; you’ll find it sprinkled on meats of all kind, or peppered upon Lebanese dips like hommus or labhne; you’ll even find it incorporated into falafel for a truly authentic flavour experience.
Parsley is an unassuming little herb that packs a huge punch. It is the central element of tabbouleh – one of Lebanon’s most renowned dishes – in which it is carefully chopped (so it doesn’t bruise) and mixed with burghal, tomato, onion, lemon juice and oil.
There are two main variations of parsley: curly and flat. The latter contains more flavour and aroma, especially when the stalks are chopped among the leaves. Parsley is also an excellent garnish for meats, salads and dips. Just chop a few leaves and sprinkle it on your next Lebanese dish – you won’t be disappointed.
Mint is an important element in many Lebanese dishes, though it features far more subtly than parsley or za’atar. It can be used in small quantities in dips and salads like tabbouleh, fattoush and cucumber yoghurt.
Whole mint leaves are also an excellent addition to manoushe or shawarma wraps, offering a burst of freshness to balance the earthy, meaty flavours. There are numerous mint variations; spearmint is the preferred choice in Lebanese cooking as it is firm and less bitter than other types.
Oregano is a versatile herb with a robust flavour and warm aroma that makes it a brilliant addition to savoury dishes. Alongside wild thyme, it is the most crucial ingredient in za’atar. You’ll find dried oregano sprinkled generously on chargrilled meats and fish, as well as vegetables like tomato and eggplant.
Next time your pizza is lacking a bit of kick, try adding a liberal pinch of oregano – it plays well with just about anything.
Much like oregano, rosemary is the perfect companion for a number of savoury dishes – particularly those that are grilled over hot coals or baked in a wood fire oven. Rosemary is an excellent garnish for roasted meats like lamb – which is a favourite in Lebanese cuisine – or chicken. It is also pairs well with garlic and oil, especially when spread on fresh bread and baked in the oven. Yum.
Traditional Lebanese food is one of the world’s tastiest and healthiest cuisines, thanks to its generous use of fresh herbs. To try Lebanese food at its best (or the best pizza in Sydney) stop by Manoosh or order online, and prepare your taste buds for something special.