This past summer, I sat down with Thérèse, who works as a cook for a few lucky families, and watched her make kibbé, Besharri-style. This is the town that she comes from and this is where she learned this method. Besharri is a village in the north of Lebanon, most famous because it happens to be the birthplace of Gibran Khalil Gibran, the poet and artist author of The Prophet, a book that was translated in more than twenty languages and sold millions of copies. Not far from Besharri is the village of Ehden. On August 29 of this year, this village won the Guinness Book of World Records for making the world’s largest kibbe. It took the combined efforts of 25 women to produce a 523 pounds kibbe!
Well. My ambition today is rather modest. I am going to make a 2 pound kibbe, to make around a dozen kibbe ‘raass (heads) Thérèse’s method is actually faster than carving the kibbe balls because a mold is used. The entire operation can be accomplished in less than one hour. It can be made ahead and frozen, uncooked. The day of your dinner, you can defrost them and fry them a couple hours before and reheat them in a very low oven or eat them at room temperature.
Now the stuffing that Thérèse uses is fat from the sheep’s tail, sumak powder and onions. This type of fat is actually scrumptious and is widely available at butcher shops in Lebanon. I was not able to get a hold of a sheep’s tail fat here in Dallas (or at least, not yet!) so, the usual stuffing of ground lamb, onion, pine nuts and spices will do just fine.
Making kibbe can be divided up into incremental projects, so as to reduce the amount of time involved. For instance, I had made the stuffing ahead and simply pulled it out of the freezer. The kibbe dough can be whirled in the food processor in a matter of minutes. The actual shells can be made using plastic wrap, a cookie scoop and a small bowl to used as a mold. This way, you will get somewhat larger kibbe shells and one should be sufficient per serving. Imagine, one pound of meat and one cup of burghul (plus the stuffing) and you can feed up to 10 or 12 people!!!
First Step: Can be done ahead and frozen.
- 1/2 pound of ground meat, preferably lamb with some fat in it.
- 1 large onion (about 8 ounces)
- 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts or walnuts
- spice mix consisting of salt, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, cumin, sumak, paprika and whatever else you fancy. My son likes to add bacon salt! About 1 teaspoon each.
- Brown the lamb in a skillet, breaking it up with the help of two wooden spoons. Remove from the skillet and set in a small bowl.
- Fry the chopped onion in the lamb fat until translucent and golden.
- Fry the pine nuts in the fat until golden in color.
- Place the meat back in the skillet, add the spices and mix well. Stir a few seconds and taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. It is best if it is not too bland, so don’t worry about including too many spices.
- If the mixture is thick and lumpy, break it up for a few seconds in the food processor until the meat is in very small pellets.
- Cool and either freeze or place in the refrigerator till ready to use.
Kibbe dough: Can be made a few hours ahead and refrigerated.
- 1 pound (1/2 kilo or 500g.) of kibbe meat, meaning extra lean piece of meat, whether it is beef, lamb, or goat. Ask the butcher to grind it 3 or 4 times, if possible.
- 1 onion, medium size, about 7 ounces
- 1 cup (150g.) of fine-grade bulgur, or burghul #1
- Spice mix consisting of salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, paprika, and whatever else you fancy, about 1 to 2 teaspoons each.
- Place the bulghur in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside.
- Cut the onion into chunks and pulse in the food processor until the onion is chopped very finely.
- Add the meat to the onion and process for a few minutes until the meat and onion are mixed very well and the mixture is somewhat pasty. This should take less than five minutes.
- Place the bulghur in a sieve and press all of the water and moisture out.
- Add the bulghur to the meat mixture and whirl in the processor, adding the spices through the feed tube.
Third step: Forming the balls- This step can be done ahead and the uncooked balls can be frozen.
Forming the kibbes:
- Take a small bowl, such as a 3 ounce custard pyrex bowl, and line it with a piece of plastic wrap. Grease the plastic by spraying it with oil or brushing a bit of oil all over it.
- With a scooper or by eyeballing it at first, place a portion of the kibbe dough in the bowl and start pressing it gently to make it line the entire surface of the bowl. You can dip your fingers in a small bowl of ice water to help with this operation.
- Take a spoonful of stuffing and place it in the bowl on top of the kibbe lining.
- Take a much smaller piece of kibbe dough, flatten it with your hands and use it to seal the kibbe ball, covering the entire surface and pressing gently all around the circumference to seal it well.
- Flip the bowl onto a cookie sheet lined with a large piece of foil.
- Repeat the operation until all the dough has been used up. You should get between 10 and 12 balls, depending on the bowl you pick.
- Place the balls on a cookie sheet and cover them with a plastic bag and refrigerate until ready to fry.
Final step: Frying the kibbes, or grilling them.
- Heat the oil to 375F. Fry the balls for 3 to 5 minutes until they are golden brown all over. Alternatively, you can grill them, making sure you flip them every couple of minutes because they will get charred. You can place them on a piece of aluminum foil on the grill to help prevent the grill marks, and preheat the grill at a very high temperature, around 450F.
- Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. The ideal accompaniment is either yoghurt salad or tarator sauce. Check my posts related to these two recipes. Enjoy! and Sahteyn!