This was my all-time favorite dish growing up. I absolutely loved the creamy yogurt sauce flavored with streaks of garlic and fresh cilantro, the hollow kibbe balls that I would break open with my spoon in order to dip them in more sauce and stretch the pleasure. I consider kibbe labnyeh one of the masterpieces of Lebanese cuisine. Actually, it encapsulates what our cuisine is about: light, healthy and with a subtle use of spices and flavors. One reader from Turkey requested the recipe and I placed it on top of the pile. This is the method my teta (grandma) used when making it and I am sticking with it!
As they say, Rome did not get built in one day, and Kibbe Labnyeh does take a little time. However, and this is one of the enormous advantages of Lebanese cuisine, you can prepare it in several stages and over several days or even weeks. The first step involves making the hollow kibbe balls, that you can at this point freeze or keep in the refrigerator till later or the next day. The next step is to prepare the yogurt sauce. The final step is to prepare the cilantro pesto which will give the sauce a wonderful aroma and this step can be done in advance, even frozen and the pesto reheated at the last minute to swirl in the sauce.
INGREDIENTS: Quantity will yield 28-30 kibbes. I used 20 for this recipe and froze the rest. 6 Servings.
1 lb (1/2 kilo) of twice ground lamb or beef or veal, extra lean
1 3/4 cup (300g. ) of bulghur or cracked wheat, very fine or #1, preferably whole-grain (don’t buy bleached bulghur), soaked in cold water for a few minutes and drained very well to remove all moisture.
Spices such as salt (1 teaspoon or to taste), black pepper (1/2 teaspoon), cinnamon (1/2 teaspoon), allspice (1/2 teaspoon)
LABAN or YOGURT:
1 32 oz container of organic plain yogurt (1 kilo)
1 Large egg
1/4 cup (2 oz, 75g.) of cornstarch, diluted in 1/2 cup (4 oz) of water
1/4 cup of medium-grain or sushi or Turkish or Egyptian rice
1 bunch of cilantro, washed and dried, stems discarded and leaves chopped fine
10 cloves of garlic or a heaping tablespoon of already made toom (garlic paste)
2 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- Prepare the kibbe ‘raass (balls). Take the ground meat and place into a food processor and run the machine for a few minutes until the meat is pasty. Add the spices and the bulghur. Processor for a few minutes more until the mixture is uniform. Set aside in the fridge until you are ready.
- Prepare a small bowl of water to which you will add a tablespoon of cornstarch. Mix. Add a handful of ice cubes.
- Forming the kibbe balls: Measure balls no more than 2 ounces (I use a Starbucks coffee measuring spoon!), even smaller if you can wing it. Then form the ball into a sausage shape. With the index finger, dig a deep hole in it. If the kibbe is too sticky, dip your finger in the bowl of icy water. Now start turning the hand that is holding the kibbe balls counterclockwise until the walls of the kibbe ball become as thin as possible. Then pinch the opened end of the ball by clenching your fist and close it up! This will get easier with practice, as it truly is an art form.
- Now you can freeze a portion of the kibbes,one third, for another day.
- Prepare the rice. Put the rice in a pyrex 2-cup measuring cup or any microwavable bowl, add to it 4 oz of water (1/2 cup) and cook in the microwave for 4 minutes. Another way is to cook the rice in a small pan for about 10 minutes until the rice is halfway cooked. Set aside.
- Start preparing the laban (yoghurt). Whisk the egg in a small bowl. In another small bowl, whisk 1/4 cup of cornstarch (3 Tablespoons) and 1/2 cup of water. Drop the container of yoghurt in a pan and put it on medium heat. Mix the egg with a wooden spoon and start stirring the yoghurt in the same direction (clockwise) for 5 minutes. Then add the cornstarch mixture and keep stirring for another 5 minutes. Add the rice and keep stirring to cook the rice completely and keep the grains separate in the sauce. The yoghurt should start to steam . Keep stirring another 5 minutes until the yoghurt is thick and creamy . Remove from the heat.
- Take a big pot and fill it with 1 1/2 quarts of water (about 6 cups) and bring to a boil. Drop the kibbe balls, a few at a time, in the boiling water and boil for 7 minutes. Remove from the pot with a sloted spoon and drop them gently and one by one in the yoghurt. Add gradually up to 2 cups of the poaching liquid to the yoghurt while stirring again gently for 10 minutes over low heat.
- Final operation is the swirling of cilantro pesto or alyyeh at the end before presenting the kibbe labnyeh to the table. Heat 2 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a small skillet for 2 minutes. Add the mashed garlic and chopped cilantro and with a wooden spoon mix it very well. Keep it on low to medium heat another 2 minutes and then remove from the heat. Swirl it into the soup gently. Another option is to use pesto already made and frozen . Reheat in the microwave, add a teaspoon or more of olive oil and proceed.
- Serve the kibbe labnyeh. Sahteyn!
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