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MounÚ feeling home, security, nourishmen, tradition

 

 
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MounÚ feeling home, security, nourishmen, tradition
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MounÚ, the word evokes a feeling of home, security, nourishment, tradition, maternal instinct, and much more. For us Lebanese, mounÚ is indeed very much part of our culinary tradition and way of life. The word itself comes from the Arabic word mana meaning storing. In the past, especially in remote villages, mounÚ (preserves) was prepared during the summer months to be consumed during winter's harsh days. The mounÚ was the fundamental nourishment of the peasants' diet. The main purpose was to transform perishable foods into foods with long shelf life, lasting a whole season; thus preserving basic food groups.

Today, without the urgent need to preserve one's winter foods, the mounÚ has become more of a socio-cultural habit. For some, it is a way to keep our basic culinary heritage. For others, it is still very important to preserve one's bountiful harvest for winter's consumption to avoid any kind of waste. Others have continued to make mounÚ to stock food for security purposes, prepared as a moral crutch to ensure food abundance in times of political instabilities. As you can see, mounÚ can take on many different aspects, but the basic idea encompasses one of preserving food.

Preparing one's mounÚ is an elaborate job and in yesteryear often involved a whole community. Nowadays, it is rare to find a house-hold that prepares every single type of mounÚ. MounÚ was traditionally the harvest of the land worked and collected during the growing season. Those who did not own land would wait for most economical time to buy seasonal goods to make their yearly mounÚ.

To better understand the mounÚ, it is good to define different categories involved.

The preservation of fruits is foremost: delicious jams, marmalades, molasses, syrups, and jellies are made to conserve fruits of the season. The most popular and typical Lebanese fruits conserved are: apricots, bitter oranges, apples, cherries, dates, figs, mulberries, pumpkins, plums, straw-berries and quince. There are different techniques ranging from preserving whole fruits in syrup to developing highly concentrated liquids to make very thick molasses. Each fruit has its own creative recipes made with specific procedures, with traditional indications.

Vegetables are preserved in different ways. One involves soaking vegetables in a basic pickling solution made of water, salt, and vinegar. Another involves reducing vegetables' water content to produce a thick paste. Preserving vegetables, especially when delicately immersed in extra virgin olive oil, is highly appreciated and quite common in Lebanon. In the past, drying vegetables on a string in the sun was also a common practice. Recipes vary according to different regions of the country. Other innovations have occurred through interaction with neighboring countries, increasing the number and variety of recipes.

The olive harvest is very important in Lebanon. Because of high consumption of olives and olive oil in the Lebanese diet, the olive season is a serious issue for farmers, producers and consumers. Some families pride themselves on their olives and will take their precious harvest only to a trustworthy and loyal olive press to make their olive oil. Olive oil is preserved in glass jars or in square-shaped steel containers away from light in a cool dry place. It is of up-most importance for a Lebanese family to have secured his share of olive oil for the family's yearly consumption.

Wild flowers, aromatic herbs, and wild edible plants are still abundant in the unspoiled areas of the Lebanese landscape. These plants form an important component of preservation and mounÚ storage. Families plan field trips to spend a day in a specific area to pick these wild plants. The aromatic herbs are dried and ground into powder to be used in traditional Lebanese recipes. One of the most popular and highly appreciated herbs is wild thyme called zaatar. Some of these wild edible plants are hand picked, carefully washed and preserved in pickling solution or distilled for medicinal infusions. An array of colorful wild flowers is dried to create perfumed bouquets.

Up until around the 1960s, in villages throughout Lebanon, fat-tail sheep were force-fed for months before winter set in, as a way to preserve winter meat. The sheep's main food was vine and mulberry leaves with which the woman of the house would feed the animal five times daily. As she nurtured the sheep she would massage it, bath it, and even sing to it. The sheep became totally dependent on the woman, and thus became domesticated. It would be fed enough to become three times the normal size, with a huge tail full of fat called liyee. As the weather cooled, about mid September, the sheep was slaughtered. The by-products from the sheep would ultimately feed a family for a whole year. Awarma, the traditional recipe for meat preservation, calls for 1/3 meat and 2/3 fat. The fat is melted then the meat is added and cooked slowly over a low heat until it becomes tender. Today, awarma is still prepared, not so much for meat preservation, but for the exquisite and nostalgic taste. It is much appreciated in soups, pies, and is typically fried with eggs in the traditional fokhara circular pot.

Dairy products are also an important feature in making one's mounÚ. In the past, lack of refrigeration made cow, goat, and sheep milk impossible to store. Thus, many recipes were produced to preserve the abundance of milk during a specific period of lactation of one's herds. These recipes have been carried on from one generation to another and remain very popular and appreciated. To preserve milk and milk by-products, different techniques have been created including drying, preserving in oil, preserving in clay jars and in goat skins, and through reduction. Recipes include the making of keshek or darfieh with carefully washed and salted goat skin, the making of serdeleh preserved in huge clay jars, preserving of labneh balls in virgin olive oil, the making of chanklich ľ the ball-like fermented cheese made from the whey of yoghurt, and finally the reduction of butter to produce a clear clarified butter.

Grinding wheat to make one's own bread is not obsolete. Many families in Lebanon keep their wheat in a safe place and grind only when they need to. The paper-thin bread traditionally baked on a saj is an important aspect of mountain life. The authentic Lebanese bread maker will always have wheat as an important part of his yearly preserves. Ground wheat of different sizes is also preserved and used in the most famous Lebanese recipes including the popular Lebanese dish, tabouleh, made with finely ground burgul (cracked wheat).

Grains, seeds, and nuts are also an important part of the staple Lebanese diet. Grains are made into savory stews and are very much part of the weekly Lebanese repertoire. Seeds and nuts are common in Lebanese recipes a particular favorite is the pine nut which is harvested in the winter and dried on rooftops during hot summer days.

Owning an alembic for distilling is common among mounÚ producers. The most traditional recipes include distilling orange blossom in April, rose petals in May, wild plants throughout the year, and fermented grapes at the end of the summer to make our national drink arak.

The characteristics and elements of the mounÚ can be very wide and rich. This is just a glimpse as to what the mounÚ entails to our culinary heritage. It is an entity that should not be forsaken, that should be rediscovered, cherished, replenished, and finally that should be kept alive. It is the mounÚ wheat of our ancestors, of our grand-parents, of our parents; and for it's survivalů the future is up to you!

Barbara Abdeni Massaad - MounÚ: Exploring the Lebanese Pantry
Extract from the book 'A Complete insiders Guide to Lebanon
Mon Jan 19, 2009 8:20 am View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Rosewater



Joined: 24 Jan 2010
Posts: 1
Location: Between the Earth & the Sky

Post Moune Reply with quote
I love the Moune in Lebanon

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