I can pinpoint the exact time when I first heard of frakeh. I was having dinner in Beirut with my childhood friend Youssef, telling him about my plans to write a Lebanese cookbook; he asked me if frakeh was going to be included. I was puzzled. What? frakeh (fra-keh)? “Yes” said he, “it is the essence of Lebanese food. You have to include it in your book! “
Frakeh is the national dish of Southern Lebanon. Youssef is originally from Tyre, the beautiful and ancient city (Alexander the Great laid siege to Tyre for months before finally conquering it). Folks in the south (j’noob) prepare it; it is their kibbeh tartare, called kibbeh nayyeh in the rest of the country. Today, one can order frakeh at the butcher shop in Beirut. However, it is best homemade.
Frakeh is a simple mixture of minced lean meat with spices (fresh and dried) and a bit of fine bulgur. I am not a raw meat aficionado so I pan-fried the patties and the taste was just delicious, what with the cumin, chili, rose petals, marjoram, cloves and allspice, and more.
The following week I ran into Mrs. Nisr at the beauty shop; I asked her if she could tell me about Frakeh. On Monday, Mrs. Nisr rang the bell holding a bouquet of herbs that she picked apart for my benefit: Marjoram, wild mint, basil, rose petals, wild cress, geranium leaves and others; she told me: “You just go out into the field and pick only the most fragrant herbs: These go into the kammooneh, which is the spice mix that we southerners use for frakeh and lots of other dishes”.
Frakeh was prepared and the leftover meat patties I ended up frying. I can report that the kammooneh adds a wonderful flavor to meat, both raw and cooked. The spice mix can be found in Middle-Eastern stores.
INGREDIENTS: 4 servings
- ½ lb. goat (or any other meat), cleaned of all fat, veins and sinews, ground 3 times
- 1/2 cup extra fine bulgur (# 1), soaked in water 10 minutes and drained very well
- 1/4 cup kibbeh mix; spices and herbs (1 tsp each of: cumin, seven-spice, cinnamon, black pepper) plus several sprigs of marjoram, basil , and wild mint or other fragrant herb; ¼ cup of Damascus rose petals fresh or dried.
- 3 scallions, 3 white onions
- 3 parsley sprigs
- 2 mint sprigs
- 1 hot chili pepper
- 3 sprigs of marjoram
- salt, to taste
- Olive oil, to taste
1. Chop the fresh herbs and place in a food processor bowl; squeeze and drain the bulgur of all the excess moisture. Place the kibbeh spices and herbs with the vegetables, green marjoram and the bulgur in the food processor. Process the mixture which should take on a greenish color. Remove from the processor.
3. Combine the meat and half of the kammooneh in the food processor with the bulgur; leave the extra kammoonieh in the middle of the plate. Shape the kibbeh mixture into golf-size balls, pressing on each ball to give it an undulated shape. Place them on a platter and garnish with mint leaves and the extra kammoonieh mix.
NOTE: The fresh herbs in this recipe can be substituted with what is available in a local farmer’s market, namely, parsley, dill, oregano, cilantro, basil, mint and sage.
The Frakeh has to be served the same day; otherwise, fry the patties in olive oil and serve warm. Only use the best quality meat bought from a trusted butcher.
Image above of the frakeh spice mix sold in stores.
Kammuneh is made up of dried spices (of which cumin is predominant, hence the name kammun is cumin in Arabic); other spices besides cumin could include cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and hot chili pepper. Kammuneh needs always to include fresh fragrant herbs as Mrs. Salam Nisr explained to me as she was depositing her trove in my hands. The popular herbs are marjoram, mint, basil and green onion. One unique item in kammuneh is rose petals (preferably from the Rosa Damascena variety of which rosewater is made from).
Kammuneh is added to bulgur, which turns its color to bright green; the spice mix is blended with raw meat for Frakeh, to make the kibbeh tartare, southern Lebanese style. Kammuneh can also be combined with potatoes, for a vegetarian potato kibbeh, or tomatoes for a tomato kibbeh plate.