Despite the chaotic situation in the country and the negative vibes that are prevailing, new socially responsible collaborations are still seeing the light, hence proving the hope of the young Lebanese in a Lebanon they dream about.
The Food Heritage Foundation is very pleased to announce its recent collaboration with Key Sixteen, a travel agency based in Antwerp, Belgium, through the socially engaged mouneh products initiative “Food and Roots“, to launch the “Manouche box”. During the event that was held on 12 October, 2021 in Beit el Deir in Deir el Qamar, the partners introduced the guests to the Manouche Box collaboration and its social impact. A live cooking session with Barbara Massaad was also organized during the event.
The Manouche Box contains authentic “Food and Roots” preserve products which are traditionally made from locally grown products by carefully chosen small Lebanese producers and farmers from across Lebanon’s rural areas. The box includes a range of 7 products: thyme, thyme with nuts, tapenade (olive paste), tomato paste, carob molasses, mulberry jam and chili paste. Each product in the box holds an authentic taste of Lebanon and a refined look that fits modern standards and taste. The Manouche box will be sold mainly in Europe through the Seven Shelves E-commerce website ww.sevenshelves.com
Following the event, 400 Manoushe were baked and distributed by Association Bassma to families in need in the Chouf region.
Furthermore, volunteers from Key Sixteen and Seven Shelves were hosted by the Food Heritage Foundation for a week as part of their social impact mission in Lebanon. The volunteers prepared Lebanese mezza dishes in FHF’s Akletna community Kitchen, and helped a local cooperative in preparing seasonal mouneh products; they also participated with the farmers in olive picking on “Darb el Karam” food tourism program, and played board games with the kids in a local school as part of their social activities. Finally, the volunteers toured the Eco Khalleh educational center farm in Baaqlin where they attended training sessions on mouneh preparations and food preservation.
We are proud to announce that The University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute (AFI) award program has selected Food Heritage Foundation as the receiver of the Community Engagement Innovation Award for 2021.
The University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute (AFI) award program, which started in 2018 and is judged by an international committee, recognizes those who make exceptional efforts to create more equitable, suitable, efficient and nutritious food systems.
Two prizes of $100,000 are awarded annually in two categories: research innovation and community engagement innovation. Nominees are from around the world.
Food Heritage Foundation was recognized for this award for its uses of indigenous culinary knowledge as a tool for improving the food system and building healthy communities. FHF model is both a driver of economic development and an example of sustainable food solutions.
Food and Roots is a new innovative and socially-engaged brand that refines traditional Lebanese food products from rural areas across Lebanon to fit modern life. Developed and launched by the Food Heritage Foundation (FHF) and supported by the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU) at the American University of Beirut (AUB), the brand endeavors to empower and create market access for local small-scale producers by gathering, packaging and selling their products via several urban points of sale.
As part of its seed to table approach, Food and Roots sources ingredients and food for its range of ready-to-eat, ready-to-cook, processed mouneh and fresh produce products from carefully chosen small-scale producers made up of farmers and cooperatives from different rural areas in Lebanon. This network of producers have all previously participated in training sessions conducted as part of different projects that ESDU is involved in.
The added value of Food and Roots is that it implements proper quality control, food safety standards, climate-smart approaches and sustainable agricultural practices that are designed to sustain rural communities in their lands. Additionally, all their products rely on seasonal ingredients and traditional rural specialties that have no preservatives and additives.
Despite all the challenges Lebanon has been facing from the financial crisis and the pandemic, the Food and Roots team has persevered and succeeded in launching the brand in different points of sale in the Beirut area, to continue their mission of empowering rural communities and connecting them to urban customers by selling their healthy and unique food products.
In March, Food and Roots launched their website where all their products can be found and delivered to your doorstep across Lebanon. In addition to ordering their products from their website, they will eventually be available for purchase from various urban points of sale. With time, they will expand their selection of mouneh products.
For those interested in discovering the unique recipes of rural communities, Food and Roots will be offering ready-to-eat products and ready-to-cook meals which will be prepared by the Akleh Community Kitchen in collaboration with a consultant chef that will refine their rural flavors with a modern twist.
Food and Roots started displaying and selling their products in different events across Beirut during the Christmas season. Customers bought a wide range of products including herbs, pastes, molasses, olives, dairy and grains. To benefit from networking opportunities and attract customers and potential retailers, Food and Roots will be present at different events and exhibitions in Lebanon during 2021.
Biting into warm, freshly baked saj bread, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by its authentic and delicious taste and overlook its rich history and numerous benefits.
Wheat, an essential ingredient of saj bread, is a dominant staple grain that provides up to one third of the calories consumed in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In Lebanon, saj is a staple part of Lebanese meals and is often eaten as part of the mezze spread. The production of saj bread is also beneficial to the livelihoods of women in rural villages since there are many agricultural cooperatives that are led by rural women who bake and sell saj bread.
Where Does Saj Bread Come From?
The term “flat” bread encompasses a multitude of bread types that differ in ingredients, preparation methods and overall taste based on the countries that they are consumed in.
Saj bread (also known as markook, khubz ruqaq, shrak, khubz rqeeq, mashrooh) is a type of unleavened flat bread that is commonly eaten in the Levant and throughout the Middle East. It is baked on a domed or convex metal griddle, known as saj. Usually sizable, the saj is approximately 60 cm. Like other flatbreads, the dough of saj bread is flattened and kept very thin prior to baking. It is usually folded and put in bags before being sold.
The history of bread is intertwined with the history of the world. Its key ingredient, wheat is known to have grown on several continents in ancient times, although it thrived in an area known as the Fertile Crescent which spans modern-day Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq together with the southeastern region of Turkey and the western fringes of Iran. One of the earliest mentions of markook bread was in the renowned tenth century Arabic cookbook “Kitab Al Tabikh” (The Book of Dishes) by Ibn Sayyar Al Warraq.
Compared to more voluminous bread loaves, flat breads in general are considered an asset to a subsistence economy, in which every resource has to be rationalized. The bread can also be used as an alternative to eating utensils to scoop up and consume food. Possibly due to their simple and convenient transportation process, in which they are stacked on top of each other, flatbreads are popular in geographic areas where nomadic life is predominant. Although flatbreads originated in rural societies, their delicious taste and many benefits make them popular across the world.
Is Saj Bread Healthy?
Flatbread is a healthier alternative to traditional raised yeast bread. It is most beneficial when made with whole grains and has little sugar and salt and no hydrogenated oils. Compared to white bread, whole grains have a larger amount of nutrients and fibers. Fibers have significant health benefits and are essential for a healthy digestive system. They can also help prevent obesity, reduce the risk of constipation, diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol. Adding seeds such as flax or chia seeds can further improve the nutritional value of the flatbread.
An essential ingredient of bread, wheat is mostly composed of carbohydrates and has a moderate amount of proteins. Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diets and provide our body with energy, almost 50 percent of daily caloric needs come from carbohydrates. Flatbread flour is fortified with vitamins like thiamin (vitamin B1), folic acid, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and minerals like iron, zinc and iodine.
Saj Bread Recipe
2 large spoons of active dry yeast 3 L warm water 5 kg wheat flour 50 g coarse or table salt
Note: If you are using coarse salt, make sure to melt it in warm water before mixing it with the other ingredients in the dough or you can add table salt to the dough after it has been formed.
Add coarse salt in a bowl, add warm water and let them melt. Put wheat flour and the yeast in another bowl. Form a well in the center, pour salt and warm water in the mixture.
Begin to mix with your hands, adding warm water as needed. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes, until it’s smooth and no longer sticky.
Knead the dough for a few minutes then divide it into balls about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll the balls into circles on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin, or flatten them into circles with your hands.
Place the dough on a circular cushion (referred to as “tara”, طارة in Arabic) make sure to tuck in the edges.
Flip the flattened dough on the cushion. Once the dough is properly shaped, place it on the saj griddle and bake for less than a minute on one side and then flip to cook the other side. Sometimes you only cook on one side, it depends on your preference. Pile your bread sheets and cover to keep them soft and warm or serve them immediately. You may use these sheets of bread as a wrap for anything you like such as cheese, meats or veggies.
Pasqualone, Antonella. “Traditional Flat Breads Spread from the Fertile Crescent: Production Process and History of Baking Systems.” Journal of Ethnic Foods, Elsevier, 17 Feb. 2018, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235261811830009X#bib2.
Tohmé Tawk, Salwa, et al. “Challenges and Sustainability of Wheat Production in a Levantine Breadbasket: The Case of the West Bekaa, Lebanon.” Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 2019, pp. 1–17., doi:10.5304/jafscd.2019.084.011.
Land is versatile, its power lies in the way that it is harnessed. In response to the local economic crisis which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a loving and imaginative gesture to honor the wishes of her late grandfather Salman Aboul Hosn, Lamis Jawhari decided to reclaim the land that she inherited from him to empower the local community of Qalaa in the Baabda district.
Lamis’s land is being upgraded and repurposed through a sustainable farming project called Ard Jeddeh which is being implemented by FHF with the support of ESDU in the framework of the Ardi Ardak National Food Security Initiative.
Ard Jeddeh is a community-based project that will serve as a model for sustainable food production and will also create employment and networking opportunities for the local community and neighboring farmers.
Abandoned for years, the land was previously used for the cultivation of olive trees and various kinds of fruit trees. Following the land assessment by a team of FHF and ESDU agricultural experts, it was decided to develop a berry farm. The berry farm will include: strawberries which will be grown in a high-tech greenhouse with controlled climate and soil conditions, local mulberries and blackberries on the terraces, raspberries which will be cultivated on a trellis system and grapevines for wine production. At a later stage, the farm will be complemented with a processing unit to make jams, dry fruits and syrups among other products, which will add value to the fresh produce. A small-scale winery will also be established.
In keeping with the sustainable mission of the project, the FHF and ESDU team will establish a compost unit on the land to enrich the soil with nutrients as a way to sustainably improve the quality of the fruits that will be grown. Land waste will also be turned into compost. Additionally, aromatic plants will be planted across the land to serve as a natural pest control and organic mulch consisting of straw will be spread on the soil to retain its moisture and temperature and to suppress the growth of weeds. The sustainable farm will also have a high-tech irrigation system with sensors and an automated system which is rarely found in local agricultural areas.
FHF spoke with Lamis Jawhari to further shed light on the deeply personal story of her land and her future plans for the project.
Tell us about yourself and the story of your land.
Growing up, my cousins and I watched my grandfather grow most of our produce in his garden. He made it a point to visit his garden/in-home farm every morning and come back with a basket of fresh produce for us to all enjoy. Before passing away, he left my mother a piece of land and told us it was a dream of his for us to use it for agricultural purposes instead of building anything on it. When the economic crisis began, I decided that it was the best time to invest in the land and begin an agricultural project that can help support the community by offering employment opportunities and the agriculture sector in general. I spent summers in the mountains and felt it was extremely important to remain connected to my roots and to keep my grandfather’s story alive through this project.
What was your involvement in the Ard Jeddeh project and why did you decide to repurpose your land?
Ard Jeddeh is a project I have created to hopefully impact the community with sustainable jobs and to create the goodwill of an authentic brand name with my grandfather’s values. We are aiming to set up a state of the art yet authentic farm, while hiring the right local talent along the way. We will be starting with a berry farm – since berries are highly nutritious and are not commonly available in large quantities in the area.
How do you think introducing the concept of sustainable food production will impact the community and what kinds of jobs will this project create?
While waiting for our own crops to grow, we will be working with other local organic berry suppliers to create jams and dry goods to sell under “Farmboise” – our brand. Our aim is to play a community enabling role based on three partnership circles – associates involved in the value chain (plowing, planting, harvesting, jam making), customers (including distributors), and community influencers (NGOs, municipalities, collaborations).
The collaboration with the FHF/ESDU team started back in July 2020. The implementation of the Ard Jeddeh project began on January 4th, 2021 and is expected to be completed by the spring.
A versatile cash crop, coriander is packed with nutritional benefits and has many uses. Due to its simple production process and to the fact that women are the fastest growing group of new farmers, developing their capacities to grow and market this crop is an opportunity to enhance rural communities’ livelihoods. Within the framework of the Women’s Economic Participation project, we decided to delve into the rich history of coriander and learn more about its potential to empower women.
Funded by the Government of Canada and implemented by UNDP Lebanon in partnership between ESDU, ACTED Lebanon, DOT Lebanon and ABAAD, the Women’s Economic Participation project empowers rural women with the skills and knowledge to benefit from coriander and many other assets so that they can build economically viable futures.
Mtashtash (متشتش) is a satiating salad with an abundance of bulgur, commonly prepared in the Akkar region of Northern Lebanon. It is also known as blileh or even “fake tabbouleh” (tabbouleh kezzebeh – تبولة كذّابة). The word mtashtash means soaked and refers to the bulgur that is mixed with the other ingredients. This traditional recipe is typically prepared during Lent and is served with cooked or fresh cabbage leaves, or it can be scooped with fresh lettuce leaves.
Mtashtash Recipe: (Recipe courtesy of Rose Bitar from Fneidik, Akkar)
Serves: 5 people Calories: 650 calories per serving Preparation Time: 30 mins
2 cups of coarse bulgur 5 tbsp. of chickpeas (cooked) 1 tbsp. of tomato paste 1 tsp. of chili paste 2 garlic cloves (crushed) 1 cup of olive oil 2 medium sized tomatoes 2 bunches of parsley 1 bunch of mint 4 green onions Juice of 1 squeezed lemon Salt to taste
Wash the bulgur thoroughly.
In a bowl, rub the bulgur with the garlic, olive oil, tomato paste and chili paste; mix the ingredients well and leave them aside.
Finely chop the parsley, mint and green onions and add them to the bulgur mix.
Dice the tomatoes and add them to the bulgur mix.
Finally, add the chickpeas, lemon juice and salt and mix well.
Serve cold with boiled or fresh cabbages or with fresh lettuce leaves.
Mansoufeh is a comfort food in West Bekaa villages like Kherbet Qanafar, Ain Zebdeh and Mashgara and in villages across the Chouf district. It is a traditional vegetarian meal containing a delicious and healthy mix of wholegrain carbohydrates and veggies, which makes it a satisfying and energizing main dish.
Typically, mansoufeh consists of bulgur (burghul) rolled into small flat balls that are cooked in tomato sauce with chopped onions that are seasoned with sumac. It is customary for mansoufeh to be prepared on Good Friday.
Bulgur (burghul) which is an important ingredient in Lebanese cuisine produced in the Bekaa Valley and one of the key ingredients of mansoufeh, is a great source of complex carbohydrates packed with vitamins, minerals and fibers which can improve digestion and gut health.
Another ingredient in mansoufeh is pumpkin, which is a superfood containing tons of minerals and vitamins and has low caloric content. Pumpkin, which is harvested in the Bekaa during fall, is an excellent source of vitamin A and C which helps boost the immune system. Mansoufeh contains a generous amount of onions, which are nutrient-dense and are high in vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants that help prevent several diseases.
Mansoufeh Recipe: (Recipe courtesy of Noha Bou Rached’s Guesthouse in Ain Zebdeh, West Bekaa)
Preparation time: 1 hr 30 min
Recipe serves: 8
• 3 cups of fine bulgur • 2 cups of flour • 1 cup of pumpkin, boiled and drained (keep the pumpkin water for later use) • 2 kg of onions, sliced into shreds • 2 tbsp. of verjuice • Water (enough to fill the cooking pot up halfway) • Salt and pepper to taste • 1/2 cup of olive oil divided (to fry the onions and to serve mansoufeh)
Chop and boil pumpkin until the pieces are soft, then drain the pumpkin and save the water.
In a bowl, mash the cooked pumpkin and mix them with bulgur, flour, salt and pepper.
Gradually add the pumpkin water until the dough becomes firm.
Shape the dough into small balls and flatten them between your thumb and index finger.
In a pot, boil water and salt. Add the flattened balls and let them cook for 2-3 minutes or until they float on the surface, remove and drain.
In a saucepan, fry the onions in olive oil and keep them aside.
Spread the remaining olive oil over a big tray and add the flattened mansoufeh balls and onions.
Pour the verjuice and mix all the ingredients together gently.
Where to Enjoy Mansoufeh?
The Bekka Valley: Noha Bou Rached’s Guesthouse – Ain Zebdeh, West Bekaa: 08-670-572 Lina Saade’s Guesthouse – Kherbet Qanafar, West bekaa: 70-671-399
Al Chouf District: Eid Guesthouse – Ain Zhalta, Al Chouf: 71-131-104 Streech Guesthouse – Brih, Al Chouf: 76-711-811 (Cezar Mahmoud) FarmVille Barouk – Barouk, Al Chouf: 76-711-811 (Cezar Mahmoud) El Achkar Guesthouse – Khreibeh, Al Chouf: 03-354-558 KAÏA Guesthouse – Barouk, Al Chouf: 81-060-621
Established by ESDU, The Food Heritage Foundation and its food tourism network (Darb el-Karam), have been featured in the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) “Regional Report on Women in Tourism in the Middle East.”
Published in 2020, The report maps and examines the participation of women in the tourism sector throughout the region prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The five main areas of focus are: employment, entrepreneurship, education and training, leadership and community.
FHF and Darb el-Karam have been highlighted among several community and society-driven initiatives for empowering women and rural communities and supporting rural livelihoods by promoting tourism and food heritage.
Read the full report here (FHF is mentioned on page 72, ESDU & FHF Rural Tourism Coordinator Petra Chedid is mentioned in Annex 3):
The book which gathers contributions from around the world (Lebanon, Australia, Vietnam, Hawaii, Philippines, India, Nepal, Morocco, etc.) will be available for free download and dissemination in December 2020.
The book assesses the role of biodiversity in promoting and enhancing diversified and healthy diets among schools children; it also identifies the encountered challenges and the key criteria for success. The seventh case-study more particularly, highlights the role of learning gardens in enhancing the diet of Syrian children and youth in Lebanon. Author Nina Lauridsen, talks about the importance of learning gardens established in Lebanon by Danish NGO Zaher-Grow to learn in partnership with local NGOs like the Food Heritage Foundation, Juzurna Buzurna and SOILS Permaculture Lebanon. Through these gardens, stigmatized children and youth not only have their capacity built on sustainable gardening (including organic agriculture and permaculture concepts), but also find a place to recreate and produce their own food. On another hand, this kind of project ensures the transmittance of knowledge and farming to young generations and prevents its loss.
Late 2019, FHF together with its partners, and with support from CISU – Civil Society in Development, designed and implemented new learning gardens in Akkar and Bekaa. Although the October revolution followed by the Covid-19 pandemic have impaired the activities under the project “Learning Gardens as a Tool for Development in Lebanon”, the gardens are still being maintained by the partners hoping that the gardens will receive the children soon again.
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