This is the Lenten dish par excellence; however, it is now enjoyed year-round and all one needs to do is place an order with a favored caterer to get some. However, a homemade version is always superior.
I made this fish kibbeh with some tilapia, but any (preferably white) fish can be used. The kibbeh balls are stuffed with caramelized onion rings and pine nuts flavored with saffron. The best sauce for this? A freshly made tarator, of course!
INGREDIENTS: 45 kibbeh balls
- 1 pound and 3 ounces of tilapia fillets, bones and skin removed and discarded
- 1 large onion (about 6 ounces)
- 1 cup of cilantro leaves (.7 ounces)
- 1 cup of fine bulgur
- 2 large eggs (optional)
- 2 pinches of saffron (or turmeric)
- 1 generous pinch of cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- Rind of an orange and grated rind of a lime
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/3 cup of whole-wheat flour (or other flour)
For the stuffing:
- 3 large onions (24 ounces)
- 1/3 cup of pine nuts (can use another nut)
- Olive oil, as needed
- Salt and a pinch of sugar, to taste
- A pinch of saffron (or turmeric)
For the tarator sauce:
- 1 cup of tahini
- 1 cup (or less) of water
- 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice
- 4 cloves of garlic, chopped and mashed in a mortar with some salt till pasty
- Cut the tilapia into chunks. Place the bulgur in a bowl and cover with tap water (let the water cover the bulgur completely).
- Chop the cilantro leaves, grate the rind of the orange and lime. Cut the onion into chunks. Place the onion in chunks in the bowl of a food processor and chop the onion finely. Add the fish in chunks and process until the mixture is pasty. Add the cilantro, orange and lime rind, coriander, salt, white pepper, cinnamon and saffron and process.
- Drain the bulgur, pressing on it to remove any residual water and add to the fish mixture along with the flour. Process until pasty and firm. The dough will feel firm and compact but moist. Transfer to a bowl and into the fridge for 30 minutes or longer (covered).
MAKING THE STUFFING:
- Cut the onions into slices. Heat some olive oil in a skillet and fry the onion slices until soft and caramelized; while the slices are cooking, add the saffron, salt and a pinch of sugar.
- Fry the pine nuts in a bit of butter and when the pine nuts are honey-colored, transfer to the skillet with the onions.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside.
MAKING THE KIBBEH:
- Remove the dough from the fridge and set a large piece of foil on the work surface; using a cookie dough scooper, make balls of kibbeh dough of identical size and line them up on the foil. Set a small bowl of water with ice cubes next to your hands. The ice water will be used to dip your fingers into in order to shape the kibbeh more easily.
- Place a ball of kibbeh dough on the palm of your hand; using the index finger of the other hander, dig up a hole in the ball and twist your hand repeatedly until the hole gets bigger. Insert 2 teaspoons of stuffing in the hollow kibbeh ball and pinch it close. Using your fingertips, draw out pointed ends. Set aside and proceed with the other ball until all are used up. Place in the fridge.
- Heat a quart of cooking oil in a large pot or a deep-fryer; wait until the oil gets to 375F and drop the kibbeh balls gently, not crowding the pot. (about 7 per batch). Fry the kibbeh for 5 minutes or until golden-brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper-towel lined plate. Serve with tarator sauce, either warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: Another option for a stuffing could be fried pine nuts with a white cheese like a mozzarella, cut into tiny cubes.
For a recipe for tarator (tahini) sauce, click here.