If you’ve ever had a mediterranean platter, you’ve likely had kibbeh.
Kibbeh, pronounced KI (as in KITH) -BEH, is most often (in the US) deep-fried, torpedo-shaped, and filled with some kind of ground meat. In this post, I’ll be showing you how to make stuffed kibbeh, the Syrian way.
And, what makes it Syrian exactly?
Time for a brief history lesson…if it’s TL;DR you can scroll down to the recipe.
Historically, many countries located east of the mediterranean sea fall into an area called ‘The Levant’. The Levant is generally said to include Cyprus, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey. As conflicts and wars happened over the years, borders changed, families were divided, and cities split up, which in turn has caused these countries regardless of their independence from each other today to share many customs and most importantly similar cuisines.
To try and put it even more simply, Syria and Lebanon were once one, they come from the same people. The people are all deeply rooted in similar histories, which is why some of their favorite foods and cultures are hard to distinguish.
Kibbeh is one much loved by them all, with many variations including but not limited to raw kibbeh, stuffed kibbeh, baked kibbeh, and more. Some call it the ‘meatloaf’ of the Middle East, some call it a croquette, I just call it kibbeh.
The kibbeh I’ve had at many a mediterranean restaurant was usually bland and desperately wanted a generous dip of hummus or tabbouleh. That is not the case here.
So, what makes this recipe Syrian?
Lamb, freshly ground lamb, and lamb only. You can substitute beef or ground turkey, but the flavor will be substantially different.
Second key to this recipe is a middle-eastern spice blend. Baharat, a Syrian seven spice blend is ideal. I was able to find two variations at Kalustyans in Manhattan. I’m still not quite sure if they’re one in the same or totally different. If you can’t find them it’s pretty easy to mix some up yourself using a combination of all spice, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, clove, and cumin. There are many variations of the blend, so season to your liking.
To start, you’re going to need finely ground bulgur wheat. When I say finely ground I mean ambiguously marked in the grocery store so that you’re really not sure what you’re buying and will have to ask someone, unless it’s labeled, you’re one of the lucky ones.
If you have a mediterranean or international market near you, I strongly recommend you try there. The market I went to had bulgur wheat pre-packed in 1 pound bags labeled #1 or #2 for how fine it was ground, #1 being the finer variety. I’ve heard of people using either or, the only difference will be the texture at the end. I bought some of both, for good measure.
Here’s a pic of regular bulgur and the finely ground variety.
And here’s everything else you’ll need:
Ingredients: serves 15-20
For the kibbeh
1 ½ cups fine bulgur wheat (#1, see above)
1 lb ground lamb
1 medium yellow onion
1 ½ teaspoon baharat seasoning
~6 cups canola or vegetable oil for frying
For the filling
1 lb ground lamb
½ cup pine nuts
1 ½ teaspoon baharat seasoning
6 sprigs parsley
salt to taste
Step One: Over a medium bowl lay some cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel. Place the bulgur in the cheesecloth or towel and cover it with cold water. Let it soak for 15-30 minutes. The bulgur wheat should soak up some of the water, but should not become mushy.
Step Two: While you’re waiting on the bulgur wheat, take 1lb of the ground lamb and pop it in a food processor. Pulse until it becomes a paste. Remove it from the food processor and set it aside in a large bowl.
Step Three: Cut the onion into wedges and add to the food processor. Pulse until finely minced. Add it to the bowl with the lamb.
Step Four: Drain and squeeze the excess liquid from the bulgur wheat, then add it to the bowl with the lamb and onion.
Step Five: With your hands, mix together the bulgur wheat, lamb paste, onion, and bharat seasoning until combined. The mixture should be thick enough to roll into balls. If it feels too thick you can add a teaspoon of cold water and mix.
This mixture is raw kibbeh
With this mixture, stuffed kibbeh, baked kibbeh, and more are made. If your lamb is super fresh you can eat this raw, it’s similar to beef tartare and goes great with raw white onions.
Step Six: Once the mixture feels like a good consistency, roll it into balls, about the size of golf balls or larger, then set them on a cookie sheet and place them in the fridge while you make the filling.
Step Seven: In a dry frying pan on medium-high heat, toast the pine nuts until golden brown, set aside to cool.
Step Eight: In the same pan, add a Tablespoon of cooking oil (any kind will do) and brown the other pound of ground lamb. While it’s browning, chop the parsley.
Step Nine: Once the lamb is brown, mix in the toasted pine nuts, parsley, and 1 teaspoon bharat seasoning. Salt it to taste and let it cool.
Step Ten: Remove the kibbeh balls from the fridge. You’ll be using your hands for this, it may help if they’re slightly wet (to keep the kibbeh from sticking). While holding a ball in one hand, use the thumb of your other hand to press a hole into the center of it. Now, work your way around the edges of the hole, rotating the ball as you go, to form a cup or bowl for the stuffing. The thinner you can get it the better, but it does take practice and also depends on the consistency of your kibbeh.
Step Eleven: Once you feel good about your creation, add a heaping Tablespoon of the lamb filling and seal the edges trying not to seal in too much air, and trying not to let any filling escape. You should then be able to hold the kibbeh between your two palms while rocking them back and forth to form that signature torpedo shape. It should fit perfectly between your two cupped hands. You can make whatever shapes you want, have fun with it. The best Syrian food is made with time and love.
Step Twelve: Repeat for the remaining balls, then in a large pot or dutch oven, heat 2-3 inches of canola or vegetable oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the oil is hot (you can test it with a wooden chopstick or spoon, look for bubbles!), drop in the kibbeh a few at a time and fry until golden brown, flipping them once to get both sides.
Step Thirteen: Place the finished kibbeh on a cookie rack to cool and drain off any excess grease. Serve with labneh, cucumbers, and mint as a snack, appetizer, or main.