Lebanon is a Middle Eastern country that has a cuisine influenced by foreign occupation and migrations. The Arab culture predominates, and the tradition of shared family-style meals brings a variety of healthy selections to meals. Innovative preparation of Mediterranean diet staples provides low-calorie options in the home and in restaurants.
Lebanon’s location on the Mediterranean Sea has shaped its culture and cuisine. The port cities of Beirut and Tripoli historically played a role in the adoption of new ideas. Trade explorations in the Middle East region also influenced the cuisine. Lebanon was an outpost of the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I, then became a French colony until its independence in 1943.
Dishes made with fresh vegetables, fruit, dairy products, fish, nuts and seeds are the foundation of Lebanese cuisine, notes “Mood Magazine.” As in most of the Mediterranean, olive oil finds a place in many recipes. Sean Sheehan and Zawiah Latif, authors of “Lebanon” state that the most common meat in Lebanon’s cuisine is lamb, with poultry as a popular alternate.
With a few exceptions, grilling and sauteing are the preferred cooking methods. The innovative dishes that use whole grains often pair vegetables, herbs and spices with smaller portions of high-calorie items, such as red meat. Fish, a low-calorie, low-fat protein also appears on tables frequently.
Chickpeas are high-fiber, low-fat legumes. They are the main ingredient in two of Lebanon’s most widely eaten dishes. Hummus, a combination of sesame seed paste, mashed chickpeas and lemon juice with spices, which appears on most tables for lunch and dinner. Fafalel is fried ground chickpea balls stuffed into pita bread with generous portions of lettuce, tomatoes, onions and a yogurt sauce. Although fried, it is healthy, vegetarian snack. Fuul, a third favorite, has lentils and red beans as its base, according to “Mood Magazine.”
The Lebanese often cut lamb and other meat into small cubes and combine it with vegetables as shish kabob or in stews. Tabbouleh features bulgur, while kibbeh uses cracked whole wheat. Baba ganoush, a spread or dip similar to hummus uses eggplant as its base. Grape leaves and squash often have a filling of rice and herbs.
To find low-calorie Lebanese foods at your favorite restaurant or for preparing recipes at home, choose a vegetable, legume or grain dish. Hummus and baba ganoush are common appetizers on many restaurant menus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that 1 tbsp. of hummus paired with 16 baby carrots only has 75 calories. Baba ganoush has 80 calories in a 1 oz. serving, according to Fat Secret. An entree like tabbouleh has 175 calories for a 1¼-cup serving, according to Food Network. Dolmades, or grape leaves stuffed with rice alone is low-calorie, but versions with meat are not.
Shish kabob is a Lebanese meat dish that won’t break your calorie budget. It combines vegetables with cubed chunks of lamb on a skewer. A standard serving of one skewer with 3 oz. of lamb has 274 calories. Samkeh harra, a popular grilled fish dish and shish taouk, made with white chicken meat, are also low-calorie choices.