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.
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.
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
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.
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.