When you are eating a delicious Lebanese dish and you find yourself asking, as people often do, what it is you taste that you can’t seem to put your finger on, the answer is often cinnamon. For many, cinnamon is associated with sweets and sweets only. But cinnamon in Lebanese dishes lends a distinct savory spice note, one that transforms a palate’s idea of what cinnamon can be. Cinnamon acts like a standout back-up singer to lamb, beef, chicken, vegetables and grains.

Think of using cinnamon this way like a friend looking at your wardrobe and putting together an outfit you might not have considered on your own. Even if you think it doesn’t feel like your style at first, once you have it on and see how great it fits, you’ll be wearing it all the time.

Cinnamon sticks—beautiful little curled pieces of dried tree bark—are used in dishes like the one we are making this week, a simple pilaf of chicken and cracked wheat, affectionately known in my circles as “chicken and smeed”—smeed is the word for cracked wheat in our dialect of Arabic.

Powdered cinnamon is the more typical use of the spice, in dishes we’ve made here like baked and raw kibbeh, sheik al mehshee, coosa mehshee, and lubieh or yahneh.

Varieties of powdered cinnamon abound, but the main thing to keep in mind is as with any spice: fresh is best.

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