Kibbeh for the soul

by Sarah on October 13, 2012

fried kibbeh

Kibbeh is not last minute. It is not quick pasta or a hurriedly prepared sandwich on a night when nobody feels like cooking. No. Kibbeh is meditation. It is made with the most expensive ingredients- time and expertise. I am just a doodler in the world of kibbeh. I do not have the years of apprenticeship from dexterous grandmoms who spin out perfectly shaped pods, one after another without a glance. But I try.

kibbeh, Middle eastern stuffed bulgur patties
I pour the bulgur in a bowl, then the semolina in a golden stream. I cover with water and walk away. When I return the liquid has disappeared. The grains are plump. I add more water and a few tablespoons of flour, testing the consistency between my fingertips. This won’t work. I’ve unintentionally used coarse bulgur and the mixture crumbles and cracks. So I increase the flour, hoping the gluten will bind it together, then another glug of water. Better, but not as I had hoped.
Sometimes I wish I can call upon the ghosts of kibbeh makers past. We’d sit around the kitchen table together, the sun pouring through the windows. I’d be reprimanded “Who taught you to make kibbeh like that?” “You’re supposed to use fine bulgur, of course it won’t work” They’d show me how to do it, clucking their tongues at my slow progress. I’d get up to make mint tea and then continue.
For me kibbeh making is a solitary, time consuming affair. Between work and home, it’s been months since my last attempt and the boys are quick to remind me “You never make kibbeh anymore!”
Although the dough for the shell is stiff, I manage to fill and shape about 40 pods by late morning. Nobody is interested in waiting until lunch so the family gathers for an impromptu breakfast. The table is scattered with extra pomegranate seeds, lemon slices and sloppily laid out plates. Oily fingertips, burnt tongues and laughter. We share the morning until the last batch of kibbeh disappears.

pomegranate seed

Fried Kibbeh


In Israel many Jewish kibbeh recipes call for matzo meal which I usually do not have. Perhaps it was a way to use it up after the Passover holidays. In any case, I used bulgur, semolina and flour for the shells but it wasn’t the easiest mixture to work with (partly because I used coarse bulgur as I mentioned above).
For more about kibbeh food history read my previous post.

For the shell
2 cups fine bulgur
1 cup semolina
The filling
400 grams  (14 ounces) ground lamb or beef
1 onion, finely chopped
½ cup toasted almond slivers (pine nuts are traditionally used but they are twice as expensive)
1 flat teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon baharat
4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds, optional (I prefer to add them after cooking since they are less likely to explode in the oil by mistake)
Lemon slices for serving
Olive oil, lamb fat or clarified butter for frying the meat

Vegetable oil for deep frying

For the shell
I would recommend using Joumana’s recipe for the shell which is simply two parts fine bulgur to one part semolina with salt to taste. I have a friend who uses approximately this ratio for her kibbeh as well. She adds 3 ½ cups water to the mixture and lets it sit for 15 minutes and then puts the dough in the food processor to knead. It’s possible to knead by hand but it will take longer.

filling with pomegranate

Fry the onion in olive oil until golden. Add the ground beef or lamb and brown evenly, breaking up the meat with a fork. Pour ½ cup of water into the meat mixture and cook uncovered for about 20 minutes or until all the water has evaporated. Add the almonds, spices, salt, pepper and parsley and cook for another minute. Cool completely.
Divide the dough into walnut sized pieces. Using your thumb and forefinger like a spindle, mold a hole into the dough to accommodate the filling, flattening the sides. The sides should be thin, about 1-2 mm thick (up to 0.07 inches), since it will expand while cooking. Add about 1 tablespoon of filling into the molded shell. Close the top over and shape it between the palms of your hands into ovals with pointed ends (torpedo shape). If the kibbeh break, patch the cracks with extra dough. Wet hands often to keep the dough from sticking. Use about the same volume of meat to dough to make the kibbeh.
Deep fry until golden and transfer to a paper towel lined plate to absorb the extra oil. Serve immediately. How to eat: Take a bite off the top of the kibbeh and squeeze lemon juice into it for extra flavor. Add a couple of pomegranate seeds for good measure. Don’t eat with a knife and fork, that’s not the way.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Yael October 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Respect for all the time and effort. I’m sure it is extremely tasty. Great photos too. Have a wonderful week.


Zack October 13, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Hi Sarah:
My mom’s version of the shell is 2 parts fine burgul (bulgur) and 1 part of finely ground wheat, or wheat germ, salt and a pinch of ground cumin.
The filling is ground meat, onion, slivered almond, parsly (optional), raisin, salt and mixed spices, and a pinch of ground cardamom seeds.
You can shape it the way you want, but we used to like the round shape (UFO).
To have a more tender kibbi, cook them first in briskly boiling brine, one by one and leave them to cook untill they float. Drain well and fry. Bon appetite.
p.s., My wife thinks making kibbi is time consuming and a bit messy, this is why I make them, but she enjoys eating them.
As for the previous post, the (jujube) is actually (nebug), Zizyphus spina-christi(L) botanicaly speaking and not Zizyphus jujuba(L), and I think the date palm is of the (Braim) variety.


Sarah October 14, 2012 at 4:11 am

Thanks for the recipe Zack. You’re right about the Zizyphus, it’s most likey Ziziphus spina-christi. There are two other varieties in Israel, one that grows mainly in the north (Z. lotus) and the other in the south (Z.nummularia)


Denise October 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Sarah, this looks so amazing. Love all of the flavors in this dish …. lamb, baharat,
pomegranate. I am dying to make this. Thanks for some new inspiration!


Eha October 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm

You state kibbeh is not last minute, that it is for the soul! To me that ‘journey’ to make them your way is one of love and respect: for the food and the people who will enjoy partaking . . . Well it will be ‘kibbeh 101′ for me, but shall try! Thanks@

Reply October 27, 2012 at 6:54 am

What gorgeous pictures, would love for you to come and share them with us over at Thanks.


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