This weekend I made fried kubba while the boys were fencing in the yard, chasing each other with broom sticks, doing a geology project, reading books, watering the plants, watering themselves….
“Mom! Are you finished yet?”
Kubbah takes a long, long time to make.
( kibbe or kubbeh)
Iraqi cuisine has a long history, first documented during the Abbasid dynasty of the 750- 1258. Before the Muslimized Arabs burst out of the Arabian Peninsula they ate a meager sustenance diet of dates, camels milk and grains; the foods of nomads. The Arabs were introduced to the highly developed Persian cuisine and made it their own. Baghdad became the seat of the Abbasid dynasty and the cultural center of the Arabs at that time.
One of the hallmarks of Iraqi cuisine is the endless variation of kubba (In Arabic, kubba means to form into a ball), or dumplings. These dumplings may be related to medieval Arab recipes, which consisted of meat and burghul dishes, the stuffing came later, probably of Turkish influence.
The Shell of the kubba is often made with burghul. Burghul is wheat that has been parboiled and only after, the husk removed, wheat kernels cracked and then dried for longtime storage. The nutrients in the husk are extracted by this method increasing the nutritional value of the wheat. Burghul needs only to be soaked before eating making it the first convenience food. Burghul also has a low glycemic index, making it a healthy food for those suffering from high blood sugar.
This is the one of the most prestigious kubba of the Levantine cuisine and versions can be seen from Egypt to Syria. Although the Iraqis are more famous for their stewed kubba dumplings, they also have a fried version using rice for the shell. This kubba recipe is also known as kibbeh Nabalusia or kibbeh from Nablus and is based on Paula Wolfert’s recipe from her book The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean
1 cup fine grain bulgur about (about 190 grams)
250 grams fresh lean lamb or beef (about one heaping cup)
½ onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cumin
Pinch of nutmeg
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water
2 teaspoons flour if necessary or a few teaspoons egg helps bind the shell if necessary, especially if the less sticky beef is used
300 ground lamb,
½ cup pine nuts-and/or pistachios, toasted
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
¼ teaspoon baharat
6 tablespoons yogurt drained (optional)
Pomegranate seeds, optional
Olive oil, lamb fat or clarified butter for frying
For the Shell
Soak burgul in water for about half an hour. Drain excess water by squeezing it out with your hands. Puree the onions, meat and spices in a food processor until completely smooth. Add the burghul and process until well mixed. Remove and knead until smooth, add a few tablespoons of flour or egg, if necessary to achieve a pliable dough that holds its shape and does not crack. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator. The dough should be cold, smooth and a bit sticky.
Fry the onion in olive oil until golden. Add the lamb and brown breaking up the meat. Add about ½ cups of water and cook, uncovered for about 20 minutes or until all the water has evaporated. Add the nuts, spices, salt, pepper and parsley and cook for another minute. Cool completely.
Take about a walnut size piece of dough and using your thumb, make a hole to put filling in. Make thin sides, about 1 mm thick, otherwise it will be too thick since it expands while cooking. Wet hands often to keep the dough from sticking. About the same volume of meat to dough should be used to make the kubba with sides neither too thin or too thick.
Variations and tips:
The shell of the kubba can be made with only flour and burghul which is the traditional Syrian way of doing it. Sometimes tomato paste is added to this dough, perhaps to imitate the red color of meat.
The shell is made using 2 cups fine burghul mixed with 1 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon salt and spices. The burghul is covered with water and soaked for 1/2 hour, drained and excess water squeezed with your hands. The flour and spices are added and kneaded to a soft pliable dough.
Instead of using only fine burghul, I add coarse burghul, mixing it in a ratio of 1:3, for every cup coarse burghul, two cups fine burghul. This creates dough which is harder to work with but the shell turns out crunchier.
Although yogurt is sometimes used to keep the filing moist, it is possible to use sufficiently fatty meat.
I have to say that Paula Wolfert’s instructions for making kubba are the best I have read. One interesting tip is to add cornflour in the water used for smoothing the dough. This creates a thin sheath around the kubba which makes it crunchier when fried. Another tip I learned is that lamb has more elastic properties than beef. Lean meat needs to be used in the shell because during frying the fat in the meat melts leaving small holes in it.
During Passover or for those intolerant to wheat, it is possible to replace the burghul with the same quantity of ground rice. The ground rice does not need to be soaked.
Filled Kubba can be stored in the freezer and fried without defrosting. The kubba are placed on a tray and when they are frozen to the touch, placed in an airtight container or plastic bag.
The kubba shell can also be made with ground rice, potatoes, semolina and meat such as ground beef, lamb or chicken. Although not traditional, some Jews sometimes add matzo meal to the dough.
Baharat spice mix can replace the spices in the recipe.