Saffron is said to be the most valuable spice called red gold. Delicate and red are the pistils of its purplish flower. It is in a landscape the color of earth scorched by the rising sun that saffron is cultivated. Here in Qaa, a rural village located at the foot of Anti-Lebanon a few kilometers from the Syrian border, the Lebanese army fought the terrorists in the summer of 2017.
But it is also here that Khalil and his son Youssef Wehbé have been cultivating saffron since 2000 since the flower was introduced as an alternative to illicit cultivation in Hermel. But this area, rich in history, is also renowned for its sun-drenched agricultural products. Indeed, the Wehbé family harvests the eggplants and preserves them in jars filled with garlic and walnuts. Called makdouss, these eggplants are a must-have dish. The family has also made it their specialty.
If almost all the saffron consumed in Lebanon is imported and if the Lebanese market offers it of different qualities, Youssef Wehbé today produces the best; about four kilograms of saffron per year. Twenty years later, the young man is flawlessly pursuing his career as a saffron producer. The harvest is done by hand in the fall after the first rays of the rising sun make the petals bloom.
Still little used in Lebanese cuisine, saffron is nevertheless present in our traditional food culture. It flavors the rice of meat and chicken dishes as it is prepared as an infusion. Already adopted by a large restaurant in Beirut, it is already on the local market. It is only a matter of time for the Lebanese to use it in dishes and desserts that they will reinvent. Perhaps one day we would feast on saffron ice cream from Qaa while traveling the farmhouse road in the land of cedars.