November 27, 2021

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The View On Cooking

L.A. Lebanese takeout gem is all about convenience foods

6 min read

A fork slips by means of Lina Georges’ mehshi koussa — zucchini stuffed with rice and richly spiced floor beef — with the simplicity of slicing space-temperature butter.

Stuffing greens is a sacrosanct category of Lebanese delicacies. Cooks heap hollowed eggplants, peppers and squash, or fold cabbage and grape leaves into restricted deals, with quite a few conventional fillings: rice and meat (lamb is typical too), or an herbed vegetarian grain combination, or ground meat sautéed with pine nuts in generous quantities of butter.

Georges has the medium mastered. She employs a prolonged, high-quality coring instrument referred to as a man’ara to carve out the zucchini’s pulp its internal walls are whittled to a quarter-inch. The koussa simmers to softness in gentle tomato sauce but stays structurally audio. Just enough stuffing goes in so that the rice, as it cooks, balloons to keep the squash from collapsing inward. You can scent the sweet, peppery allspice that scents the beef in advance of your very first forkful.

Koussa (stuffed zucchini) and warak enab from Mama Lina Cooks.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Situations)

Served more than vermicelli rice with a facet of smoky baba ghanouj, stuffed zucchini is among the the two dozen Lebanese consolation meals that Georges and her relatives rotate via a weekly-switching menu customized for pickup and shipping and delivery. They call their takeout-only operation Mama Lina Cooks, and they’ve been obtaining their audience by way of Instagram (and deservedly sturdy word-of-mouth) over the last 12 months.

As with the the latest pandemic-era pop-ups and other liminal jobs, this 1 commenced as a way to reaffirm a feeling of objective in the midst of tragedy. Mama Lina Cooks was the brainstorm of Georges’ son Fouad, a designer and entrepreneur who moved to Los Angeles 5 decades ago. His two brothers reside in the town as well. When their parents would check out from the suburbs of Beirut, Lina puzzled about being in Southern California to be near her household, and she would ask aloud what she might do with herself in this article.

“You’d open a cafe and cook dinner!” Fouad would 50 %-joke. Lina was not a expert chef, but she was recognized for her nafas — the Arabic phrase (it interprets as “breath” but can connote “spirit”) made use of to describe home cooks who, with their hands and coronary heart, make impressive dishes that some others find challenging to replicate.

Then arrived the explosion in the port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, brought about by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that experienced been confiscated from a ship 6 decades earlier and saved negligently. The blast flattened neighborhoods, destroyed households, killed additional than 200 folks and hurt thousands. It ripped through the city’s presently torn spirit and financial seams.

(The dire circumstance in Lebanon, wrought by many years of political corruption and infighting, has grown even worse in excess of the past yr. The currency has misplaced 90% of its worth from two a long time in the past. Fuel, electrical power and medicine shortages condition each day lives staples like bread are scarce. “There is no respite or safe area anyplace,” Lebanese author Lina Mounzer wrote of everyday living in Beirut in a recent New York Moments op-ed.)

Fouad Georges and Lina Georges, the mother-son team behind Mama Lina Cooks.

Fouad Georges and Lina Georges, the mother-son staff driving Mama Lina Cooks.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Occasions)

Lina and her partner flew to Los Angeles a thirty day period soon after the explosion. “I’d in no way witnessed my mother and father so broken,” Fouad instructed me in an interview. “I felt like I experienced to do anything to assistance them snap out of their suffering, to really feel effective, get chaotic, fulfill men and women.”

Lina was setting up to cook for Fouad’s close friends. Early very last November, the two of them sat down and planned out a 7 days of foods. What would take place, Fouad questioned, if he surveyed the nearby Lebanese community to gauge desire? What if he created a logo and started off publishing menus on social media?

The lineup for Mama Lina Cooks has transformed weekly considering the fact that then. Menus are posted on Instagram and Fb customers fill out an purchase form by Saturday night for the adhering to week and then either choose up their foods in Hollywood Hills or decide for shipping, which Fouad typically presents on Tuesdays.

Koussa, which has proved given that last fall to be a single of Lina’s most asked for dishes, might be the dish of the working day on a Tuesday. Monday could provide kibbeh bil saniyeh — a baked dish of layered spiced ground beef and bulghur with pine nuts, constantly served with a wholesome dollop of yogurt — that’s a preferred Lebanese comfort and ease food stuff. For Wednesday: m’lookhiyeh, a calming stew of slippery jute leaves and threads of hen sharpened by red onions steeped in vinegar. On Thursday: samke harra, fish cloaked in thick and lemony tahini sauce amongst handfuls of cilantro, pine nuts and walnuts, with a aspect of crunchy fattoush. Friday: shish barak, meat dumplings browned and then warmed in garlicky yogurt sauce.

Samke harra

Samke harra is fish layered with cilantro and lined with tahini sauce with pine nuts and walnuts.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Moments)

These dishes occur from the dwelling-kitchen area custom, which is what would make Mama Lina Cooks particularly truly worth trying to find out. As with numerous cultures, Lebanese cuisine has certain repertoires of food items historically eaten in general public spaces and all those shared with family in private. Falafel, shawarma and other road-food items staples, and the elaborate spreads of cafe mezze (interesting dishes like tabbouleh and hummus followed by skewered meats or grilled seafood, between several prospects), are mirrored on Lebanese cafe menus throughout Southern California. The gamut of calming vegetable-primarily based stews and aromatic a single-pot rice dishes is rarer to discover persistently out in the world.

It’s succor we could all use these days. That features herbivores: Fouad is vegan, and Lina has learned that Outside of Meat can make a wonderful substitute for the ground beef in a lot of recipes.

If I’m sharing a food with buddies, I’ve taken to supplementing the plat du jour with a dish or two sold in bigger parts from Mama Lina Cooks’ catering menu (which lives in the story highlights on its Instagram site). I could pad samke harra with tabbouleh — bracing from its lemony dressing and properly served with tapered romaine leaves for scooping — and laban emmo, boneless hunks of lamb shank warmed in yogurt sauce and served more than rice. I preserve an eye out for when Lina tends to make knafeh, the pastry of stretchy cheese and crackling dough it is frequently eaten for breakfast in Lebanon but also would make for an emotionally gratifying dessert.

And in the way of homey cooking, relishing the leftovers can be section of the satisfaction. My closest Lebanese friend came to check out last thirty day period and we ate a feast from Mama Lina Cooks: koussa, m’lookhiyeh and a tray of kibbeh bil saniyeh. She ate happily but quietly (I could see these acquainted foodstuff brought to brain household and the ongoing catastrophes) and then she went to the kitchen area to support clean up.

“I’m chopping the rest of this kibbeh into single servings,” she reported around her shoulder. “Every Lebanese individual keeps kibbeh bil saniyeh in their freezer for a very last-minute meal. Now you will way too.”

It appeared a bigger compliment to Lina’s cooking than I could at any time give.

Mama Lina Cooks

instagram.com/mamalinacooks

Selling prices: $12.99 for each food.

Details: Weekly buy form through Instagram and Fb. Pickups in Hollywood Hills or confined shipping and delivery. Payment through Venmo or Zelle.

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