Sure, anyone can make kubba but only the experts, those who have trained for months or years, elevate it to an art form. The culinary tradition of these Middle Eastern dumplings should be taught in university as part of the basic curriculum. “Introduction to rolling Kubba and the family connection”. It is anthropology through food, merging culture, history, family and craftsmanship. Instead of esoteric knowledge a student would bring home something tangible that would be useful for life. Perhaps introducing this in university is too late. A cross cultural home economics class could be instated in elementary school.
The world of kubba is vast and intricate with numerous varieties made throughout the Levant, Middle East, Turkey and anywhere large populations from these areas have settled. While most kubba consists of two parts- a shell, usually made from grains and a filling, there are exceptions to this rule. Raw kubba (Kibbe nayyeh) is more like a paté than a dumpling and baked kubba is made by layering not stuffing. There are kubba redolent with butter and allspice and others filled with spiced meat and submerged in fragrant tomato sauce. Kubba can be deep fried and eaten with a squeeze of lemon or made with completely raw ingredients. There are Frisbee sized kubba and wee baby kubba, kubba made with semolina and kubba stuffed with pine nuts and pomegranate seeds. It is hard to imagine that these come from the same culinary family.
For the uninitiated potato kubba is a good place to start. It is similar to a shepherd’s pie but with the heady scent of spices and served in individual portions. They are are baked or fried until golden and served with sprigs of flat leafed parsley and torshi, Iraqi pickled vegetables. By replacing the filling with mushrooms or lentils this recipe can be vegan too.
This recipe was adopted from the Astidach cookbook by Shoshie Oron and Loran Ravid (in Hebrew). Astidach is what is said after a meal by Iraqis and roughly translates to life.
700 grams (about 25 ounces) ground meat such as lamb or beef
2 large onions, finely chopped
½ cup chopped parsley leaves
½ cup golden raisins, soaked in water for 15 minutes and then drained
½ teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6-7 potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
Place the potatoes in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and continue simmering until the potatoes are soft when poked with a fork. Drain. Add salt and mash the potatoes using a hand masher. Don’t put them in a food processor or they will turn gummy and be good for nothing. Also, a food mill is overkill for this recipe. Set aside to cool
Meanwhile fry the onions in a few tablespoons of olive oil until beginning to brown. Add the ground meat and fry until it changes color, breaking clumps with a fork. Add ½ cup of water and continue to cook until the water evaporates and the meat turns deep brown, mixing periodically so it doesn’t stick to the pan. Add the spices, raisins and parsley leaves and combine. Remove from the heat and cool.
Constructing the kubba
Preheat the oven to 200⁰C. Take a golf ball sized piece of mash potato and gently squash it between two hands to form a circle, about 1 cm thick. If the potatoes tend to stick try coating hands with vegetable oil. Place 1-2 tablespoons of the filling and cover with more mashed potatoes. I don’t mold the potatoes as I would for semolina or bulgur kubba since the potatoes tend to fall apart. It may be easier to form the two sides of the kubba in advance and then combine them. Place on a parchment lined baking tray. When all the kubba are formed, about fifteen, brush both sides with olive oil. Place in the oven until golden brown. Flip the kubba and brown opposite side. A few of my kubba cracked. If this happens patch it up with extra mash potatoes.
Variations and notes: In the cookbooks that I have the potato kubba are usually fried in vegetable oil. I once did a comparison between fried and baked and preferred the baked version. I have seen recipes using egg yolks and potato flour in the shell and others that dip the kubba in egg and matzah meal before frying. The addition of starch might help make the mashed potato more malleable. For the filling baharat spice (Middle Eastern spice), cinnamon, allspice, noomi basra (Persian dried lemons), almond slivers, lamb fat and celery leaves can also be used.
Some of the flavor ideas come from Nawal Nasrallah’s Delights from the Garden of Eden. It is the most comprehensive and interesting Iraqi cookbooks available.
Other kubba (or kibbeh, kibbe, kubbah) recipes on the web:
Check the recipe section of this blog. Tony Tahhan’s blog also features a variety of interesting recipes such as this baked pumpkin kibbeh. Baroness Tapuzina has a spicier version of potato kibbeh that she served for Hannukah. Joumana of Taste of Beirut is also a big fan of kibbeh and includes a very different potato kibbeh.