For my next blog post, I decided to make a dish that is near and dear to my heart; one of my ultimate comfort foods – Kibbeh. My sisters and I grew up eating this dish. Rather ravenously, I might add. It’s part of our heritage. Putting it together was a collaborative effort for our parents. Mom always made the filling, Dad put it together – whether as little footalls for the fryer or in the baking dish for the oven. It was always a much appreciated treat.
Kibbeh (كبة) is a popular and much-loved dish throughout the Middle East. It is generally made with cracked wheat (burghul), spices, minced onion and ground meat, gnerally beef, lamb, or goat, or a combination.
It can be shaped into stuffed croquetes (basically little footballs) and deep fried for mezze or made into layers and baked for a main dish. Some folks also eat raw kibbeh. Like Arabic Steak Tartare, minus the quail’s egg and capers.
In Israel, Kubbeh matfuniya and kubbeh hamusta are staples of Iraqi-Jewish cooking. Kubbeh soup, served in many oriental grill restaurants in Israel, is described as a “rich broth with meat-stuffed dumplings and vegetables”.
A Syrian soup known as kibbeh kishk consists of stuffed kibbeh in a yogurt and butter broth with stewed cabbage leaves.
Fried, torpedo-shaped kibbehs have become popular in Haiti, Dominican Republic and South America – where they are known as quipe or quibbe - after they were introduced by Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian immigrants in the early 20th Century.
(some historical information from www.wikipedia.org)
Now, on to the recipe.
I make this with a combination of beef and lamb. You can use all of one or the other if you like. Goat is also very popular (in the Middle East, anyway) in Kibbeh as well.
As I stated in my Hummous post (3/19/12), I’m pretty much a traditionalist when it comes to my Middle Eastern food. The one thing I have in the traditional recipe I’ve changed is the amount of onion I use. Most recipes can call for up to 4 onions. I use 1 medium-sized one. Otherwise, it’s pretty authentic.
2 tbsp. clarified butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (use 90/10 ground)
1/2 c. pine nuts or slivered almonds
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. black pepper, or to taste
1/2 tsp. ground allspice, or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste
Raw Kibbeh (the top and bottom layers)
2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (use 90/10 ground beef)
2 cups cracked wheat (burghul)
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1/2 tsp. ground allspice, or to taste
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste
In this recipe, I call for clarified butter. I don’t use much, but it’s a necessary traditional flavor component.
A note on clarified butter: I always like to have it on hand. It has a much higher smoke point than regular butter (450F vs 350F) so it doesn’t burn as quickly. Plus, it’s delicious. There are some chefs who deep-fry in clarified butter. You can buy it off the shelf in Indian and Middle Eastern Groceries (Ghee and Samneh, respectively). When buying, make sure the container indicates that the clarified butter was made with milk. If it says “vegetable” anywhere on the container, it’s essentially margarine.
However, clarified butter is very easy to make at home. It keeps for several months and tastes a whole lot better.
Here’s a lovely essay on clairfied butter from the New York Times (5/6/08): http://tinyurl.com/bobsuje
Basically, clarified butter is butter where the milk solids have been removed. It can be made with either salted or unsalted butter. (I prefer to use unsalted. I can control the amount of salt in my recipes.) It’s always best to use European style butter. It has a lower water content and a higher butterfat content. Not only will it taste better, you’ll end up with a higher yield.
To make clarified butter, slowly melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. (I usually do 2 pounds at a time. I recommend doing at least 1 pound.)
Once the butter has melted, take it off the heat and, with a large spoon, carefully begin skimming the milk fat off the surface.
I generally discard the milk solids, but some people do use them for other things. Like spreading on toast or pancakes. It’s certainly up to you.
Carefully pour the butter into a storage container or into a measuring cup. Leave any residual milk solids and water in the saucepan.
What’s left in the saucepan is mostly water and any residual milk solids. Go ahead and discard.
Now, time for the Kibbeh.
1. Make the Kibbeh Filling: In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil. Add the onion and saute until it begins to soften, about 3 – 5 minutes. Add the meat (in this illustration I used lamb) and cook until it is no longer pink. Add the pine nuts or almonds and cook another 2 – 3 minutes. Add the spices and mix thoroughly. Cook another 3 – 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the filling to begin cooling. (There may be some extra fat in the skillet. If there is, go ahead and drain it off.)
2. Make the Raw Kibbeh: Put the bulghur in a fine-meshed strainer and rinse it off under cold running water. Do this until the water runs clear. Let it drain.
Put the bulghur in a medium bowl and cover with water. Let the bulghur soak until it begins to soften; about 20 – 30 minutes. Drain in a fine sieve, pressing out as much of the water as possible, and set aside.
3. Take the meat and put into a large bowl. (In this illustration, I used beef for the Raw Kibbeh.). Add the bulghur.
Now, time to use your hands. Dig in and mix the ingredients together. You want them to be thoroughly mixed. Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon, and allspice. Mix until the spices are well incorporated.
Now, you need to taste for seasoning. For me, the best way to taste for seasoning is to take a small amount of the mixture and give it a quick fry on the stove. That way, I’ll get a better idea of how the finished dish will taste once it’s been completely cooked. Plus, I won’t be eating raw ground beef.
Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add a little of the clarified butter. Take a small amount of the mixture and form it into a roughly quarter-sized patty. Once the butter is hot, add the patty to the skillet and cook. It should take about 2 – 3 minutes. Take the patty out of the skillet, allow it to cool for a minute, then taste.
Adjust the seasonings as needed.
Or, you could be like my mom or my Arab aunties and just know by smell when the seasoning is right. I’ve not ever been able to master that skill.
4. Once you’re happy with the raw kibbeh, prepare a baking dish. (In this illustration, I used a 12″ x 18″ dish, and it was a little large. Use something closer to an 11″ x 15″.) Give it a quick spritz with non-stick spray or grease it with butter or olive oil.
Take half of the raw kibbeh and spread it over the bottom as evenly as you can. It’ll take some doing, but you’ll get there. If you wet or grease your hands, it’ll help make the process a little easier.
Begin preheating the oven to 375F.
5. Take the Kibbeh filling and spread it evenly over the bottom layer of the Raw Kibbeh.
6. Time to put the top layer on. Because of the filling, you won’t be able to spread the top layer the same way as the bottom. So, a different method is needed.
Take small amounts of the raw Kibbeh and flatten them out into thin pieces and lay each piece on top of the Kibbeh filling.
Be sure to fill in any little gaps as needed. I know that it will seem like you’ll not have enough for the top layer; but, if you persevere, you will.
7. Once you have finished completing the top layer, cut through the layers in diamond or square shapes approximately 2 inches each. This will help with even baking and make cutting the finished Kibbeh easier.
If you like, take some extra pine nuts or almonds and press one into the center of each diamond or square. Drizzle a little clarified butter or olive oil over the top.
8. Put the Kibbeh in the oven and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until it is well-browned. If you like, turn on the broiler for about 3 – 5 minutes after the initial cooking time to make the Kibbeh golden brown.
Let the Kibbeh sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
9. It’s a good idea to serve this dish with a bit of yogurt on the side. It will help cut the richness of the dish.
However, I prefer to make a quick salad with the yogurt. I’ve based this on a recipe very similar that Mom always made.
1 cucumber (If you can go with Hothouse [English] or Persian. If you use standard cucumbers, peel and remove the seeds)
1/4 c. fresh mint, chopped
3/4 c. plain yogurt (I like to use full fat Greek yogurt)
Salt & black pepper to taste
Cut the cucumber into whatever size pieces you like. Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Adjust the seasonings if you like.
p.s. If you like this, I’m teaching even more classic Eastern Mediterranean dishes on Sunday, September 16, at Central Market, 4001 N. Lamar Boulevard.