This Batata Harra food illustration captures one of Lebanon’s staple dishes of potato cubes sautéed with coriander and garlic. Enjoyed with a squeeze of lemon, this authentic Lebanese dish is often served with other small bites, known as “Mezza” or “Mezze” in Lebanon and across the Levant and the Eastern Mediterranean. It can also be prepared as a side dish with charcoal-grilled or fried seafood mains and Lebanese-style barbecued meats.
An authentic recipe originating in Lebanon, Batata Harra is a delicious hot vegetarian dish with a special tangy taste that leaves you wanting more. Made with fried potato cubes seasoned with a sauté of fresh coriander leaves, minced garlic and a final squeeze of lemon juice, this dish is typically served in Lebanese restaurants as part of an elaborate array of Levantine appetizers and hot and cold starters, known as “Mezza,” “Mezze,” or “Maza.”
As a starter, Batata Harra can be ordered together with other savoury small plates; from the staple Lebanese salads of “Tabbouleh” and “Fattoush,” all the way to “Kibbeh” (minced lamb and bulgur balls stuffed with fried minced lamb with onions, and pine nuts), “Shanklish” or “Shankleesh” (small balls of Lebanese blue cheese made from sheep or cow milk), and “Sujuk” (a semi-dry and spicy sausage).
These delicious Lebanese potato cubes can also be served as a side dish since they pair well with seafood, such as fried or charcoal-grilled fish. They also work beautifully with “Mashawi Mshakkaleh” (skewers of mixed grill and barbecued meats, with sumac-drizzled fresh onion slices and parsley on the side), “Shish Tawook” or “Shish Taouk” (skewers of charcoal-grilled marinated chicken cubes), and “Castalaita” (grilled lamb chops).
What does Batata Harra Mean?
Batata Harra in Arabic literally translates into “hot” or “spicy” potatoes. I personally think it stands for “sharp” and “biting,” since the original recipe has no chilli peppers in it. Although many food blogs out there add chilli or red peppers to the recipe, I’ve never had it with anything other than coriander (cilantro) and garlic. In fact, I think it’s called “Harra” because once sautéed, coriander and garlic tend to give off a sharp and tangy flavour with a distinct kick to it.
To double check on my theory, I made a phone call today to a Levantine home-cook with Lebanese roots. As hoped, she confirmed to me that the original Batata Harra recipe has no peppers in it, contrary to widespread claims many cooking blogs (including contemporary Lebanese ones) make on the net! She also noted that some Lebanese home-cooks and chefs add fried pine nuts as a garnish on special occasions, but that’s about it.
Besides, you can always add a pinch of cayenne, chilli pepper powder, or slices of Serrano peppers to your dish if you prefer to spice up your food with some extra heat.
Try the Batata Harra side dish with this delicious Turkish-style lamb recipe from BBC Good Food Middle East.
Batata Harra: The Dish with Staple Ingredients from the Damascene Cuisine!
Let’s talk about what makes Batata Harra a quintessential Levantine dish. Actually, this is where it gets really interesting. You see, sautéing garlic and freshly-chopped coriander leaves in a shallow pan is an exclusive staple of the Damascene cuisine. In fact, several home cooks from Damascus have told me that staple Damascene dishes, cooked with the finishing touch of a coriander-and-garlic sauté, were little known outside of their city. In fact, until recently, several Damascene dishes were completely obscure to other cities and towns in Syria, including the city’s own coriander-garlic sauté!
That is why I think it is such a great mystery a staple Lebanese dish, that’s been around for quite a while, is cooked with an unmistakable Damascene flare!
As a side note, coriander means “Kizbara” in most Syrian and Lebanese dialects, and “Kuzbara” in other Levantine dialects like the Jordanian and Palestinian dialects and in certain parts of Syria. Garlic, on the other hand, is “Toom” in the Lebanese and Syrian dialects, and “Tomeh” in some, but not all, Jordanian and Palestinian dialects.
If you are Lebanese with a unique insight on the origins of Batata Harra and how it came to embrace the Damascus-born coriander and garlic sauté, I’d really love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave a comment on this post with any online or offline references you may want to share, and I’d be more than grateful for your culinary insights!
Very Levantine: A Squeeze of Lemon Juice
In addition to its love for olive oil, the Mediterranean cuisine has a defining fondness for adding fresh garnishes and local seasonings after the food is served. Just before eating, Italians like to add grated “Parmigiano Reggiano” cheese to pasta dishes, freshly-torn basil leaves to salads and pastas, or a drizzle of aromatic olive oil (olio d’oliva aromatico) to pizza and bruschette (plural for bruschetta).
Likewise, Eastern Mediterranean Lebanese and Syrian gastronomes like to complete certain dishes with a squeeze of lemon just before eating a meal, especially meals cooked with a garlic-coriander sauté, certain legume soups, and meat-based and seafood dishes that invite the brightness of lemons.
Food-chemistry-wise, adding lemon juice at the last minute gives an instant tanginess to a dish, while incorporating it into the cooking will give off a completely different effect that misses out on the taste of raw acidity from a fresh lime or lemon.
Lebanese Batata Harra: The Recipe
If you’re cooking seabass or a Middle Eastern grilled meat meal this weekend, consider making Batata Harra as a side dish. To add an instant Levantine twist to your meal, don’t forget to slice a fresh yellow lemon into quarters to decorate your serving dish, and maybe one or two Serrano peppers for foodies who like to add heat to their food.
Now, before we start, let me share with you a couple useful tips:
Tips #1: The recipe I’m sharing with you here is a variation on the original, since it makes do with deep frying the potatoes. In the original recipe, we start with deep frying the potato cubes, setting them aside, sautéing the garlic and coriander in olive oil in a shallow pan, before bringing the fried potato cubes back into the pan for a final toss. However, since I personally don’t like deep frying my food, we’re going to cut the potatoes into small-ish cubes before shallow-frying them in some olive oil, until they reach a gloriously golden crispy state.
Tips #2: To shallow-fry the potatoes, it’s best to toss them in the pan by making them “jump” around (which is basically what the word “sauté” means), rather than stirring them. This will help keep their shape and prevent them from going mushy. Alternatively, you can par-boil the cubed potatoes, brush them with olive oil and then bake them in the oven.
Tips #3: Another very useful tip is to make sure not to overcook the garlic and coriander. All we need to do is to lightly sauté them in olive oil until they are fragrant and ready to be mixed with the potato cubes. The garlic specifically needs to be cooked for a little while just until it gets rid of its raw bite. Overcooking it will result in a bitter taste that we don’t want for this recipe.
Lebanese Batata Harra: Fried Potatoes Sautéed with Coriander & Garlic
- 4 large potatoes cubed
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves minced
- 1 bunch fresh coriander leaves chopped
- A pinch of salt to taste
- A pinch of freshly-cracked black pepper
- Peel the potatoes and slice them into small cubes with a thickness of about 1 cm each.
- Add a small pinch of salt to the potato cubes and set aside to allow them to release some of their liquid. This will add more crunch to the potatoes once shallow-fried.
- Shallow-fry the potato cubes in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until golden and crispy. Alternatively, oven-fry them after par-boiling them and brushing them with olive oil, until they turn golden. Add a pinch of salt to the potatoes as desired. Set aside.
- Rinse the fresh coriander, pick the“good” leaves, and discard the stems. Finely chop the leaves and dry on a paper towel.
- Lightly heat a skillet or a shallow pan over low heat, add the olive oil and heat for a few seconds before adding in the minced garlic. Sauté the garlic over medium-low heat until it is fragrant for about 20 to 30 seconds.
- Add the chopped coriander and sauté for a minute or so over medium heat until fragrant. Try not to overcook the coriander at this point to keep its succulent taste.
- Add the fried potato cubes to the coriander-garlic sauté, stir until well mixed. Check if you like the saltiness of the potatoes and add a pinch of cracked black pepper to taste. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes while stirring.
- Serve hot with a slice of lemon on the side.
Batata Harra Food Illustration: Capturing the Spirit of Lebanese Culture & Identity
The overall vibe of these Batata Harra food illustration artworks is about the quintessential Lebanese look and culture. That’s why I used the complimentary colours of yellow ochre, ultramarine blue, and indigo blue, with dusty pink and other derivative accent colours. Yellow is very present in Lebanese furniture, especially in handmade wooden chairs, rattan low seats and stools, and wicker baskets. Indigo blue, on the other hand, is a reminder of the deep blue hue of the Mediterranean Sea.
Terracotta pots, seen in most of the artworks in this illustrated post, are another staple of village life in Lebanon and the Mediterranean region in general. I’ve also added three more iconic features of the Lebanese culture: The traditional “Briq” or “Ibrik,” a mouth-blown glass pitcher from Lebanon’s rural towns. A couple of handmade ultramarine-blue glasses (also made by artisans in Damascus, Syria). And the famous “Tarbouch” or “Tarboush,” a red felt fez.
Lebanese Batata Harra food illustration #1: The Iconic Triple Arched Windows
To capture one of Lebanon’s iconic architectural features, check out the illustration with the two hands holding the Batata Harra pot (above). In the background you can see Lebanon’s iconic triple arched windows, which make for one of the most stunning architectural themes I have ever seen anywhere in my life. These three arches are found in homes across Lebanon, in both urban and rural areas. The traditional triple arches in this artwork are flanked by handmade mirrors often found in Lebanese homes and boutique hotels. The mirror on the left is meant to depict a Syrian inlay mother of pearl mirror made of wood, while the one to the right is a quick depiction of an Egyptian brass mirror. As for the hostess, she is wearing an antique Yemeni silver ring, something some eccentric and bohemian women living in the Levant tend to do.
Lebanese Batata Harra food illustration #2: The Rattan Stool & Brass Stove
Handmade wickerwork in Lebanon is unfortunately at risk of extinction. However, the beautiful rattan low seats and stools are still celebrated in coffee shops and restaurants that emphasise the Lebanese identity. The vintage kerosene stove in this illustration is also a staple of old Middle Eastern and some Mediterranean kitchens. It was used across the Levant by home-cooks like my late grandmother, who had one herself. Women used this stove outdoors in the garden, or the inner courtyard of old Lebanese and Syrian homes, to deep fry foods that would otherwise fill their kitchens and homes with the odours of frying for days on end, if done indoors. While most households in metropolitan cities across the Middle East have abandoned this little portable stove, many villagers in rural areas still use it for outdoor or indoor cooking.
Handcrafted Traditional Lebanese Artefact: The Briq
The “Ibrik,” “Briq,” or “Brik” is an ancient water pitcher traditionally made of earthenware or mouth-blown glass. Commonly used by Lebanese villagers, the “Briq” – with its spherical body and tapered neck – has evolved into a symbol of Lebanese cultural identity. Nowadays, it can be seen in modern and traditional households and in urban and rural areas alike (read this article for more). Interestingly, the non-glazed clay version of “Briq” is often adorned with primitive spirals that lend this jug a beautiful, traditional look. The “Ibrik” in the illustrations you see here is made from glass. It has a small handle and an unconventional spout that allows for waterfall drinking. This is an essential “Briq” drinking etiquette that calls for drinking without touching the spout with the lips, especially that the “Ibrik” is a communal artefact shared by several people at all times. This hygienic protocol is accomplished by holding the jug slightly above one’s head, leaning back, and pouring the water into the mouth.
Folk Lebanese Headwear: The Tarboush
“Tarboush” or “Tarbouch” is a traditional hat-like red fez with a black tassel on the side. Men in Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Morocco used to wear it with the traditional costumes of their respective countries. Until recent years, this cap, made from wool felt, was traditionally part of an iconic Lebanese folk look consisting of other old-style clothing items. These include: The “Shirwal” or “Sirwal” (bunched-up trousers that modern fashion houses like to refer to as “Harem pants”), a vest made from silk woven in Aleppo called “Sayeh” fabric, and a “Qibqab” or “Qubqab” (a traditional wooden clog common to Turkey and the Levant). As one would expect, the “Tarboush” arrived to Lebanon via the Ottoman rule, and until recently was a staple men’s headdress popular all over rural Lebanon. Although at the present time less and less men are wearing the “Tarboush,” it still adorns the heads of male drink servers in charge of pouring folk-inspired coffee and traditional liquorice root drinks to Lebanese restaurant-goers.
Illustration Tools: Digital Brushes & Analogue Watercolours
To create these Lebanese Batata Harra food illustration artworks for my Illustrated Middle Eastern Recipes blog series, I used a combination of analogue watercolour textures and an array of digital tools using different apps and software – including Procreate on iPad Pro, as well as Affinity Photo for desktop with my pen display tablet, Wacom Cintiq Pro 16. In addition to digital brushes that mimicked the texture of pastels, inks and pencils, I incorporated scanned watercolour washes and backgrounds created using professional-grade watercolour brands.
Illustrated Recipe + Batata Harra Food illustration | These illustrations are part of the Illustrated Middle Eastern Recipes blog series on “The Illustration Blog of a Nomadic Mediterranean Foodie” by illustrator and artist Yaansoon