The Lute Oud

Posted on 29. Oct, 2012 by in art, Culture, History


The lute (العود) is  a string musical instrument that is very important in Middle Eastern music. It has a distinctive shape. See pictures!


Oud has developed over a long period of time. Some date it back to the times of Ancient Egypt, based on some images and artefacts of an instrument that looks like the lute, but the oldest pictorial record of a lute dates back to the over 5000 years ago.


Lutes are made almost entirely of wood. The soundboard is a teardrop-shaped thin flat plate of resonant wood. The back or the shell is assembled from thin strips of hardwood (maple, cherry, ebony, rosewood, gran, wood and/or other tonewoods) called ribs. The neck is made of light wood, with a veneer of hardwood (usually ebony) to provide durability for the fretboard beneath the strings.

YouTube Preview Image

The bridge, sometimes made of a fruitwood, is attached to the soundboard typically at 1/5 to 1/7 the belly length. The frets are made of loops of gut tied around the neck. They fray with use, and must be replaced from time to time. Strings were historically made of animal gut, usually from the small intestine of sheep (sometimes in combination with metal) and are still made of gut or a synthetic substitute, with metal windings on the lower-pitched strings. Modern manufacturers make both gut and nylon strings, and both are in common use.

YouTube Preview Image

The lute’s strings are arranged in courses, of two strings each, though the highest-pitched course usually consists of only a single string, called the chanterelle. In later Baroque lutes two upper courses are single. The courses are numbered sequentially, counting from the highest pitched, so that the chanterelle is the first course, the next pair of strings is the second course, etc. Thus an 8-course Renaissance lute will usually have 15 strings, and a 13-course Baroque lute will have 24.


Thanks Wikipedia!

YouTube Preview Image

Arabic 5-a-day

Posted on 28. Oct, 2012 by in Arabic Language, Language


Health professionals in the UK have been talking about the importance of having 5-a-day, i.e. 5 portions of fruits and vegetables every day to keep healthy and fit. I believe that any serious learner of Arabic must have 5 portions of Arabic a day as well to improve their abilities and update their  skills.

The 5-a-day of Arabic should include practicing the 5 skills of Arabic.

Reading القراءة

Writing الكتابة

Listening  الاستماع

Speaking   التحدث

Translation  الترجمة

You can practice according to the appropriate level for you. If you are a beginner, start by reading and writing words or sentences. If you are an intermediate or advanced student, you can write a letter, a paragraph, emaill, etc. It really helps if you read and then write about the same topic.


With the Internet and youtube, listening cannot be easier! You can listen to the daily news bulleting in Arabic on BBC Arabic or CNN Arabic. Al-Jazeera would be brilliant for upper intermediate and advanced students.

You can listen to the news on radio or TV and read the news story on the website as well, and thus practice both skills at the same time.

To practice speaking, you have to find a partner who is willing to listen to you speaking in Arabic! Alternatively, you can record your speech and listen to it later. This is very very useful!

Translation into Arabic and into English is also easy to practice with the help of the Internet. It is often the case that news items on major outlets like BBC are presented in both English and Arabic. Also, almost all UN agencies have their websites in English and Arabic, so it is possible to find English and Arabic versions of many texts on the web, e.g. the following links take you to the main story on the UNESCO website in both English and Arabic:

To access the Arabic website for any UN agency, click on Arabic (العربية) on the homepage:

Remember that you do not have to understand everything, you just have to get into the habit of using your Arabic regularly!


حظ سعيد


How to Prepare Pumpkin Kibbe

Posted on 27. Oct, 2012 by in Arabic Language, Culture

It’s the time of the year when everyone is rushing to purchase pumpkins for carving, home decoration or just to feel part of the Halloween Season! At least this is the case in the United States. You can either choose to buy orange or white pumpkins (لَقطين). Some shops even carry some weird looking pumpkins. So apart from using the pumpkins for decorative purposes, many individuals purchase pumpkins for preparing tasty pie or bread. In many countries in the Arab World, individuals purchase pumpkins and prepare a vegetarian form of Kibbe (كِبّة). In many Arab countries, like Lebanon, pumpkin kibbe is called lying kibbe (كبّة كذّابة) ; it looks like meat kibbe, but without the meat! It is traditionally popular during fasting days. It is basically made of pumpkin, bulgur and stuffed with chard, onions and walnuts.


Here’s the recipe my wife and I will use to cook our pumpkin kibbe. We have kindly borrowed this recipe from the website Taste of Beirut. I have also added a YouTube video with subtitles.

YouTube Preview Image

Ingredients (8 servings):

–          2 cups of fine bulgur (برغُل ناعم)

–          4 cups of cooked pumpkin (لقطين مَطبوخ)

–          1 medium white onion (بصل)

–          1 cup of fresh breadcrumbs or bits of pita bread (خبز)soaked in pumpkin water and squeezed dry

–          Spices: Salt (ملح), to taste; 1 1/2 tbsp of dried mint (نعنع ناشف) ; 1/2 tsp of white pepper (بهار أبيض); 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon(قرفة) . (Feel free to adjust the spices according to your taste).

–          Filling: 1 cup of chopped walnuts(جوز مَطحون)

–          4 cups of shredded Swiss chard (or other green) (سِلِق)

–          2 large onions (بصل)

–          2 tbsp of sumac (سُمَّاق)

–          3 tbsp of lemon  (حامض) juice

–          Salt, to taste (ملح)

–          Olive oil (زيت زيتون)as needed

–          Vegetable oil (زيت نباتيّ)for frying


  1. Soak the bulgur for 5 minutes in water; drain and squeeze dry. Cook the pumpkin pieces and drain as well, squeezing them to release any remaining moisture while setting aside any pumpkin liquid to use later on to shape the kibbe balls. Place the pumpkin meat and bulgur in a bowl, mixing them with a spoon and set aside to allow the bulgur to soak up any bit of pumpkin juice left; grate the onion using a box grater over the pumpkin-bulgur mixture, add the fresh breadcrumbs and  spices and set the kibbe mixture aside while you prepare the filling.
  2. Wash and dry the chard; cut into narrow strips then cut the strips into small bits; chop the onions and fry in olive oil till softened. Add the chard and cook over low heat until softened. Add the walnuts and cook for a couple of minutes. Transfer the filling to a bowl adding sumac, lemon juice and salt to taste.
  3. Mix the kibbe dough either by hand or in a food processor until the mixture holds together and is moist. If needed, add a tablespoon or more of pumpkin juice or more breadcrumbs if the dough is too crumbly. Form egg-sized balls of dough and place them on a baking sheet next to you; starting with one ball, core it with the index finger while cupping it with the palm of the opposite hand (refer to the video to get a clearer picture). Stuff with 2 or 3 teaspoons of filling and enclose the kibbe ball.
  4. Fry the balls in several cups of hot vegetable oil for about 3 minutes until orange-brown and crispy. Serve with some additional lemon quarters if desired; a side dish of hummus is a good addition.

These kibbe can be boiled in salted boiling water for a few minutes; drain and coat in a dressing of mashed garlic lemon juice and olive oil.

For now, I encourage you to try out this recipe! As we say Sahtein! (صَحتين)

Watch out for my upcoming Halloween post in a couple of days!!