27 February, 2023
What secret tradition do the best Lebanese restaurants in Sydney have in common?

Lebanese food is filled with delicious and popular dishes such as tabbouli, hommos, falafel and shish tawook, however, an unsung hero frequently makes its appearance at mezza and in plates and wraps – Lebanese pickles.  Lebanese pickles were born out of the need to preserve food in Lebanon’s history. Food was kept in a mouneh. Mouneh comes from the Arabic word, mana, which means to preserve or store food. The best Lebanese restaurants in Sydney serve traditional pickles alongside almost any dish.  The vinegary and salty bite of Lebanese pickles ties an entire feast together. It’s traditional to have it with meals, and you’ll often find it homemade at almost any Lebanese household. However, pickling is not the only method of preservation in Lebanon.

Over time, the brightness and complex flavour of Lebanese pickles weaved its way into Lebanese cuisine and tradition. Now, it is an important part of a Lebanese restaurant’s menu. This is why Zahli, and other Lebanese restaurants in Sydney, proudly serve this authentic complementary staple.

How did Lebanese people historically preserve food?

As mentioned previously, pickling was not the only method of preservation. Other methods include:

  • Drying 
    • This is a common method used to preserve fruits, herbs and grains in the summer. Older traditions dry using sunlight, while more modern methods include drying at low heat in the oven.
  • Pickling
    • This is one of the most commonly used methods. A vinegar-based solution is used to pickle a variety of vegetables.
  • Preserves
    • Boiled mashed produce is turned into jams, jellies and pastes with common Lebanese fruits and vegetables such as figs, apricots and chillies.
  • Oil packing
    • Similar to pickling, except with the use of oil, dried labneh and eggplants and packed in oil to preserve them.

The original purpose of pickling is no longer relevant because of modern technology, however, many Lebanese households and restaurants maintain the tradition as it has become ingrained in Lebanese culture and tradition.

What kind of Lebanese pickles are there?

Lebanese pickles are much more diverse than the traditional idea of a pickle. When you hear the word ‘pickle’ most people immediately gravitate towards pickles, cucumbers or pickled onions, however, Lebanese pickles are made up of more vegetables and spices than what is common to many people. Here are a few common Lebanese pickles you can find at Zahli Lebanese restaurant:

  • Lefet (turnips)
  • Shallot
  • Cucumbers
  • Cauliflower 
  • Carrots 
  • Hot pepper

There are many more varieties of Lebanese pickles, all depending on the time of year (this determines what produce is available) and the region that you are located in.

How do you make Lebanese pickles?

Zahli will provide a rough guideline of how to prepare Lebanese pickles. In this article, we’ll focus on two Zahli classics: lefet (turnips) and cucumbers. 

Lefet (Turnips)

This neon pink pickled turnip is perfect for pairing with char grilled meats, falafel and vegetables or in a wrap.

  • The brine for the lefet is made by bringing a combination of water, salt vinegar and sugar to a boil, or until sugar and salt dissolve. 
  • This mixture then cools while aromatics such as bay leaves, garlic cloves, whole black peppercorns and chilli pepper halves are placed in a canning jar. 
  • The turnips are then peeled and cut into crescent shapes or thin strips and placed into the jar with the aromatics. 
  • Depending on how many turnips you cut, a few small beets are added to the canning jar as well. This gives the lefet its signature neon pink colour. 
  • The cooled brine is poured over the aromatics, turnips and beets until covered. The jar is closed and placed in a dark area until they are fully pickled.

Pickled Cucumbers

These pickled cucumbers are half-sour and crisp, perfect for a Lebanese feast.

  • Depending on the preference of the maker, the cucumbers, often Persian, are washed, with the ends removed and either left whole or halved.
  • The brine is made by bringing a combination of water, salt, vinegar and sugar to a boil, or until sugar and salt dissolve. 
  • Grape leaves or a black tea bag is placed at the bottom of the jar. This keeps the cucumbers crisp. Aromatics (bay leaves, garlic, dill, peppercorns, cloves and sumac berries) are then added to the jar.
  • The cucumbers are then placed, and the jar closed. The jar is placed in a cool and dry place for a few days until sour enough and then moved to the fridge.

Pickling is an important part of Lebanese culture and food. It is rooted in our history and for that, we are very proud to offer it with our mezze. Lebanese pickles accompany our other mezze and chargrilled meat dishes brilliantly and are a must-have for anyone looking for an authentic experience.

If you are interested in indulging in authentic Middle-Eastern food then Zahli, Modern Middle Eastern restaurant can gladly provide a memorable meal.  Zahli is here to provide you with a culinary experience like no other. Call us on (02) 9318 2228 to reserve a table or for pick-up orders.