Dining With Denise Neil

St. George’s Lebanese dinner takes pounds of this, hours of that

Phyllis Abraham cuts a tray of baklava for this weekend’s St. George Lebanese dinner. Abraham is co-chairwoman of the event. (Oct. 7, 2015)
Phyllis Abraham cuts a tray of baklava for this weekend’s St. George Lebanese dinner. Abraham is co-chairwoman of the event. (Oct. 7, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

The annual fundraising dinner at Wichita’s St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral draws thousands of people to eat pounds of Lebanese food prepared by hundreds of volunteers.

But just how many people? How many pounds? How many volunteers?

Here’s a by-the-numbers look at the popular church dinner, which happens Saturday and Sunday at 7515 E. 13th St.

82

The dinner, which offers dine-in or carry-out visitors meals of cabbage rolls, kibbe, ruz and yuknee, salad, pita bread and baklava, is in its 82nd year at the church, which has given it plenty of time to grow into a tradition for organizers and attendees.

Dinner chairwoman Janet Cohlmia said that giant notebooks exist for each year the dinner has happened, detailing how everything is done. When she inherited the job – and the notebooks – she wasn’t sure how it would ever come together, she said. But it did.

“It’s just a very well-oiled, organized machine,” she said. “The ways and the details of how things are done it has literally been passed down from great-grandmothers.”

462

By the time the last salad is dressed, nearly 462 people have had some hand in preparing the food for the dinner. They begin their work in July, when cabbage is in peak season, Cohlmia said.

“There’s a crew of about 20 big, young, strong guys, and they have this cabbage corer, and it takes a lot of muscle for them to core all that cabbage in two hours,” she said. “It’s amazing. It’s unbelievable.”

Another group of volunteers turns that cabbage into cabbage rolls, which are then frozen. In August, volunteers prepare the kibbe, a type of meatloaf made with ground sirloin, wheat and butter. The traditional baklava, made with layers of phyllo dough, nuts and sugar, comes next. Then just before the dinner starts, crews prepare salads and ruz and yuknee, a Lebanese green bean, rice and tomato salad.

Some volunteers specialize, year after year, in certain foods, certain prep jobs. Others are all-purpose players, Cohlmia said.

“People just come without ever being asked,” she said. “They just turn up for all the work days.”

5,349

During the 11 hours that the dinner is open, the church serves 5,349 people, Cohlmia said. One surprising number: Of those meals, 3,817 are taken to-go. The church has devised an elaborate to-go system that allows people to drive up to the church’s curb and have their meals passed into their windows.

The remaining people choose to dine inside the church, and their dinners are served to them. Traditionally, the dine-in customers were seated in rows of long, rectangular folding tables. This year, church organizers are switching to circular tables, which they think will give the dining room a warmer feel.

2,000

St. George’s best bakers have been busy preparing items to sell at the dinner’s Country Kitchen, a side market that will have more than 2,000 items for sale. Shoppers can stock up on extra portions of dinner items like kibbe and baklava, plus pies, cinnamon rolls, cookies and homemade jams and jellies. The kitchen also has a few unexpected items to-go, including ribs, salad dressing and labneh, which is a spreadable yogurt.

In an attempt to add some needed energy to the dining room, organizers are moving the Country Kitchen there. The move will give the sale room to expand, Cohlmia said.

5

That’s how many dollars it will cost you – $5 – to take advantage of one new feature of the dinner this year: baklava sundaes. Students at St. George’s school, Christ the Savior Academy, wanted to find a way to contribute to the dinner. They made soft-serve ice cream, crumbled up the crunchy baklava and assembled them into layered sundaes, which were frozen and will be served to-go this weekend.

“They’re big,” Cohlmia said. “They’re 12 ounces, so they’re enough for two people.”

1,500

One of the reasons the dinner tastes so good is that its architects don’t skimp on flavor-adding ingredients. One of the most eye-catching: The cooks use 1,500 pounds of rendered butter in their recipes. That’s enough butter to nearly disable a pickup truck, Cohlmia said.

“We put it on the back of a pickup, and it just about broke the pickup,” she said. “It was a 2,000-pound bed, and it definitely put a strain on it.”

A few other food quantities:

600 pounds of sugar

525 pounds of phyllo dough

600 pounds of nuts

4,009 pounds of ground sirloin

4,450 pounds of cabbage

2,305 pounds of green beans

1,224 pounds of tomatoes

800 pounds of rice

300 pounds of onions

If You Go

St. George 82nd annual Lebanese Dinner and Food Sale

What: A Lebanese food festival that offers meals, plus a country kitchen selling trays of Lebanese favorites and baked goods to go

When: 4-8 p.m. Saturday, noon-7 p.m. Sunday

Where: St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral, 7515 E. 13th St.

How much: Pre-set meals are $16, or $8 for ages 10 and under; available at the door.

Tickets: Ticketholders can dine in or get meals to go in the St. George parking lot. Cathedral tours also are available.

Information: www.stgeorgedinner.com or call 316-636-4676

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