Kibbeh is the Lebanese dish par excellence. A mixture of bulgur, lamb or beef and onions, kibbeh taste might differ slightly in terms of the spices used. My mother loved marjoram in it, and I wouldn’t like to miss this distinctive flavour ever. What makes Kibbeh so very versatile is that you can serve it as Kibbeh nayye (Tartar), as Kibbeh ‘rass (fried stuffed shells or patties), kibbeh bi labaniyyeh (kibbeh shells cooked and served in cooked yoghurt) or as Kibbeh bi siniyyeh (baked in the oven). You can also play with your filling by omitting meat altogether, and adding more onions, walnuts and pomegranate seeds.
An excellent dish for all seasons and purposes, this version of kibbeh can be prepared in advance and frozen. My mother would prepare it for lunches or dinners, and would also serve it as part of an opulent festive meal. She richly spread her table with a variety of food she prepared all by herself, combining Lebanese and international cuisines. I really do miss those days in our spacious kitchen with its large, round table in the middle, where my mother used to gather a few aunts to help her cooking and keep her company. I can still hear their chats and laughter, and smell the coffee that poured in large amounts. Those sweet gatherings would last for a few days until the big day would come. Our big dining table would be then decorated lavishly, and spread with beautifully decorated platters. You would spot kibbeh and fatteh on one end, lasagne and lamb gigot on the other end, and in the middle colourful meza dishes, meat pies and spinach triangles. Whatever the festive spread is like, Kibbeh will stay my favourite, my first pick for my palate before I try anything else. I love my piece of kibbeh served with a little bit of hummus bi tahini, a little bit of baba ghannouj, a dollop of plain yoghurt and a big portion of fattoush. Try this combination and relish a blend of bright and delightful flavours.
Making kibbeh for the first time could be a daunting task, especially if the recipe calls for a large amount of meat and burgul. To cut down on the time needed to prepare the meat and burgul paste, I designed the recipe to make a large pan of kibbeh , right amount for beginners to take the leap into preparing this quintessential Lebanese dish. Once you get confident, you could easily double the recipe to make an extra pan to store in your freezer, or to make a different kibbeh dish.
I am including a step-by-step visual to demystify the process especially for those of you who have never seen it before.
- First prepare the filling: Sauté onions in oil, add minced beef or lamb, salt, cinnamon, black pepper, allspice, and cook until done. Sprinkle dried marjoram, and mix in pomegranate molasses and roasted pine nuts.
- Prepare ingredients of kibbeh that will go into the mixture : Fine bulgur, onion, salt, cinnamon, black pepper, allspice, dried marjoram and green mint. Rinse and soak bulgur in cold water for about 10 minutes while preparing the meat for kibbeh.
- I prefer preparing kibbeh from scratch cutting and puréeing the meat in a food processor. I usually use lean sirloin beef. Try to get one with little fibres. Clean the meat from any extra fat, and cut in cubes. Drain bulgur well in a strainer. Have on the side a small bowl with icy or very cold water. You will need it later.
- Start with puréeing the meat in portions and remove to a large mixing bowl. Purée the onion and add to the meat. Finally process the bulgur in 2 or 3 portions by adding 1 tablespoon cold water each time. Add to the meat and onions. Sprinkle all the spices and herbs over the meat and mix well with your hand, adding very little water until you get a smooth blend.
- Grease the bottom and sides of a large baking pan with one tablespoon olive oil. Divide kibbeh into 2 equal portions. Evenly spread one half in the greased pan by flattening small portions with your oiled hands. Thickness about 0.5 cm.
- Evenly spread the filling over the first layer, pressing slightly with your hands. Wash your hands before covering with second layer. Take small portions, flatten them in both hands and cover the filling. Press and smooth the surface with your wet hands (use cold water).
- Make your crisscross pattern (only on top layer; don’t cut through!) using a thin-pointed knife. Pinch a hole in the middle, and pour in olive oil. Bake at 200°C / 400°F for 1 hour.
- If your kibbeh is meant for the freezer, don’t add the oil. Don’t defrost kibbeh before baking, just remove from freezer and let rest for one hour at room temperature. It could be less depending on your climate.
- If you use a smaller pan, you might end up with some leftover filling and kibbeh:
- The easiest and fastest way is to enjoy the cold filling before washing up, and finally make small Kibbeh patties and deep fry them.
- I like my kibbeh to be crispy on the edges, so I bake it for an hour. You can bake it for 45 minutes as well. To separate the pieces start by carefully separating the edges from the pan using a knife.
Kibbeh bil saniyeh – Baked Kibbeh
- For the stuffing
- 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 30 g pine nuts
- 2 medium onions 250 g, peeled and finely chopped
- 250 g minced beef or lamb
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate syrup
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- For the kibbeh
- 500 g lean meat from a leg of lamb or sirloin beef
- 250 g fine bulgur rinsed, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, drained
- 1 medium onions 100g, peeled and quartered
- 2 ¼ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- 1 ½ tablespoons dried marjoram
- 1 teaspoon dried green mint
- 1 tablespoons extra-virgin oil to work the kibbeh
- 150 ml extra-virgin oil to bake
- For the stuffing: Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and cook the pine nuts, stirring all the time, for about 3 minutes or until golden in colour. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a plate.
- Sauté the onions in the same frying pan for a few minutes until translucent. Add the meat and the spices and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes or until the meat is done, stirring constantly. Crush the marjoram between the palms of your hands over the meat and mix in the pomegranate syrup. Adjust taste if required and fold in the pine nuts. Set aside for later use.
- For the kibbeh: Soak the bulgur in cold water for 10 minutes. In the meantime cut meat into small cubes (2 cm). Purée the meat in a food processor and transfer it to a large bowl. Next purée the onions to a paste and add to the meat in the bowl. Set aside. Drain the water from the bulgur, transfer to the food processor and process for 2 minutes. Add to the meat and sprinkle with the salt, cinnamon, black pepper, allspice dried marjoram and mint . Mix well with your hands, adding 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water or as needed until it blends well to a smooth kibbeh.
- Grease a large baking pan (32-cm) with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Divide kibbeh mixture into 2 halves. Evenly spread one half in the greased pan by flattening small portions of the mixture with your oiled hands, to make a layer of about ½ cm thickness.
- Evenly spread the reserved stuffing over the first layer, pressing it slightly with your hand. Cover with the remaining kibbeh, by taking small portions at a time and flattening them with your slightly oiled hands. Press and smooth the surface with your hand. You might need to moist your hand with some cold water as well.
- With a thin-pointed knife cut the second layer in quarters or in 8 portions. Make a criss-cross pattern on the surface of each portion. Pierce the pattern with the tip of a sharp knife to allow oil to seep down. Pinch a hole with your index finger in the middle and pour in the olive oil.
- Preheat oven (200°C, 400°F). Bake on second lower rack for about 1 hour or until nicely brown. Arrange pieces of kibbeh on a platter and serve hot with saltet laban wa khyar and a mixed salad of your choice.