Ingredient: Cinnamon

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When you are eating a delicious Lebanese dish and you find yourself asking, as people often do, what it is you taste that you can’t seem to put your finger on, the answer is often cinnamon. For many, cinnamon is associated with sweets and sweets only. But cinnamon in Lebanese dishes lends a distinct savory spice note, one that transforms a palate’s idea of what cinnamon can be. Cinnamon acts like a standout back-up singer to lamb, beef, chicken, vegetables and grains.

Think of using cinnamon this way like a friend looking at your wardrobe and putting together an outfit you might not have considered on your own. Even if you think it doesn’t feel like your style at first, once you have it on and see how great it fits, you’ll be wearing it all the time.

Cinnamon sticks—beautiful little curled pieces of dried tree bark—are used in dishes like the one we are making this week, a simple pilaf of chicken and cracked wheat, affectionately known in my circles as “chicken and smeed”—smeed is the word for cracked wheat in our dialect of Arabic.

Powdered cinnamon is the more typical use of the spice, in dishes we’ve made here like baked and raw kibbeh, sheik al mehshee, coosa mehshee, and lubieh or yahneh.

Varieties of powdered cinnamon abound, but the main thing to keep in mind is as with any spice: fresh is best.

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  1. Oba says:

    What type of cinnamon is grown and used on food in Lebanon. Cassia or Ceylon cinnamon?

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      I can tell you that I typically use Vietnamese cinnamon and I will keep you posted on what I can learn about what’s done in Lebanon!

  2. Roger Toomey says:

    Have you used cinnamon in salad dressing? One of my favorite summer salads has it as a base with oil and other spices.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Roger–no I haven’t, but that sounds just delicious. I will try. Someone told me about you when I was living in San Francisco last year. Thanks very much for reading and commenting! Are you originally from Michigan?

  3. Geralyn Lasher says:

    Now I have to ask the “cinnamon vs. allspice” question. We always use allspice in the meat dishes–do you know if there is a rhyme or reason why?

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      It’s a very good question, my friend. And it extends into the spice blends that many use, above and beyond cinnamon or allspice. I think that the immigrants back in the day didn’t have as much access to the spice blend they were used to in Lebanon so they opted for the simple cinnamon or allspice. But we want real ANSWERS, and I will find them….

  4. tasteofbeirut says:

    Maybe that is the reason it took me so long to like cinnamon in sweet pastries. Love it in rice and broth and mehchi etc

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Must be, Joumana. Same for laban with me–can’t eat it sweet!