Lebanese Food Fest in Lombard draws thousands for homemade kibbeh, falafel, shawarma

September 6, 2013 8:40:35 PM PDT
While Chicago's Jewish community is in the midst of the "high holidays," which means apples, honey and brisket, the Lebanese Maronite Catholic community in west suburban Lombard, is celebrating this weekend with its own ethnic feast.

You can find plenty of falafel and hummus throughout Chicago, especially near Oak Lawn, Burbank and Chicago Ridge. But in Lombard this weekend, a church community is coming together to put on a major Lebanese feast that anyone can enjoy.

Every day this week, the women of Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Lombard have been coming together for one purpose: to cook. Their sixth annual Lebanese Fest will draw thousands, far more than the small Maronite Catholic community of 700 families in the region. This is home cooking taken to another level.

"There's a lot of food," said Juliette Zakhen, who oversees the menu planning. "We gonna have tabbouleh, hummus, falafel, shawarma - beef and chicken."

There's also kibbeh - containing ground beef and pine nuts, encased in a cracked wheat shell, plus vegetarian stuffed grape leaves. Spinach pies are also notable. While the dough is kneaded by hand and turned into tiny balls that have to rest on a sheet to proof, a filling of raw spinach is combined with sumac, chopped onions and olive oil, plus fresh lemon juice to brighten it up. When it's time to assemble, the women line up and systematically hand-form and crimp each pie before they're baked off.

Tabbouleh is simply a salad of chopped parsley, tomatoes and scallions. Spreads, like the eggplant-jammed baba gannoush or hummus, essentially ground chickpeas with tahini sauce and fresh lemon juice, are perfect vehicles for being scooped up by pita bread.

Chickpeas are also used in the crispy falafel, but since they're Lebanese, they're a tad different.

"Because we mix the fava beans and the chickpeas together," Zakhen said.

Their notion of a falafel sandwich is unique: a few falafels are crushed onto a flatbread.

"And we add the tahini sauce, we add parsley, we add the pickles," Zakhen said.

Then it's rolled-up, to keep it portable. Zakhen says the event would be impossible without the help she gets from friends and relatives.

"During the festival we do really have a lot, a lot of help from everybody in the church," said Zakhen.

Lebanese Food Fest
Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church
950 N. Grace St., Lombard
www.ollchicago.org

Sept. 6, 5 - 11 pm
Sept. 7, 2 - 11 pm
Sept. 8, 12 - 7 pm


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