Fish kibbeh in a tahini dressing (Kibbet samak bel-tarator)

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


  1. Cut the tilapia into chunks. Place the bulgur in a bowl and cover with tap water (let the water cover the bulgur completely).
  2. 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.
  3. 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).


  1. 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.
  2. Fry the pine nuts in a bit of butter and when the pine nuts are honey-colored, transfer to the skillet with the onions.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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  1. Posted April 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    These fish kibbeh look like pockets of pure delight! I love the combination of fish and saffron!

  2. Posted April 10, 2011 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Oh this is so delightful that you leave me speechless…you dont know how much I would love to sink my teeth into a few of these, right now!

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  3. Posted April 10, 2011 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Those pinenut filled fish balls look heavenly! Love tahini too..

  4. Posted April 10, 2011 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    These are one of my favourite things to eat, although I haven’t tried them with fish as yet. You make it look so enticing

  5. Posted April 10, 2011 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    They look fabulous! I could stuff myself with such awesome kibbeh. So addictive.



  6. Posted April 10, 2011 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    Dommage que tu habites aussi loin, je me serai invitée chez toi pour ces kebbés.
    Je n’en ai jamais goûté au poisson.
    A très bientôt.

  7. Posted April 10, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Lovely shots and a wonderful recipe!! Cant get enough from kibbeh!!

  8. Posted April 10, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Wow I have definitely never seen kibbeh made out of fish before! I definitely need to try this!

  9. Posted April 10, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    So they’re like stuffed falafel… my favorite! Great to put that stuffing in the middle. This could become addictive, stuffed in a pita with greens and that lovely garlicky sauce… great recipe, Joumana!

  10. Posted April 10, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Love this dish!!

  11. Posted April 10, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Love all the spices and different textures. And saffrom makes it seem so “rich,” I am happy to use tahini in anything I can!

  12. Posted April 10, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Seriously am drooling over that plate..

  13. Posted April 10, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    It is lent period in Greece too! My son would love these fish croquettes and I as well to tell you the truth!

  14. Posted April 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    I have not had time to cook myself a decent meal since I returned to France, this is mouth watering :-) Diane

  15. Posted April 10, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Bonsoir Joumana, quelles superbes croquettes de poisson, un véritable délice pour les yeux c’est trop beau et le goût….bisous et bonne soirée

  16. Posted April 10, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    this kibbeh looks delicious

  17. Posted April 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Joumana – Your kibbeh are beautiful, perfectly shaped and a most gorgeous color brown…gimme some kibbeh! – S

  18. Posted April 10, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    This is so interesting! I love learning all these new dishes from you, it’s incredibly fascinating! :-)

  19. Posted April 10, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    I like these types of bites as they offer a surprise to your guests. Hmmmm. what will be in these morsels?

  20. samir
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    your kibbet samak look you ever maked the baked version bil seniyeh..?and did u end up using the egg?

  21. Joumana
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    @Samir: Yes, I made the baked version and I did use the eggs.

  22. Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Never tried these before. These finger-friendly darlings must be so delicious!

  23. Posted April 11, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    These look simply amazing. I already ate dinner, but somehow your photos made me hungry again!

  24. Posted April 12, 2011 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    J’ai jamais mangé de kibbé de poisson, la tienne à l’air délicieuse.

  25. Posted April 12, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    I love kibbeh balls and love your filling…the sauce is something I have never made at home but want to try, delicious :)

  26. neomi
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    LORD. that looks crazy good. you are sooo skilled at making them super thin walls. I’m drooling.

  27. Posted May 23, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    You have the BEST food!

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