"It's a very simple cuisine, but it's very tasty," says Mirna Attar, chef and owner of Portland's Ya Hala restaurant, about Lebanese cuisine. "People think it's spicy, but it's not. It's kind of a garlicky and lemony type of cuisine."
Attar has been a chef for 13 years and loves what she does. “Growing up, I was a fine artist and a musician. I like art a lot. I’ve seen myself in a different kind of art — cooking,” says Attar.
Attar and her husband, John, purchased a Lebanese grocery store in 1999 in Portland's Montavilla neighborhood where they had a small deli with only a few tables. According to Attar, she started cooking in the deli. Eventually, as the grocery store and deli attracted more customers and had a waiting list, they decided to expand their business and opened Ya Hala restaurant. They also own Barbur World Foods, where Attar develops recipes for its Lebanese deli.
“I always like to spread the word for Lebanese food [and] how to cook it, because it’s healthy,” says Attar. “I enjoy [it] when I see little kids come in ... asking their parents, ‘Let’s go to Ya Hala to eat Lebanese food.' It’s the best feeling ever to see those young kids growing up with a healthy diet.”
On a weekend afternoon, Attar invited us into her home and cooked a couple of simple yet tasty Lebanese dishes featuring lots of vegetables and flavored with lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and a variety of herbs.
Try her recipes and enjoy the flavors of Lebanese cuisine.
Open-Faced Roasted Eggplant with Roasted Tomatoes and Herb Ground Chicken
Ingredients for the Eggplants and Tomatoes (4-6 Servings)
- 4 large eggplants
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely smashed
- 1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup chopped parsley
- 1/3 cup chopped chives
- 1/3 cup chopped mint
- 6 Roma tomatoes
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Cut the eggplants in half. Score them with a knife from the inside and sprinkle them with salt and olive oil. Place the eggplants on a baking sheet and bake them in the oven for 45 minutes. The inside of the eggplants should get tender.
- While the eggplant is baking, cut the tomatoes into quarters and sprinkle them with salt and olive oil. Place them on a baking sheet and place them in the same oven for 10 minutes. The tomatoes should also become tender.
Ingredients for the Ground Chicken (4-6 Servings)
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 2 teaspoons finely smashed garlic
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 2 teaspoons allspice
- 1 teaspoon dry lavender
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
- 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Mix all the ingredients except the olive oil in a glass (non-reactive) bowl.
- Preheat a frying pan with the 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Pour the mixture from the bowl into the frying pan and cook it until the chicken is brown and crunchy.
Putting It All Together
- Place the roasted eggplant on a platter.
- Mix the garlic, lemon juice and olive oil (from the "for the Eggplant and Tomatoes" section) together and drizzle the mixture over the inside of the roasted eggplants. Scoop the insides of the eggplants in a ball shape inside the skin.
- Put the tomatoes next to the eggplants and sprinkle them with the parsley, the chives and the mint.
- Place your cooked ground chicken on a platter and sprinkle some parsley on top.
- Enjoy those three dishes with a side of Lebanese yogurt and pita bread.
Fava Bean and Basmati Brown Rice Tabouli
Ingredients (4-6 Servings)
- 1 cup grilled red pepper, diced
- 1 cup fresh mint, chopped
- 1 cup frozen peeled and split fava beans
- 1 ½ cups cooked brown rice
- 2 cups parsley, chopped
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- ½ cup fresh lemon juice
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Drop the frozen fava beans in boiling water for 1 minute and then strain. Let it cool then mix it with all the above ingredients. There you have it! Enjoy.