Lebanon is a country located between the desert and the sea. The location is a both blessing and a curse, with war being waged on this fertile ground for over four millennia. The rich soil and varied history of Lebanon have resulted in a world class cuisine. Chef Merrilees Parker travels to the capital of Beirut, and then in to the countryside of Lebanon to learn more about its people, their culture and their cuisine.
Merrilees begins her journey at a Beirut juice bar. The fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful in Lebanon and her avocado smoothie is a great start to breakfast. Next she meets up with Nayla Audi who is a well-known food writer and restaurateur. Together they make Fatteh, which is a chick pea based dish with yoghurt. Breakfast is topped off with a trip to Corniche to sample Manoushie, an Arabian bread.
Merilees goes in to a Lebanese home to help prepare the national dish, Kibbeh. For lunch she visits a French café. The French took over Beirut after World War I, and even though the city was destroyed by civil war in the 80’s, the influence on cuisine and architecture remains.
Dinner is served in downtown Beirut at Johnny Ferrah's chic restaurant: Bread. Johnny dines with Merrilees and together they sample calamari and shrimp, bathed in a squid oil vinaigrette, followed by a delicious seafood sampler with a taste of sardine.
After a day in Lebanon's chicest city, Merrilee heads to its oldest, the ancient city of Tyre. The Phoenicians arrived in Tyre in 4000 BC when - as the first sea faring nation in the Middle East - they established a trading post for silks and spices, building a vast empire on the back of the purple dye of the murex mollusk. While over-fishing has taken its toll on the Mediterranean stocks, the Tyre markets are still a good destination for fresh seafood. Merrilees helps to prepare the local fish, which is a no-frills affair, using little more than a squeeze of lemon for flavour.
Merrilees continues her journey to the Chouf Mountains. Here she gets a lesson in picklingthe local produce. Locking cucumbers in a jar with vinegar, water, and salt, can have quite an effect, as anyone who has seen a pink turnip on the side of their Falafel can tell you!
Before leaving the countryside, Merrilees helps pound chickpeas for Hummus. She visits the temples where she tastes the wine of the Hezbollah stronghold Baalbek and also samples the Baklava. She then stops in gypsy country – just in time for the slaughter of a goat, and scours the brush with Bedouin women, looking for flavours, before sitting down to a sunset feast.
journey around Lebanon finishes back in Beirut, where she makes a cameo appearance on the Middle East's favourite TV cookery programme: The Chef Ramzi Show.