A Great Dish for Ramadan: Lamb Kebabs

Posted on 27. Jul, 2013 by in Arabic Language, art, Culture, Current Affairs, History, Language

Marhaba! Today, I am going to teach you how to cook Lamb Kebabs with a Lebanese twist. Similar to Shish Taouk, this is a tasty dish that is popular in the Middle East and is usually offered at every local restaurant. Even though the origins of the dish are from the Middle East, this dish has been adopted in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and some parts of Europe as well as Central Asia. In some towns in the Levant, like Aleppo (حلب) in Syria, certain spices are added to the mix of ingredients. In such cases the Kebab picks up after the town’s name like Kebab Halabi (كباب حلبي) for example. The word ‘kebab’ refers to grilling (شوى) and cooking (طبخ) meat on a skewer (سيخ). The short supply of cooking fuel in the Middle East compelled people, especially soldiers to fry, cook and grill their meat over open fires.


Given the fact you all know that my wife and I like barbecuing (الشوي) a lot, we thought of sharing the recipe we use to prepare and cook this delicious dish. More importantly, this is a popular dish during the Holy month of Ramadan (شهر رمضان المبارك). After a long day of fasting (صيام), many people would appreciate a tasty dish that satisfies the appetite (شهية) in every possible way.

Image by Josephine Lim on Flickr

Image by Josephine Lim on Flickr

Like some of the other websites that I have used before, today I am borrowing this recipe from another good Mediterranean cooking blog called Homemade Recipes.



1 small onion (بصل), finely chopped
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs (فتات الخبز)
4 cloves garlic (فصوص من الثوم), minced
2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley (البقدونس)
1 tablespoons snipped fresh cilantro (الكزبرة)
2 teaspoons snipped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons snipped fresh mint (نعناع)
1/2 teaspoon salt (ملح)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (الكمون المطحون)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (القرفة المطحونة)
2 eggs (بيض), beaten
1-1/2 pound ground lamb (خروف)

Optional Ingredients

1/2 of a small peeled and seeded cucumber (خيار) (optional)
3/4 cup plain yogurt (optional)

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (فلفل أحمر) (optional)
Thinly sliced cucumber (optional)
Salt and pepper (optional)


1. Combine onion; bread crumbs; garlic; parsley; cilantro; oregano; mint; 1/2 teaspoon cumin; cinnamon; crushed red pepper, if desired; and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add lamb; mix well. Divide mixture into 8 portions. Shape each portion around a metal skewer (سيخ), forming a log that is 6 inches long and about 1 inch wide.

2. Place skewers on the rack of the grill directly over medium heat. Grill lamb skewers for 10 to 12 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meat registers 160 degree F, turning once. (we use an open fire barbecue set rather than a standard grill)


3. In a small bowl, stir together cucumber and yogurt, if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce, sliced cucumber, and grilled lemon wedges, if desired.

Just like Shish Taouk, we have this sizzling dish with a dish of homemade hummus (حمّص), French fries (بطاطا مقلية), Arabic bread (خبز) and tabbouleh. It is an excellent dish and I invite and encourage you all to give it a try during the month of Ramadan or any day of the year that is suitable for a cookout.




Stay tuned for upcoming posts

Breathe Freedom

Posted on 22. Jul, 2013 by in Arabic Language, art, Culture, Current Affairs, Language

Marhaba! In a previous post I introduced you all to one of my favorite artists in the Arab world: Julia Boutros. By all means she is admired by millions in the Arab world and many expatriates living in different places across Europe, the United States of America, Canada and in Latin America. Given the fact that the world is watching how millions in Egypt took to the streets to voice their grievances against what they view as an illegitimate and biased government I would like to share another musical masterpiece by Julia called ‘Bitnaffas Hurriye (بتنفس حرية)’ which literally means ‘I Breathe Freedom.’ I have added a live performance of this beautiful song by Julia in form of a YouTube video. I have added the lyrics in Arabic and I have translated them into English for you to follow with the song and understand the meaning behind these profound lyrics.

Julia Boutros – I Breathe Freedom — جوليا بطرس – بتنفس حرية

YouTube Preview Image

انا بتنفس حرية ما تقطع عني الهوا

I breathe freedom, don’t cut off my air

ولا تزيدها كتير عليّ أحسن منوقع سوا

Don’t make it too much for me, it’s better we fall together

ما بتقدر ابدا تلغيني بدك تسمعني وتحكيني

You can never erase me, you need to listen to me and talk to me
واذا فكرك عم بيداويني مش هيدى هو الدوى

And if you think it’s curing me, this is not the remedy
يا ريتك مني بتسمع بيكفي كل اللي صار

If only you would listen to me, all that happened should be enough
القوة هي اللي بتوقع انوقفت بوجه الافكار

Force always falls, stopped in the face of ideas
هالدنيا بتسع للكل وحدها الحقيقة بتضل

This world is big enough for everyone, the truth alone remains
واذا بدك منلاقي الحل لولا منفكر سوا

And if you want us to find the solution, it will only happen if we think together

صوت الحرية بيبقى اعلى من كل الأصوات

The voice of freedom remains louder than all the voices
مهما تعصف ريح الظلم بيغطي الليل المسافات

Regardless of how the wind of oppression blows violently and the night covers the spaces
ما فيك تلون هالكون ع بعضه بذات اللون

You could never color the universe all the same color
وتبدل نظام الأرض وتغير مجرى الهوا

Or replace the order of the earth or change the current of the wind


Stay tuned for upcoming posts.

Have a nice day!

نهاركم سعيد

My First Embarrassing Encounter with Arabic Native Speakers at the Airport

Posted on 18. Jul, 2013 by in Arabic Language, Culture, Current Affairs, History, Language

Marhaba! You cannot imagine how many times I practiced speaking Arabic with my parents in the United States before my first trip to Beirut to meet family and close relatives. Even when I was just a child I made it a point to always speak Arabic with my parents. What kind of Arabic was I speaking? Well let’s just say I knew basic expressions (عبارات) and introductions (مقدّمات). Regardless of my limited speaking (تكلم), writing (كتابة) and reading (قراءة) abilities, I thought that all this practice would allow me to converse with my family in Lebanon without any hassle. I especially wanted to impress my grandparents and show them that speaking Arabic fluently was possible even though we were living the U.S. and had minimal interaction with an Arabic speaking community. My goal was not to only speak Arabic, but also to speak it following the Lebanese dialect (اللّهجة اللّبنانية).After hours and hours of flying across the Atlantic (الأطلسي) and over Europe, our plane finally landed. I felt that I spent centuries preparing for this moment. What are the first words that will come out of my mouth? Will they be ‘Marhaba’ (مرحبا)? ‘Sabah el Kheir (صباح الخير)?’ All different kinds of Arabic expression phrases were at the tip of my tongue. My only problem was that I memorized them according to a certain sequence. For example, if I were to say ‘Marhaba’ it will have to follow automatically with ‘keefak?’ (كيفك؟) and then with ‘alhamdulillah’ (الحمدللّله). Even if the person was having a bad day, I could expect that he/she would say ‘alhamdulillah.’ I also asked my mom to teach me phrases like ‘we’ve missed you…’ (اشتقنا لكم) and ‘why don’t you visit us in the US?’ (لماذا لا تزورونا في الولايات المتحدة؟) In my mind and heart I wanted to impress my grandparents and I felt that I can easily communicate in Arabic by starting off with ‘Marhaba’ to ‘why don’t you visit us in the US’ without any interruption. Boy, I was devastatingly wrong and mistaken…! I was not prepared to steer in another direction if someone was to reply in a different sequence or was to reply something different than what I expected. When I look back I can only laugh and laugh that this limitation was my first embarrassing encounter in learning Arabic and one that I will always remember.


After we got off the plane to get our luggage, we then had to head to customs (الجمارك) as the last security checkpoint before meeting the family for the first time and what I perceived as my awaiting audience. I felt that everyone was waiting to meet and greet me in person and then as the center of attention I will have my chance to utter my sequence of phrases and sentences. My innocent mind pushed me to take the initiative to converse with a customs officer. What better way to improve your language skills than by practice? So all of my sudden I approach the customs officer (شرطي الجمارك) and utter my sequence of Arabic phrases and words. Well I did say ‘Marhaba’ to the officer and ‘keefak?’ and ‘hope all is well’ which were all perfectly fine when meeting anyone. The funny part and embarrassing encounter was when I continued to express to the officer that ‘I missed him…’ and then by questioning why he doesn’t come visit us in the US. Obviously the officer burst in laughter and everyone around followed in the same path. I stood there traumatized not knowing what to say. My mom said that when I say ‘why don’t you visit us in the US,’ the answer would be something else but not laughter.


What this experience taught me was that the fear of making a mistake in front of family forced me to memorize a certain sequence of words and phrases which did not make sense and was not appropriate to everyone. I did not want anyone laughing at me or making fun of the way I pronounce words so I felt that if I were to speak a lot then I would impress and relieve myself from any scrutiny. What this first embarrassing encounter taught me was part of learning a new language is taking an obvious risk, that mistakes are prone to happen and are unavoidable, and that we should not worry about people making fun or laughing at the way we say things. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, it’s part of the learning process. The way of learning a new language is similar to walking for the first time. We fall down a couple of times as we learn to walk and with practice we begin to run, jump and play sports. Just like learning to walk or practicing any sport, there are always occasions to make mistakes but with practice we limit the recurrence of such blunders.

This is my embarrassing encounter in learning Arabic. What’s yours?

Stay tuned for upcoming posts.

Have a nice day!

نهاركم سعيد