Chef Kamal Al Faqih’s Lebanese Classics


In 1986, Chef Kamal Al‑Faqih made his debut as the owner and head chef of Med Catering, Inc., the first exclusively Mediterranean catering company in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Born in the United States, Al‑Faqih grew up watching his mother and aunts prepare traditional regional dishes, providing him a natural authenticity and palate for Lebanese and Mediterranean cuisine. He has catered events at the Smithsonian Museums, the White House, and numerous private homes, hosting such notables as Queen Noor of Jordan and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He led cooking demonstrations at the Middle East Institute and Georgetown University and continues to present in Southern California and on YouTube.

Chef Kamal is one of 39 Arab Americans featured in the PBS series, “Arab American Stories.” His cookbook, Classic Lebanese Cuisine: 170 Fresh and Healthy Mediterranean Favorites (2009), combines tradition with innovation.


1 cup dry garbanzo beans (soak overnight)

1⁄2 teaspoon and 1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda, divided

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic

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1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped yellow onion

1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped green onion

1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley; use green leafy parts and tender stems

1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro; use green leafy parts and tender stems

1 1⁄4 teaspoons salt

1⁄4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/16 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3⁄4 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons raw sesame seeds (for topping)

2 cups canola oil (for frying)

To soak the beans for the falafel:

Soak the beans in 4 cups water (so they are submerged) with 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda overnight at room temperature, uncovered. (Note: The baking soda will soften the beans.)

To prepare the falafel (the following day):

Drain the beans. Place them on a kitchen towel and dry them well. Pat the vegetables dry to remove excess water (too much moisture in the mixture makes it difficult for the patties to hold together).

Place the beans in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the garlic, both types of onion, the parsley, and the cilantro. (Kamal uses a 12-cup food processor; smaller ones may require processing one half at a time.) Pulse several times until the beans are coarsely chopped. Scrape down the sides, then slowly pulse and process until the beans are finely chopped (not pureed) and the mixture begins to hold together. (Test a small amount by squeezing it in the palm of your hand.) Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add the salt, spices, flour, and 1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda, and mix well.

Measuring the falafel mixture into 2-tablespoon portions, place each portion in your palm and press it into a 2-inch round dome-shaped patty (like a crab cake) using your other palm (or use a falafel mold; see below). Place the patty on a plastic-lined baking sheet, dome-side up. Repeat with the remaining portions. Sprinkle a few raw sesame seeds on top of each and gently press them into the patties with your finger. (Do not use toasted sesame seeds; they will not stick.)

To fry falafel:

Heat the oil to 375°F in a small saucepan over medium-high heat (the oil should be about 1 inch deep). Use a candy/fry thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil for accuracy. Fry 5 patties at a time. Once they are golden brown, remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel–lined plate. Fry the remaining falafel. Ensure the temperature of the oil remains at 375°F so the patties fry evenly.

Serve with warm pita bread, tahini sauce, and pickled turnips on the side.

Falafel molds:

Handheld molds can be found in specialty markets or online. They consist of two pieces: a small circular mold attached to a spring-loaded handle, and a flat paddle. Hold the lever down on the handle as you fill the mold with the falafel mixture. Pack it down into the mold using the paddle as you press the mixture into a dome-shaped patty. Gently release the lever and transfer the patty to a plastic-lined tray. If you plan on making falafel often, it is worth purchasing one of these. The final number of patties may vary based on the size of the mold you use. Try to find one that is about 2 inches in diameter.

Stuffed grape leaves

Vegetable-Stuffed Grape Leaves

Yield: 5 dozen

Specialty ingredients: Grape leaves, which can be found at specialty markets or online packed brined in jars; or fresh, tender grape leaves off the vine.

Special equipment: Two 9-inch round cake pans.

Prepare ahead: The rolled filled grape leaves can be frozen (uncooked) for up to 2 months. Freeze on a plastic-lined tray uncovered, then store them in an airtight container. Thaw and cook as directed. The vegetable filling must be prepared 1 day in advance (to allow the rice to expand).

For the filling:

1⁄2 cup toasted pine nuts

1 cup converted (also called parboiled) rice

1 1⁄4 teaspoons and 3⁄4 teaspoon salt, divided

1⁄4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

3⁄4 cup and 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided 1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1⁄2 cup currants

1⁄4 cup finely chopped fresh dill

2 cups finely chopped flat-leaf parsley; use green leafy parts and tender stems

1 1⁄2 cups (peeled) finely chopped tomato

1⁄2 cup finely chopped green onion; use light and dark green parts

1⁄2 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1⁄4 cup finely chopped fresh mint or 2 teaspoons dry mint flakes

About 3 cups boiling water

For the grape leaves:

1 (16-oz.) jar grape leaves (Orlando brand, if available)

To prepare the filling (prepare 1 day in advance)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the pine nuts over a foil-lined baking sheet and toast in the center of the oven, shaking the pan occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown. Cool before adding them to the filling. Combine the rice, 1 1⁄4 teaspoons salt, the pepper, 3⁄4 cup lemon juice, and 1/3 cup olive oil in a bowl. Mix well. Add the currants, dill, parsley, tomato, both kinds of onion, and mint. Mix well. Cover well and refrigerate overnight.

To prepare the grape leaves:

Drain the brine from the jar. Carefully remove the grape leaves one bunch at a time. Use scissors to cut off the stem at the base of each leaf. Discard the stems. Rinse the leaves in a bowl with hot running water for a minute or two. Then soak them in hot water for about 5 minutes, changing the water 3 times and removing as much of the brine from the leaves as possible. Drain the water, then drape the leaves over the edge of a colander. Set them aside to allow excess water to drain. (Cover and refrigerate until ready to roll. Alternatively, fresh grape leaves can be used. Select tender, new-growth leaves. Cut off the stem and rinse them well before rolling. Prepare as directed above.)

To roll the grape leaves:

Remove the filling from the refrigerator the following day and mix well. Transfer it to a fine-mesh strainer with a bowl underneath to catch any liquid that drains off. Keep the bowl under the strainer while you work. Reserve the drained liquid for later use. To roll a grape leaf, take a leaf and place it flat on your work surface with the dull side (the side with raised veins) facing up and the stem end nearest to you.

Place 1 level tablespoon of filling right above the stem base and distribute it lengthwise (about 2 1⁄2 inches). Fold the bottom of the leaf up and over the filling, then fold both sides (the right and left) of the leaf over the filling. Tuck and roll the leaf tightly and evenly up toward the tip of the leaf (just as you would roll a carpet), and set the rolled grape leaf aside (with the seam facing down so it will not unravel). Repeat until the filling is finished. The rolled grape leaves should be about 2 1⁄2 inches long. Reserve extra pieces of grape leaves for later use.

Kamal Al Faqih

To cook the grape leaves:

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lower one rack to the lowest shelf of the oven. Brush olive oil over the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans. Arrange some of the reserved leaves to cover the bottom of the pans to prevent sticking while the grape leaves cook. (If there are not enough grape leaves to line the bot- tom of the cake pans, peel a potato, and cut it into 1⁄4-inch slices to line the bottom of the pan. You can also use rounds of sliced onion.) Load the stuffed grape leaves, starting from the side of the pan. Place one grape leaf in at a time, seam- side down, end-to-end around the pan in concentric circles. Work your way toward the center, nestling one right next to the other. Placing them close together will prevent them from unraveling while they steam. About half of the grape leaf rolls should fit in a single layer in each cake pan (about 30 per pan).

Pour reserved liquid from the grape leaf filling into a 1-quart measuring cup. Add 3⁄4 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and enough boiling water to bring the measure to 3 cups. Stir well and pour half the mixture over each pan of grape leaves. Cover and seal the top of each pan with aluminum foil.

Place the pans on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake on the lower rack of the oven for 1 1⁄2 hours. Then set the grape leaves aside to cool for about 5 hours. (Note: Kamal used to load rolled grape leaves into a pot with a dish on top to hold them in place and steam them on the stovetop. While adjusting the heat, the liquid would bubble and cause some of the leaves to wiggle loose and open. He finds this method of cooking them in the oven much easier.)

These recipes were originally featured at:


For more recipes, go to:  https://app.ckbk.com/authors/kamal-al-faqih

In 1986, Chef Kamal Al‑Faqih made his debut as the owner and head chef of Med Catering, Inc., the first exclusively Mediterranean catering company in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. For more Arab American stories and recipes with Chef Kamal, see this video featuring him making Lebanese kibbi with his beloved mother: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Slxr7czVHMI










For instructional videos, go to:








Classic Lebanese Cuisine: 170 Fresh And Healthy Mediterranean Favorites

To purchase, go to: https://www.amazon.com/Classic-Lebanese-Cuisine-Mediterranean-Favorites/dp/0762752785


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