Family dinners are always an important time for the Younans household. Jacinta is grateful to have grown up with a cultural diversity that includes great homemade food.
Meet Jacinta – a personal trainer who also teaches reformer Pilates, runs mindfulness workshops and coaches women with body image issues to help them overcome their struggles. Her coaching process is based on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), *an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California, United States in the 1970s. NLP’s creators claim there is a connection between neurological processes (neuro-), language (linguistic) and behavioral patterns learned through experience (programming), and that these can be changed to achieve specific goals in life. (*source: Wikipedia).
Jacinta: I’ve been interested in eating well & keeping my body healthy for as long as I can remember. I spend a lot of time working out. I do strongman class once a week which I absolutely love. There is something about lifting heavy weights which I find almost therapeutic and meditative. My mind goes quiet and my focus is solely on moving the weight. Growing up, we would have family dinner around the table every night, so meal time was always an important time for everyone in my house. I feel really grateful to have grown up with a cultural diversity that includes great homemade food.
My mum is Australian but she cooks the best Lebanese food I’ve ever tasted – what a woman! My dad grew up in a village in North Lebanon. I had the privilege of visiting it earlier this year and seeing what remains of his childhood home. Food is a really important part of the culture in Lebanon and in my Dad’s village you can get a sense of how much time and effort goes into cultivating the land and preparing dishes to share with family and friends. A lot of Lebanese food you get in restaurants here isn’t authentic, mainly because the real stuff can take quite a bit of time to prepare.
Me and Mum decided to make stuffed zucchinis as well as the lamb and rice dish because this is what was served to me (amongst other things) at a tiny outdoor restaurant in my dad’s village earlier this year. The zucchinis were grown in their vegetable garden. I can imagine my dad eating similar food when he grew up, and I think it is something that is common in many mediterranean cultures – the Anthropologist in me loves that!
The grey zucchinis are perfect for this dish as they are much more firm to have the stuffing in. You can use the scooped out flesh for an omelette – nothing goes to waste!
Who: Jacinta Younan
Home is: Wherever I decide it to be, so right now it’s Sydney
Family origin: My dad is Lebanese and my mum is Australian
I can’t live without: I’m pretty sure if you cut me open I’d bleed green tea
Occupation: Personal Trainer and body image coach
Dream Job: Whatever inspires me over time
Currently I am obsessed with: Self-development and NLP
Childhood taste: Mangoes! Hot summer days spent in the pool, rollerblading around my neighbourhood and eating mangoes
I will always have in my pantry: Organic Eggs
I learnt to cook from: My mum. Who isn’t even Lebanese but cooks the best Lebanese food I’ve ever tasted – what a woman!
Currently I’m listening to: Maya Jane Coles, Jamie XX and the original Blade Runner soundtrack
One day I must visit: My dad’s village was the top of my bucket list, but now that I have done that I think South America is next for me. I have never been1
Go to meal: Eggs on toast. Quick and easy when I’m in a hurry
I am really good at: Eating. I eat a lot. It’s a skill
The unforgettable meal: Chateaubriand at Hawksmoor in London
My piece of Sydney: Sunday breakfast at Bar Zini in Pyrmont
Guilty pleasure: Cheese & crackers
Who does the dishes: Whoever didn’t do the cooking
Another favourite by the Younans, this lentil and basmati side dish that’s cooked over low heat for a while with caramelised onion was really really flavoursome and easy to make!
Place 1 cup of brown lentils in a saucepan with salt and 3 cups of water. Bring to boil over high heat. Add another cup of cold water and boil for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile heat oil in a frying pan over high heat and cook 5 large brown onions that have been finely chopped, stirring regularly until they are caramelised and golden.
When onions are golden, remove them from oil and place into the saucepan with the lentils. Add ¾ cup rice and cook over low heat until water has been absorbed and the lentils and rice are tender/cooked through.
Love the stock fat separator gadget used here, such a clever thing and make for a healthier broth.
You can’t have a Lebanese luncheon without a home made tabouli.
Above is green beans cooked with caramelised onion on low heat for couple of hours. The result is super soft and really tasty beans. Perfectly caramelized onions are secret to Lebanese comfort dishes.
Prepare 2kg of green beans by cutting the ends, breaking in half and washing thoroughly . In a large saucepan, caramelise 3 large finely chopped brown onions in some olive oil, stirring regularly. When browned/caramelised, turn down on low heat and add beans to the saucepan. Add salt to taste and continue to stir until beans are tender. Takes about 2-3 hours.
I had a great afternoon watching Jacinta and her Mum doing their magic in the kitchen. The Lebanese luncheon was such a delight and I have cooked these recipes a couple of times now. Give it a go for one of those dinner party you will host. Most of the dishes can be prepared well in advance and can be a fun activity to do with your family members.
Lebanese Lamb Rice Pilaf
Ingredients - Serves 6
- 1 lamb shoulder with bone
- 1 large brown onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 stick of celery
- 3-4 tbs of Baharat spice mix
- 1 tbs black peppercorns
- 4-5 cinnamon sticks
- 1 cup roasted almonds
- 2 cups long grain or basmati rice
- 1 cup frozen peas
- Salt to taste
- Put lamb, onion, carrot, celery, mixed spice, peppercorns and salt into a large saucepan on high heat. Cover with water and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 4-5 hours. The longer you cook the more tender the meat will be.
- When cooked, remove the shoulder and strain stock, removing the fat from the top of the stock. Discard the fat and the vegetables from the stock, put the strained stock aside.
- Meanwhile, put two cups long grain rice (washed and drained) and one cup frozen peas into a saucepan. Pour four cups of the lamb stock over the rice, cover the saucepan and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until stock is absorbed and rice is cooked (about 15-20 minutes).
- While the rice is cooking, remove the meat from the bone and break into pieces.
- To serve, put rice into serving dish, arrange meat on top with the roasted almonds. Can also garnish with chopped continental parsley to taste.
Lebanese Stuffed Zucchini
Ingredients - Serves 6
- 10-12 medium sized grey Zucchinis
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 chicken breast, chopped finely (can also use lamb)
- ¾ cup of basmati rice
- 1 medium onion, chopped finely
- 1 cup finely chopped continental parsley
- 1 cup finely chopped mint
- 2 medium tomatoes – finely chopped
- 1 tbs ghee, melted
- 2 tbs Baharat mixed spice
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Wash the zucchinis and cut off the tops. Gently scoop out the flesh, being careful not to break the skin. Rinse again well and drain the hollowed out zucchinis .
- Mix together all the ingredients for the stuffing in a bowl. Fill each zucchini by about ¾ with the mixed stuffing (try not to ‘pack’ the stuffing too tightly as you need to allow for rice expansion) .
- Place zucchinis in a saucepan. Mix 4 tablespoons of tomato paste with enough water to cover the zucchinis. Bring to the boil and then simmer until cooked (about 45mins-1 hour).