You may not have heard the term “Levantine” before, but you’ve likely tasted the cuisine — think creamy hummus, perfectly spiced chicken skewers and garlicky, lemony eggplant dip.
So why are we using the term “Levantine” rather than simply “Middle Eastern”? The Middle East is actually a very large region that includes parts of North Africa such as Morocco and the states of the Persian Gulf such as the United Arab Emirates. From a culinary and cultural perspective, the Middle East is quite varied. The Levantine region, on the other hand, is more narrow, referring to the geographical area of the Eastern Mediterranean, which shares many cultural, linguistic and culinary traits. The name, derived from a French word, was coined in the late 1400s and was used to mean “the countries of the east.”
We reached out to acclaimed chef Himi Hunaidi to bring a taste of Levantine cuisine to the pages of Clean Eating. Born and raised in Jordan, Hunaidi is of Palestinian descent and spent her school breaks and summers in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Later, she was trained as a chef in the south of France before founding her own Toronto-based restaurant called Madame Levant. She’s the perfect person to translate Middle Eastern flavors into simple, easy backyard dishes for summer and beyond.
“Growing up in the Levant region, summer had many flavors and aromas, but the most dominant one would be the smell of barbecue,” explained Hunaidi. “Charcoal grills would be lit in public parks, backyards and even on sidewalks in cities. Each family has their trusted butcher, a family member who is in charge of the preparation, another person doing the grilling and finally everyone would gather to share delicious cold mezzes and hot skewers of meat or vegetables from the grill.”
Levantine cooking doesn’t have to be complicated — in fact, according to Hunaidi, the cuisine is actually relatively simple. It’s about cooking in season and using gorgeous produce paired with unique culinary techniques that she’s revealing here.
But the cuisine isn’t just about getting the techniques right, it’s also about sharing in the joy of a meal as the locals in the region do. “The cultures that have developed this cuisine see food as more than just nutrients on a plate. They see a meal as a gathering, an act of love and always a celebration,” says Hunaidi. This collection of recipes is a perfect way to celebrate summer with your family and sample the flavors of the Levant at the same time. We hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we did!