The lesser-known vegetarian Arab

Kibbeh, essential element to the mezze table, is a versatile concoction of ground lamb and bulgur.  The Arabic word ‘kubbeh’ roughly means dumplings shaped like a ball, and that’s exactly

Published: 16th October 2011 10:16 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:49 PM   |  A+A-

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Kibbeh, essential element to the mezze table, is a versatile concoction of ground lamb and bulgur.  The Arabic word ‘kubbeh’ roughly means dumplings shaped like a ball, and that’s exactly what kibbeh are—simple yet flavourful meat-balls made of bulgur or rice, mixed with spices and minced meat (lamb or “gosht” is the preferred meat of the region).

Kibbeh, however, you must realise, is not a single dish, but a generic name given to the several variations that are popular throughout West Asia, the Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, and parts of Latin America. The most popular and famous of all kibbeh seems to be the Lebanese kibbeh, also called the Kibbeh Nablus. First a pronunciation lesson: it isn’t just an easy two-syllable word, there is a little hesitation between the two ‘b’s’, and the second syllable is pronounced with a short ‘e’. It should look like this: kib’beh.

Though preparing kibbeh requires you to master many a cooking skill, eating kibbeh needs nothing more than a desire to savour the tasty bites. It may be eaten as a side dish during lunch and dinner, or as a leisurely teatime snack. Traditionally, kibbeh is served with lemon wedges, lemon salad, or at times with sauces like Tahina, or an eggplant-yogurt dip. To eat kibbeh the traditional style, hold a lemon wedge in one hand and squeeze a bit of lemon onto each bite—you will enjoy a blast of flavours this way.

Making kibbeh might seem simple in principle; it is quite a tricky recipe that serves as a test of cooking skills for new Lebanese brides. Like hummus, everyone’s mom does it best. Except for the vegetarian versions of potato and pumpkin and the one made of fish, kibbeh is always made of lamb, bulgur (cracked wheat) and seasonings. Recipes can include pine nuts, onion, lamb chunks and yogurt. It can be baked, fried, boiled, stuffed or served raw. This is a truly versatile food!

This recipe is an answer to a vegetarian’s quest for the perfect kibbeh. The gorgeous potato does make a great recipe. The perfect accompaniments would be some hummus and pita bread.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups bulgur wheat (medium-fine)

2 tbsp salt

1 tbsp chopped fresh basil (or 1 tsp dried) (NOTE: mint or coriander or oregano can also be used)

1/8 tbsp cinnamon

1/8 tbsp freshly-ground black pepper

1 small onion, grated

4 medium–large sized potatoes , cooked tender, then peeled and mashed (NOTE: To peel the hot cooked potatoes, hold under running cold water and the skin will peel-off easily.)

2 large onions, thinly sliced

2/3 cup olive oil

Steps

1. Rinse bulgur in cold water, squeeze, sprinkle with salt and let stand for 20 minutes.

2. Work seasonings with grated onion and add the mashed potatoes, mixing well. Add the bulgur and knead into soft dough. Moisten hands in cold water while kneading to prevent sticking. ( If mixture doesn’t stick together, add 1/4 cup of flour-- but I didn’t have to add any.)

3. Place the sliced onions in the bottom of a nine inch square baking pan (spray the sides with oil). Cover with 1/3 cup of the oil.

4. Place the potato mixture evenly on top of the onions, smooth down, and cut into diamond shapes about 1/2 inch deep. Pour the remaining oil on top and bake at 400 º F until golden brown for about 50-60 minutes.

5. Let cool until you can handle it, and cut the diamond shapes all the way down.

Variation

Use above recipe omitting oil and sliced onions. Form the mixture into patties and fry on a well-oiled pan and bake.

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