This is one of my favorite kibbeh dish and my grandmother used to make it to perfection, carving the small hollow kibbeh balls with a thin shell that one would break open and fill with the warm yogurt sauce flavored with mint pesto.
A lot of people in Lebanon fill the kibbeh balls with cooked ground meat and fry the balls prior to adding them to the warm yogurt sauce; I personally find this makes the dish too heavy and prefer to quickly brush the raw balls with a thin layer of oil, then bake them for a few minutes to sort of “seal” them; the final poaching is done gently in the yogurt aka laban at serving time.
The traditional kibbeh labniyeh has some rice added to the yogurt sauce, but I personally do not find that a few grains of rice add anything to the dish. It is easy to do, however, just add some cooked medium-grain rice (about 1/2 cup) to the sauce at the last minute and stir a bit.
Kibbeh in yogurtJoumana Accad Mediterranean, Middle Eastern January 31, 2021 Whole Grain/Bulgur/Rice, Main Dish, Meats, kibbeh, traditional food, yogurt sauce, lebanese food,
40-45 kibbeh balls servings
Prep Time: 4 hours
Cook Time: 15 minutes
- 1.3 lb eye of round beef or extra lean beef or lamb, cut into small chunks with any visible fat removed
- 1 1/2 cup fine bulgur #1
- 1 large onion, grated fine
- spice mix: one teaspoon each, more to taste
- Cinnamon, black pepper, allspice, turmeric (optional), rose petal powder (optional), salt, powdered mint, all mixed in a small bowl. Can replace these with Lebanese seven-spice mix (2 teaspoons or to taste), and salt to taste
- ice cubes, as needed (I used 2) or 1/4 cup ice water (as needed)
- 3 pounds full-fat plain yogurt, preferably Greek or Middle Eastern or Bulgarian style.
- 2 Tablespoons cornstarch diluted in 1/4 cup water (keep cornstarch nearby in case you need more)
- 1 egg, mixed briefly in a bowl (optional)
- 1/4 cup olive oil or clarified butter
- 1 or 2 tablespoons of garlic paste (garlic cloves chopped and mashed in a mortar with 1 teaspoon of salt or more, to taste)
- 1/4 cup powdered mint (see note on how to powder mint)
- Rinse the bulgur and soak it briefly in a bowl of tap water, just until it gets soft. Drain it thoroughly in a large bowl and add the grated onion (if using) and half the spices and mix till combined. Transfer the mixture to the food processor and process until it holds together. Remove and transfer back to the bowl. The consistency should be that of a dough.
- Now process the meat with the remaining spices until the meat is pasty and forms a ball, adding a couple of ice cubes or a few tablespoons ice water to facilitate the process. Transfer the meat to the bowl over the bulgur and start mixing the two by hand first, then with the machine, until the kibbeh dough is soft, moist and compact, adjusting the texture by adding a few drops of ice water if too dry. The mixture should be compact and moist.
- Transfer the kibbeh dough back onto the bowl. Shape small balls the size of a large walnut onto a piece of wax paper or foil or on a cutting board. Place a small bowl of water with ice cubes floating in it nearby. Have a bowl of salted butter mixed with dry mint nearby as well, with a tiny spoon in it. The butter/mint mixture will be used to stuff each hollow kibbeh ball with an amount equivalent to 1/4 teaspoon for each.
- Once the balls are shaped and ready, start hollowing them out, one at a time, and insert the mint butter drop before sealing the kibbeh ball, dipping fingers in the ice water as needed to smooth out the dough and seal any cracks.
- Place each completed kibbeh ball on a cookie sheet generously greased in oil. Once the cookie sheet is full of kibbeh balls, sprinkle some oil throughout if needed (or spray) and turn the balls over to make sure they are coated in oil.
- Bake the kibbeh balls in a 350F oven for about 8 minutes, turning them once while getting roasted, to get them roasted and their shells sealed.
- Cook the yogurt while the kibbeh balls are baking. This can be done at the same time, or later or even the next day. It all depends on when you plan to serve the dish. The kibbeh balls, once baked, can easily be transferred to a container and wait patiently a few days in the fridge or longer in the freezer. Cooking the yogurt and mint pesto can be done the day the dish will be served.
- Transfer the yogurt to a pot and set it over low heat. With a wire (or rubber) whisk, smooth it out to get it as creamy as possible. Add the cornstarch mixture and keep stirring, raising the heat a tad, until the yogurt has thickened. At this point, you can either purée the yogurt with an immersion blender, to get it as smooth as possible, or transfer it to a blender, or simply drain it through a sieve if it looks too grainy. The idea is to prevent this by stirring continuously and adding the cornstarch. One egg can also be added to the yogurt and mixed-in at the same time as the cornstarch. When the yogurt starts bubbling gently, it is ready and can absorb the mint pesto and kibbeh balls.
- The mint pesto is added at the last minute for flavor; fry the mint, garlic and oil or butter in a tiny skillet just a few seconds until fragrant and add the mixture to the warm yogurt while stirring. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve.
To powder fresh mint:
Lay some fresh mint leaves on a paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds. Remove from the oven and let the mint dry out some more for a few minutes. They should be totally parched at this point. Smash them with a mortar into a powder, and keep in a tightly closed container.
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