Kabees el lift is a popular Lebanese dish, often served with meats. The vibrant pink hue features fermented beets and turnips. Bordered by Israel and Syria, Lebanon has a rich food history and cultural identity at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland. Merchants and tradesmen often traveled throughout the region.
Lebanese cuisine is typically healthy. An abundance of starches, whole grains, fresh fish, seafood, fruits, and vegetables grace dinner tables across the country. Animal fats are consumed in small amounts as well as red meat. Poultry is the primary protein. When red meat is consumed, it is usually lamb on the coastal regions and goat in the mountainous regions. Meat is flavorful and seasoned with garlic, lemon, herbs and olive oil. Vegetables are eaten raw or pickled.
The word ‘pickle’ comes from the Dutch pekel meaning ‘salt’ or ‘brine.’ The process was around long before the colonizers intervened and re-named it. Pickling was a necessity as it was the best way to preserve vegetables from spoilage. The process involves immersing fresh vegetables in an acidic (vinegar) or salty liquid for an extended period of time (in a cool space) where they are no longer considered raw. Pickles have been around for thousands of years, dating back to 2030 BC in the Tigris Valley in India. Pickles was one of the earliest mobile foods that traveled with sailors and merchants along the Silk Road and across oceans.
Kabees el lift prove that you can pickle just about anything. The sharp flavor of the dish serves as a palate cleanser as well as an accompaniment to heavy, fatty meat. Many a Lebanese falafel have a sprinkling of kabees el lift folded inside.
Modern medicine now touts the benefits of including pickled vegetables in your diet as a good source of probiotics. Eastern Europeans have sauerkraut. The French serve cornichons with heavy pâtés and stinky cheeses. Koreans have kimchi. The Japanese pickle daikon and plums. Russians pickle tomatoes. Every area of the world has their own way of serving pickles. It looks like modern medicine is catching up with what history knew all along.
MAKE YOUR OWN
3 cups (750 ml) water
⅓ cup (70 g) coarse white salt
2 bay leaves
1 cup (250 ml) distilled white vinegar
2 pounds (1 kg) peeled turnips
3 sprigs young celery stalks
1 small beet, peeled
4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- In a saucepan, heat 1 cup of the water. Add the salt and bay leaves, stir until the salt is dissolved.
- Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, add the vinegar and the rest of the water.
- Cut the turnips and the beet into batons, about the size of French fries. Put all ingredients except brine into a large, clean jar, then pour the salted brine over them in the jar, including the bay leaves.
- Cover and let sit at room temperature, in a relatively cool place, for one week. Once done, they can be refrigerated until ready to serve.
The pickles will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. They’ll be rather strong at first but will mellow after a few days. They should be enjoyed within six weeks after they’re made.