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

A fork slips as a result of Lina Georges’ mehshi koussa — zucchini loaded with rice and richly spiced ground beef — with the ease of slicing room-temperature butter.

Stuffing greens is a sacrosanct class of Lebanese cuisine. Cooks heap hollowed eggplants, peppers and squash, or fold cabbage and grape leaves into tight packages, with many regular fillings: rice and meat (lamb is widespread way too), or an herbed vegetarian grain combination, or ground meat sautéed with pine nuts in generous amounts of butter.

Georges has the medium mastered. She makes use of a extensive, fantastic coring software named a man’ara to carve out the zucchini’s pulp its internal partitions are whittled to a quarter-inch. The koussa simmers to softness in light-weight tomato sauce but stays structurally seem. Just adequate stuffing goes in so that the rice, as it cooks, balloons to hold the squash from collapsing inward. You can smell the sweet, peppery allspice that scents the beef before your first forkful.

Koussa and grape leaves from Mama Lina

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

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Situations)

Served in excess of vermicelli rice with a side of smoky baba ghanouj, stuffed zucchini is amid the two dozen Lebanese comfort and ease foods that Georges and her family rotate as a result of a weekly-transforming menu tailor-made for pickup and shipping. They contact their takeout-only operation Mama Lina Cooks, and they’ve been discovering their viewers through Instagram (and deservedly sturdy phrase-of-mouth) over the past yr.

As with the the latest pandemic-era pop-ups and other liminal assignments, this a single started as a way to reaffirm a sense 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 years back. His two brothers dwell in the city as properly. When their parents would check out from the suburbs of Beirut, Lina questioned about being in Southern California to be in the vicinity of her family members, and she would ask aloud what she could possibly do with herself below.

“You’d open a cafe and cook dinner!” Fouad would half-joke. Lina was not a professional chef, but she was acknowledged for her nafas — the Arabic phrase (it translates as “breath” but can connote “spirit”) utilised to describe household cooks who, with their hands and heart, make outstanding dishes that other people find tough to copy.

Then arrived the explosion in the port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, prompted by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that experienced been confiscated from a ship six many years earlier and saved negligently. The blast flattened neighborhoods, wrecked properties, killed far more than 200 people and wounded 1000’s. It ripped by the city’s currently torn spirit and financial seams.

(The dire condition in Lebanon, wrought by a long time of political corruption and infighting, has grown even worse about the last 12 months. The currency has dropped 90% of its worth from two yrs back. Fuel, energy and medicine shortages shape each day life staples like bread are scarce. “There is no respite or safe put everywhere,” Lebanese author Lina Mounzer wrote of lifestyle in Beirut in a the latest New York Situations op-ed.)

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

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

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Lina and her spouse flew to Los Angeles a thirty day period soon after the explosion. “I’d in no way observed my parents so broken,” Fouad explained to me in an interview. “I felt like I experienced to do anything to support them snap out of their struggling, to sense effective, get active, meet up with persons.”

Lina was beginning to prepare dinner for Fouad’s close friends. Early previous November, the two of them sat down and planned out a 7 days of meals. What would occur, Fouad asked, if he surveyed the community Lebanese local community to gauge desire? What if he made a symbol and started publishing menus on social media?

The lineup for Mama Lina Cooks has changed weekly due to the fact then. Menus are posted on Instagram and Facebook buyers fill out an order form by Saturday night for the next week and then both decide on up their foods in Hollywood Hills or opt for supply, which Fouad usually presents on Tuesdays.

Koussa, which has proved since last tumble to be a person of Lina’s most asked for dishes, might be the dish of the working day on a Tuesday. Monday could convey kibbeh bil saniyeh — a baked dish of layered spiced floor beef and bulghur with pine nuts, usually served with a wholesome dollop of yogurt — which is a favourite Lebanese consolation food items. For Wednesday: m’lookhiyeh, a calming stew of slippery jute leaves and threads of chicken sharpened by purple onions steeped in vinegar. On Thursday: samke harra, fish cloaked in thick and lemony tahini sauce among handfuls of cilantro, pine nuts and walnuts, with a side 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 protected with tahini sauce with pine nuts and walnuts.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Moments)

These dishes appear from the dwelling-kitchen custom, which is what will make Mama Lina Cooks significantly really worth in search of out. As with a lot of cultures, Lebanese cuisine has certain repertoires of meals usually eaten in general public spaces and those people shared with family in personal. Falafel, shawarma and other avenue-food stuff staples, and the elaborate spreads of cafe mezze (neat dishes like tabbouleh and hummus adopted by skewered meats or grilled seafood, among several possibilities), are mirrored on Lebanese restaurant menus throughout Southern California. The gamut of comforting vegetable-dependent stews and fragrant 1-pot rice dishes is rarer to obtain continuously out in the entire world.

It is succor we could all use these days. That contains herbivores: Fouad is vegan, and Lina has acquired that Beyond Meat makes a good substitute for the floor beef in several recipes.

If I’m sharing a meal with close friends, I have taken to supplementing the plat du jour with a dish or two marketed in much larger parts from Mama Lina Cooks’ catering menu (which life in the tale highlights on its Instagram webpage). I could pad samke harra with tabbouleh — bracing from its lemony dressing and accurately served with tapered romaine leaves for scooping — and laban emmo, boneless hunks of lamb shank warmed in yogurt sauce and served over rice. I maintain an eye out for when Lina can make knafeh, the pastry of stretchy cheese and crackling dough it is usually eaten for breakfast in Lebanon but also will make for an emotionally rewarding dessert.

And in the way of homey cooking, relishing the leftovers can be component of the enjoyment. My closest Lebanese close friend arrived to visit previous thirty day period and we ate a feast from Mama Lina Cooks: koussa, m’lookhiyeh and a tray of kibbeh bil saniyeh. She ate fortunately but quietly (I could see these familiar foodstuff introduced to thoughts dwelling and the ongoing catastrophes) and then she went to the kitchen area to assistance clean up up.

“I’m cutting the rest of this kibbeh into one servings,” she mentioned around her shoulder. “Every Lebanese individual keeps kibbeh bil saniyeh in their freezer for a last-minute food. Now you will much too.”

It appeared a greater compliment to Lina’s cooking than I could ever give.

Mama Lina Cooks


Rates: $12.99 per meal.

Facts: Weekly buy type via Instagram and Fb. Pickups in Hollywood Hills or confined shipping and delivery. Payment via Venmo or Zelle.