Lebanese food is kebab, hummus and a vacation up north in the Galilee. Right? Well, that’s just it, not always. That’s simply what we’re used to, going back to the same places for the same old dishes time and again.
This time we decided to mix it up: we decided to spend a romantic getaway weekend at Mitzpe Hararit, an isolated little village in Gush Segev, offering wonderful silence and a splendid view. The village is so isolated and quiet that they don’t even have a grocery store, not to even mention a restaurant.
We decided to make up for this culinary absence at Matame Hateumot, (The Taste of the Twins) a restaurant in the next village over, named after the people that established the place, twin sisters who immigrated to Israel from Lebanon. In the afternoon you’ll get a complete meal for two, including a starting platter of baked goods, salads, and two main dishes with sides. Everything is kosher and made on the premises from natural and fresh ingredients according to traditional recipes and techniques that have been passed down through the twin’s family from generation to generation.
We, of course, expected the Arab Middle Eastern style food that we are used to getting in Lebanese restaurants, and were surprised to discover Ashkenazi (European) style main dishes, like chicken breast and roasted veal. Smulik, the current owner, came over and explained that the Jewish-Lebanese kitchen is different from the Arab one. It is based on a lot of vegetables, a ton of lemon juice and delicate spicing that has been influenced by European cuisine, alongside the influences of the Arab kitchen. We could already taste the differences in the salads: the hummus isn’t the smooth spread that you get in a Middle Eastern restaurant, but coarsely crushed chickpeas with lemon juice. In the Lebanese-Arab version of tabouleh, bulgar plays the main role, but in this version the main players are parsley and lemon juice. The eggplant salad is made up of cubes of fried eggplant in a light sweet and sour sauce. Amongst the baked goods, including sambusak (yeast dough with filling), lachmajun (a mini pizza topped with ground meat), a spinach croissant and meat kubeh, we loved the kubeh the best. This kubeh is a true delicacy – the ground beef shoulder and mushroom filling and thin crisp pastry is vastly different than the thick-dough kubeh we are used to.
For mains, diners can choose from a variety of hot dishes, including ‘shrihah’ – chicken breast baked in garlic, lemon and pine nut sauce and ‘kastaletah’ – thin slices of veal in lemon sauce. But, in our opinion the crowing glory of this restaurant is the stuffed vegetable platter, whose contents change seasonally.
Our stuffed veggie platter consists of sour rice stuffed vine leaves, slices of eggplant rolled around slightly spicy ground meat and onions cooked in pomegranate juice, which gives the onions a sweet flavour and brown colour. Our recommendation – order one of the main dishes that come with a side dish, like the interesting stew of potatoes and artichoke hearts, as well as an order of stuffed vegetables – provided, of course, that you are prepared to share what you’ve got on your plate with your companion, and that your companion is willing to share with you. If not, you’ll figure out, just like I did, that you’ll be too busy trying to polish of the venerable slices of veal and not have much space left for the stuffed veggies.
The end to the meal was Lebanese in every respect: a glass of excellent Arak, a cup of the special house tea that has been brewed like coffee with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. From here – straight back to our vacation cabin, to digest in silence while admiring the view.