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Chef ALO: Marlene Matar

This acclaimed Lebanese chef is known for her light recipes and time saving methods, ideal for working women who cook for their families. Her new book “Marlene’s Kitchen from the East and the West” contains more than 400 recipes. She has studied with some of the world’s great chefs and earned the prestigious diploma from the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. Visit her at

For us fortunate cooks with functioning kitchens, here are some easy ways to recreate the tastes of Lebanon. You will find old-world spices in Middle Eastern markets or in the ethnic aisle at major supermarkets. Recipes by Marlene Matar

Swiss Chard Stems in Sesame Paste

Serves four
1 pound Swiss chard stems
1⁄2 cup sesame paste
1⁄4 cup water
1⁄4 cup lemon juice
2 cloves garlic mashed
Parsley for garnish

Clean Swiss chard stems well, remove tough ends and cut lengthwise into 1- to 2-inch pieces.

In a medium sized pan of salted boiling water, add Swiss chard stems. Boil for 10 minutes or until soft. Drain and place in cold water and drain again. Repeat process until chilled.

Mix sesame paste with garlic, water and lemon juice, adding salt to taste. Mix with the Swiss chard and garnish with parsley.

Serve cold with other appetizers.

Shredded Beef Fillet with Onion and Pomegranate

Serves four
1 pound premium beef filet
2 large onions cut into strips
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons water
4 garlic cloves mashed
1 tablespoon pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh iklil al jabal or rosemary
1⁄4 cup chopped radish for garnish
Salt and pepper

Cut the fillet into small flat strips. Heat oil in skillet on high and cook meat in three batches. Remove meat and saute onion in the same pan until soft. Add water, cover and continue to cook until water evaporates. Add garlic and cook until garlic softens.

Add meat, pomegranate juice, iklil al jaba and salt and pepper to taste. Heat to serving temperature.

Place on a large plate and garnish with chopped radish. Also perfect for serving in hollowed out sourdough loaves or as a sandwich in pita bread or on sourdough rounds.

Balila (Wheat with Nuts)

This traditional sweet wheat treat is great for holidays and family celebrations.

Serves six
1 cup whole grain wheat
7 cups water
3⁄4 cup sugar
3⁄4 cup raisins
1⁄4 cup almonds
1⁄4 cup pine nuts
1⁄4 cup peanuts
1⁄4 cup pistachios
1 teaspoon ghreybeh anise
or yansoun tea
1 teaspoon kirfe or cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon ground janzabil
or ginger
Seeds of one large pomegranate

Wash grain, add water and cook over medium heat for one hour. Remove from stove and wrap pan in thick kitchen towel. Allow to stand overnight or until the grain is thoroughly soft. Add water if needed to keep grain moist.

In a bowl of room temperature water, place nuts to soften. Change water once an hour for three hours or until nuts are soft. Drain and peel.
Over medium heat, cook grain with sugar, raisins, ghreybeh anise, kirfe and janzabil for 20 minutes. Place on a serving dish and top with the nut mixture and pomegranate seeds.

Serve hot if possible, though also delicious at room temperature.

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