Making My Grandmother’s Cabbage Rolls Connects Me to My Lebanese Heritage
For my Lebanese-American family, cooking is a form of affection.
Pictured Recipe: Lebanese Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Beef
Growing up in a Lebanese American family, my home was always filled with delicious smells and tastes. And when our large family gathered, not only were we so excited to see people, but we were excited to eat together. In a Lebanese home, the eating starts well before everyone is seated at the table—it starts when the cooking starts.
I have heard stories of my relatives painstakingly rolling out the thinnest homemade phyllo dough, laying it out on every available surface of the house to dry, all to make a perfect, huge batch of baklava. For my parent's wedding, my mother's relatives together worked in the kitchen for months, affectionately making—from scratch—all of the food for the wedding guests. This collaborative food preparation, whether for big events or a family meal, was all for the sake of family and relationships.
Most of my memories with my sittie (Arabic for grandmother) consist of cooking with her. She would help me prepare Lebanese stuffed cabbage rolls, and never batted an eye when they fell apart and actually looked more like shapeless blobs. She always told me they were perfect.
Outside my sittie's house was the tantalizing scent of basil and mint growing in her yard. These smells, to this day, remind me how our food is interconnected with family, familiarity and love.
Cooking and eating, for all cultures, has a way of strengthening relationships, and I learned how to do that well through the examples of my sittie and mother. Neither my mother nor I were born in Lebanon, but being Lebanese American still kept us close to the culture. Making traditional dishes like kibbeh (a ground lamb/beef dish with Lebanese spices and pine nuts), meat pies, stuffed cabbage rolls and fattoush (a fresh salad with parsley, lemon dressing and lightly fried pita bread triangles) brings me closer to my roots. Whenever I cook these traditional dishes, I remember those loved ones who went before me and affectionately taught me the way of Lebanese food.