BEIRUT — Joumana Accad, creator of the celebrated food blog TasteofBeirut.com, is a native Lebanese, a trained pastry chef and a professional caterer. In her debut cookbook, Taste of Beirut, she shares her heritage through exquisite food and anecdotes, teaching anyone from newbies to foodies how to master traditional Lebanese cuisine. With over 150 recipes inspired by her beloved Teta (grandmother) in their family’s kitchen, Accad captures the celebrated flavors of the Middle East and makes them completely accessible to home cooks and chefs around the world. Each recipe features step-by-step instructions, Accad’s warm teaching style, and breathtaking color photographs that will make mouths water.
Accad left the Middle East in 1975 and began an international journey. She moved to Paris in the mid-1970s where she finished her formal education, returned briefly to Beirut before moving to the United States in 1979. Widowed at a young age, she moved to Dallas, Texas in 1987, remarried and raised two children. She couldn’t resist the call of cooking and entered the Pastry Arts program at El Centro College in Dallas. Upon graduation, she became a pastry chef at a German restaurant, worked as a caterer, and sold her decorated cookies and cakes. Whole Foods Markets even asked her to teach classes on Lebanese cuisine at several of their local markets.
“Lebanon is a beautiful Mediterranean country with few natural resources. I cooked in Beirut with established master cooks, learning tips and techniques to successfully prepare traditional dishes such as balila. As a child, learning to cook from my grandmother, I grew to appreciate and take full advantage of what nature provided us,” she explains. “I have modernized many traditional Lebanese recipes like this one that take advantage of seasonal ingredients.” She is active on social media channels, especially on Facebook and she has created several videos on YouTube, of which her Baklava in Ten Minutes has attracted over 944,000 views.
“Balila is the epitome of the poor man’s dish in Lebanon; it’s served for breakfast in every neighborhood joint for the throngs of workers who eat it before heading to their job on the construction site or at the office. It’s delicious,” she says.
“All you need are chickpeas and some good olive oil, garlic and lemon to season it. And ground cumin. The secret to this recipe is using good quality chickpeas; a famous balila seller in Beirut once told me he gets his chickpeas from Mexico. Apparently, the local chickpeas are too scrawny for his (high) standards, and the Mexican ones are big and plump. The chickpeas need to be cooked to death until they get super soft and dressed at the last minute with the magic Lebanese combo of olive oil, lemon and freshly mashed garlic. The balila gets sprinkled with cumin right before eating for the final touch.”
“Balila should be served with fresh radishes, fresh mint, chili peppers, spring onions, sliced tomatoes, and olives, and some warm pita bread to scoop up the soup. Simply cut off a piece of bread, scoop up as much balila as possible, top with a mint leaf, and inhale it with some radish or olive or onion or all of these,” she adds.