FHF at “Climate Smart, Innovative Food Preservation and processing Technologies” Workshop

On June 26 and 27 2018, the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences in AUB in collaboration with the FAO organized a workshop on “Climate Smart, Innovative Food Preservation and processing Technologies Applied by Women in Rural Environments in the Near East and North African Region”.  The Food Heritage Foundation (FHF) was represented by engineers Mabelle Chedid and Nadim Rawda who both gave presentation on climate-smart food processing based on FHF experience. which contributes significantly to climate smart food preservation and processing  by documenting and reviving the traditional cuisine of local produce as well as promoting the livelihoods of rural producers and processors and enhancing rural-urban linkages.

On the first day, Dr. Shady Hamadeh, director of the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU) gave an introductory talk on Mouneh making with a special focus on Kishk and the use of clay jars as climate smart traditions.  His presentation entitled “RURAL WOMEN AND THEIR CONTRIBUTION TO CLIMATE SMART FOOD SECURITY: The Mouneh” highlighted the role of mouneh-making in reducing food waste as well as energy waste, when renewable sources of energy, solar energy in particular, are used. It highlights the seasonality of the used ingredients, contributes to preserving biodiversity and allows long-term storage by using natural preservation techniques without refrigeration; examples of Lebanese mouneh products would include sun-dried herbs and fruits, preservation in brine (pickles), olive oil (olives and labneh) and fat (qawarma) as well as other many products. Dr. Hamadeh ended with his call to promote local food systems and traditional mouneh like FHF does while supporting small scale producers mainly female.

Lebanese mouneh and the variety of its products

On the second day, Eng. Mabelle Chedid participated in the panel on “INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES FOR FOOD PROCESSING AND PRESERVATION USED BY WOMEN IN RURAL AREAS IN LEBANON” and talked about climate-smart products highlighted on darb el karam – food trail such as bulgur, jabali tomato paste and ambarees cheese which rely on local varieties of wheat, tomato and local goat breeds respectively, as well as on natural resources (sun and clay); visitors can learn from local producers about these climate-smart technologies and participate in mouneh-making activities. Eng. Nadim Rawda’s presentation focused on sun-drying and traditional methods of food processing and preservation. He presented FHF different activities and workshops on teaching local communities and Syrian refugees how to process food through sun-drying. FHF implements sustainable strategy options in food processing by minimizing the use of natural resources and relying on renewable energies, the use of traditional technologies in innovative food preservation and diversification of farmers/producer’s incomes.

Sun-drying is an old technique used to preserve vegetables, fruits and herbs

Several case-studies from the Arab world (Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, and Egypt etc.) were also presented during the workshop, and showed innovation in food production and processing. A question that was raised by most of the participants in the workshop was how and where to introduce new technologies to enhance production, and how to ensure the quality of the final product and meet food safety standards while preserving the traditional aspect of the production process.

Eat Local Mouneh

Picking and preserving grape leaves

Tender grape leaves are picked and their stem is removed with scissors

The “art” of rolling leaves (grapes, Swiss chard, cabbage etc.) is common to the Middle East where leaves are served either as a main course or part of the starters (mezze). Stuffed grape leaves are called “dolmathes” by the Greek, and “yaprak” (meaning leaves) by the Turkish which is at the origin of the name “yabrak” used by the Syrians and Lebanese.

Vegetarian grape leaves or “yabrak”

The tradition of harvesting and cooking grape leaves in Lebanon is very old. Starting mid-May and until mid-June, tender and vibrant green grape leaves are harvested. Pesticide-free leaves are collected and their stem is trimmed with scissors, a knife or pruning shears to avoid tearing of the leaves. Leaves big enough to hold a teaspoon of stuffing are those that are selected, and those that are not soft enough (probably collected by the end of the season) are blanched (soaked in warm water) before being stuffed and cooked. While selecting leaves around the grapes, it is advised to leave 10 leaves or more for every grape cluster to protect it from the sun.

Thick leaves are blanched prior to rolling and cooking

While vegetarian stuffed grape leaves are an essential starter on the Lebanese table, grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice or meat and bulgur constitute a traditional Lebanese meal served with stuffed zucchini, eggplants and sometimes bell peppers. The stuffed grape leaves are often packed and tied with a thread (grandma’s way), and served with refreshing yogurt.

Grape leaves ready to be frozen

[quote]Freshly picked sour leaves are often enjoyed with tabbouleh instead of lettuce or cabbage leaves.[/quote]

The preservation methods of grape leaves vary from freezing to packing in jars and preserving in brine. Grape leave are frozen without being washed; wiping them with a dry towel to remove any dust or debris is enough before stacking them flat in a plastic bag. Removing air as much as possible prior to sealing the bag and freezing is essential. Frozen leaves can last in the freezer up to 12 months. For defrosting before cooking, the bag is moved to the refrigerator a night before use and leaves are washed under running water.

Beautifully rolled stuffed leaves

To preserve grape leaves in jars, no need to wash them either. Leaves are packed flat and solid in an airtight glass jar which is stored in a dark place up to months. Leaves can also be rolled in packs of 10 or more then placed in the jar. Once the jar is open, it should be stored in the refrigerator to avoid molds formation. Leaves are washed prior to stuffing and cooking.

Grape leaves preserved in jars. Picture ©

To preserve grape leaves in brine, leaves are washed and pat dried. They are then stacked in piles of 10-20 leaves and rolled like cigars, then placed vertically in glass jars. A brine solution is prepared: for every cup of coarse sea salt, 12 cups of water are added. The salty water is then brought to boil while stirring to completely dissolve the sea salt. To make sure water salinity is enough to preserve the grape leaves, a clean raw egg is placed in the water: if the egg floats then the water is salty enough, and if the egg drops to the bottom then more salt should be stirred in until the egg floats to the surface. The hot water is poured over the leaves in the jar and the color of the leaves will get darker, which is normal. Jars are then closed tight and will last up to a year. Once opened, a jar should be put in the refrigerator.