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Vibrant Lebanese dining community prospers through tradition, heirloom recipes

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Tabouli salad at Jamil's Steakhouse in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Tabouli salad at Jamil's Steakhouse in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015.

Lebanon was a protectorate of France from the 1920s to the 1940s, but centuries before that, Lebanon and cities like Beirut were already a mélange of cultural and culinary sophistication.

The first wave of Lebanese immigration into Oklahoma City began before World War I, when many arrived from Jdeidet, Marjeyoun, Lebanon.

“It’s interesting. I would say that about 80 percent of the Oklahoma City Lebanese community have origins from the same village,” said Clayton Farhood, manager of Nunu’s Mediterranean Cafe & Market, 3131- B W. Memorial Road.

As Lebanese emigration continued, the population here increased.

“My grandfather left Lebanon during World War II. He came to America by boat, and the family was initially located in Tulsa, then much later in Oklahoma City,” said Greg Gawey, owner of Jamil’s Steakhouse, 4910 N. Lincoln Blvd.

“In the early years, men were primarily the ones who learned English, mainly to secure jobs. Women stayed home to care for children. As children entered school, they learned English,” said Deacon Ezra Ham of St. Elijah Antiochian Orthodox Church, 15000 N. May Ave., home to a large Lebanese-based congregation. “Quite a few of the families began work by opening up dry goods and grocery stores.”

St. Elijah’s takes pride in its culture-rich food festivals, including holiday bake sales, Easter festivities and a not-to-be-missed traditional food fest in November.

Greg Gawey poses for a photo at Jamil's Steakhouse in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Greg Gawey poses for a photo at Jamil's Steakhouse in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015.

Hospitality

To this day, Lebanese cuisine is found easily across Oklahoma City.

“My uncle [Jim Elias] started Jamil’s Steakhouse in Tulsa,” Gawey said; he opened the Tulsa location in 1954 and opened the OKC location 10 years later.

One trademark of Lebanese food and culture is hospitality, and it shows at Jamil’s Steakhouse. As soon as customers are seated, they are brought an array of appetizers: stuffed cabbage rolls, tabbouleh salad, hummus, a relish tray, smoked bologna and crackers.

Angus steaks ($24-$44) and beef kabobs served with steamed vegetables ($28) are two of Jamil’s signature dishes. Order extra pita bread ($7.25) and Rose’s Cabbage Rolls smothered in tomato sauce ($20) to share.

Insider’s note: In the 1950s, the restaurant’s large, homey location was a known, popular speakeasy.

A kabob at Jamil's Steakhouse. (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • A kabob at Jamil's Steakhouse.

Authentic spice

An authentic Lebanese pantry always contains specific ingredients like cinnamon, cloves, ginger and allspice, just to name a few.

“One of our signature drinks, our lemonade, contains a splash of orange blossom water. It was my grandmother’s recipe,” said Farhood.

Couscous, olive oils and vinegars, candies, tahini, herbs, spices, beans and more are available from a small specialty market in the back of Nunu’s. Its deli counter features stuffed cabbage leaves, kibbeh (an appetizer of ground lamb, bulger wheat and seasonings) and baklava to-go.

The recipes at Nunu’s were handed down through generations.

“My mother learned these recipes from my grandmother, who was born in Palestine,” Farhood said. “My grandmother didn’t learn how to cook until she arrived here in the U.S. She then taught herself from scratch, drawing upon memories from her childhood in Palestine. She taught my mother, Nunu.”

The menu offers refreshing fattoosh salad ($7.99); Hashwa Plate, Nunu’s signature dish with rice, beef and seasonings topped with almonds ($10.25); hearty lentil and rice pilaf ($9.99); and falafel sandwich (chickpea patties, $6.75).

“Most of the recipes used here have origins well over 100 years old,” Farhood said.

Print headline: Family dining, Our vibrant Lebanese community prospers through hard work, tradition and heirloom recipes.

 

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