May 22, 2014 Mount Lebanon Lebanon Middle East

L’UniVert de Leah: Planted with Love, Watered by Passion

Seriously, this country holds wonders created by passionate people around... I came across a young woman, Leah, who has started a small business far from the city's chaos, that she has called L'Univert de Leah. Leah, a fresh graduate in Agriculture had an idea three years ago and that was to grow new vegetables close to home. Who said asparagus should be imported? Who said raspberries are only produced in European cities? With a strong passion for planting and lots of love a beautiful project saw the light. You reach Beit Chabab to find a calm old house, a vast piece of land with rich soil and immense source of water, where where they grow tasteful products. 

I came across L’UniVert de Leah by pure coincidence on Instagram.  On a beautiful sunny morning, I decided to go visit the land where Leah and her father welcomed me into their hidden spot. Up on the mountain of Beit Chabab, lies L'Univert de Leah, a small company specialized in growing novelty products including asparagus, blueberries, yellow zuchini, and white strawberries among others. Hand planted and picked, the quantities are small and they have a homey feel to them... It was nice... On the land you can find:
  • Asparagus
  • Raspberries
  • Edamame
  • Yellow cherry tomatoes
  • Black cherry tomatoes
  • Small French beans
  • Blueberries
  • Current (red and white)
  • Baby spinach
  • Tomato-berry
  • Yellow zucchini
Leah's main interest are asparagus and raspberries. Spending her day at the farm, she pampers and waters her vegetables with passion and love. I realized that growing asparagus, while following international standards, is not the easiest of tasks. The farm is 60% Asparagus, 25 % Raspberries, 5% trial of different berries such as blueberries, red current, white strawberries etc... and 10% is left for seasonal crops such as yellow cherry tomato, black cherry tomato, edamame etc... L'Univert_de_Leah_Beit_Chabab_Asparagus_Lebanon11
The farm is not an organic farm, but it is more of a natural farm. The use of pesticides is completely banned as Leah also introduced 4 bee hives for honey making and to increase raspberry pollination. 80% of the fertilization used is from organic material. Let's go through the process and see what it's like:
  • The asparagus plant only lives for ten years
  • After planting, the asparagus seeds need three long years to transform into crowns
  • Every year the asparagus plant is left to grow as big as it needs for one time only absorbing the needed nutrients from the air and sun and feeding the land
  • In February, you can see the first spears appearing
  • The Asparagus season lasts only three months
Good to know: Only young asparagus shoots are commonly eaten: once the buds start to open ("ferning out"), the shoots quickly turn woody. Water makes up 93% of Asparagus's composition. Asparagus is low in calories and is very low in sodium. It is a good source of vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fiber, protein, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and selenium, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells. The amino acid asparagine gets its name from asparagus, as the asparagus plant is relatively rich in this compound. L'Univert_de_Leah_Beit_Chabab_Asparagus_Lebanon37
While walking along the garden, I was offered an asparagus. Yes, I ate it as is, raw, just like a cucumber. Rich in water and flavor, tender, fresh and non fibrotic, I was positively astonished to have tasted something that good. It’s so juicy that the water just dropped from it with every bite.
Yes, we do have exceptional quality products here in Lebanon, so why buy imported products?
Ask for L’UniVert de Leah products sold at many shops in the Metn and Keserwan area. Every batch of asparagus, 450g each, are sold between 8,000L.L and 10,000L.L. Shops selling Leah's products:
  • Maison M
  • Akiki Vegetables Antelias
  • Storium Saliba, Kornet Chehwan
  • Stop and Shop, Antelias and Jounieh
  • Golden Star, Jounieh
Many renowned chefs and caterers use them as well:
  • Nicolas Audi
  • Saveur Plus
  • La Mie Doree
  • Balthazar
  • La Petite Maison
And just as a spear is used as a weapon, asparagus’s javelin-shaped form could be viewed as symbolic for its age- and disease-fighting abilities. Asparagus is just packed with health benefits:
  • It’s loaded with nutrients: Asparagus is a very good source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.
  • This herbaceous plant—along with avocado, kale and Brussels sprouts—is a particularly rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals. This is why eating asparagus may help protect against and fight certain forms of cancer, such as bone, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers.
  • Asparagus is packed with antioxidants, ranking among the top fruits and vegetables for its ability to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. This, according to preliminary research, may help slow the aging process.
  • Another anti-aging property of this delicious spring veggie is that it may help our brains fight cognitive decline. Like leafy greens, asparagus delivers folate, which works with vitamin B12—found in fish, poultry, meat and dairy—to help prevent cognitive impairment. In a study from Tufts University, older adults with healthy levels of folate and B12 performed better on a test of response speed and mental flexibility. (If you’re 50-plus, be sure you’re getting enough B12: your ability to absorb it decreases with age.)
  • One more benefit of asparagus: It contains high levels of the amino acid asparagine, which serves as a natural diuretic, and increased urination not only releases fluid but helps rid the body of excess salts. This is especially beneficial for people who suffer from edema (an accumulation of fluids in the body's tissues) and those who have high blood pressure or other heart-related diseases.
Our discovery journey continued to the other side of the garden where Leah plants raspberries. You will see long green alleys full of tasty raspberries which will soon find their way to your plate. Each box of 125g is sold around town for L.L8,000 and L.L9,000. The raspberries are cultivated between May and June depending on the season and cold. The lower the temperature, the better. “Follow me, I’m going to show you something interesting,” Leah tells me. She took me to a hidden spot in the garden where I came across some unusual fruits sunbathing. For her own pleasure, the nature lover is cultivating white strawberries. Yes white strawberries, yes you heard right. Original in shape, each bites hold an interesting taste and new texture. Different than the taste of the red strawberries, you’ll feel something creamy with a feel of the crispy seeds. The bigger in size the better the taste will be. The small ones have a bitter aftertaste, though a pleasant one. L'Univert_de_Leah_Beit_Chabab_Asparagus_Lebanon55
I wish I could have stayed in this calm paradise all day. Reality calls... I had to go back to work. I was offered some asparagus to take back home and enjoy. I Googled up a simple recipe (below) which we enjoyed with some friends the same night… you should have seen their faces. They were simply amazed at how much taste and flavor is hidden in every bite...  The easiest way to prepare your asparagus other than making a sumptuous risotto:
  • Start by carefully and slowly peeling each asparagus
  • Boil some water and drop them in with oil and salt for 7 minutes
  • After that, stop the cooking process while maintaining their rich green color, then drop them into a bath of cold water for 4 minutes
  • Keep them aside until your guests come
  • Before serving, put into the microwave for 30 seconds and their ready to be enjoyed
  • Lemon juice, olive oil and salt... enjoy some redefined purity
  • The asparagus will melt under your teeth like butter. An homogenous texture that's so smooth and filled with flavors
Leah, like many who have great infatuation towards their country, are playing a role in reviving the land by creating new opportunities as well as stay close to their families. Give them a hand by trying their products and be proud to consume Lebanese. Leah's Universe can be reached at +961 3 147 202 or ([email protected]).
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