Chef brings taste of Lebanon home after journey to discover roots

A vibrant souk (market) in Tripoli, Lebanon
FRAGRANT ATMOSPHERE: A vibrant souk (market) in Tripoli, Lebanon
Image: SOPHIA LINDOP

Though she grew up on a farm in Douglas in the Northern Cape, Capetonian chef Sophia Lindop is no stranger to authentic Middle Eastern food.

While she learned the secrets of preparing Lebanese classics from her paternal grandmother, the cookery teacher and wine expert always longed to taste these dishes in the country of their origin.

Lindop’s journey to Lebanon to trace her culinary roots was 50 years in the making.

It became a quest not only to discover more about the food she’d grown up eating, but about her family.

It is an evocative tale that forms the basis of her new cookbook, Going Home — Food and Stories from Lebanon, The Land of my Forefathers.

She tells us more:

Cape Town chef and cookery book author Sophia Lindop
HOME COOKING: Cape Town chef and cookery book author Sophia Lindop
Image: HEIN VAN TONDER

What ignited your spark to turn your odyssey to Lebanon into a cookbook?

Going Home was always a dream harboured in the silent recesses of my mind and heart.

When I was approaching my 50th orbit around the sun, I decided it would be appropriate to finally visit this country that felt like home to me to celebrate there.

Then my dad fell ill with terminal cancer and everything changed.

I spent the last few months of his earthly walk with him, and made a promise to him an hour before he passed away: a promise that I would finally go home.

When I set foot on Lebanese turf, that initial dream was awakened, and I knew it was something I would fight to get done.

It wasn’t an easy journey.

What were some of the most surprising elements of your first visit to Lebanon?

I was expecting a war-torn Beirut with crumbling ruins, and instead found a vibrant city, modern yet preserving tradition, and exciting in every way.

I also wasn’t expecting the natural beauty of places like the Jeita caves, the Qadisha valley and so much more.

What was the first meal you enjoyed on Lebanese soil?

I remember this vividly. It was our first morning in Beirut and we found this little eatery close to our Airbnb where we had cups of ahwe (Lebanese coffee) followed by eggs on minced meat seasoned with soujouk spices and lots of khoubz (flat bread).

It was delicious and we were hungry. We went back there every morning, and I now go there every time I visit.

Roasted carrot hummus from Lindop's new book. Hummus is a quintessential part of Lebanese mezze
HEALTHY HUMMUS: Roasted carrot hummus from Lindop's new book. Hummus is a quintessential part of Lebanese mezze
Image: HEIN VAN TONDER

Describe a typical Lebanese mezze:

There is a large variety of dishes including local sheep’s cheese wrapped in thin phyllo cigars, chicken livers and small cubes of meat, a big bowl of tabbouleh, batata harra (potatoes with chilli), bizri (whitebait), delicate cabbage leaves and vine leaves stuffed with vegetarian fillings, and the list goes on.

There’s an emphasis on plant-based eating which does not leave one feeling heavy and uncomfortable.

I loved seeing many of the dishes that were part of my everyday life growing up in the Northern Cape being prepared in a slightly more modern and sophisticated way in Lebanon.

Not many know that Lebanon is famous for its wines. As a wine expert, what are your favourite Lebanese varietals and how do they compare with SA wines?

The Lebanese wine industry, though ancient, is very exciting and relatively unknown.

Two indigenous white cultivars, obeideh and merwah, are being revived by maverick winemakers.

Obeideh can best be compared to our local roussanne, while merwah is more like a local grenache blanc.

Both cultivars produce full-bodied, food-friendly wines that are perfectly matched with Lebanese food.

Then there is a new wave of award-winning cinsaults that pair beautifully with Lebanese meat dishes.

These are made in a very similar style to what we find in SA these days.

• Going Home — Food and Stories from Lebanon, The Land of my Forefathers by Sophia Lindop is published by Annake Müller Publishing. Order it online, R450 (ex postage), from sophialindop.com


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