Kibbeh with citrus sauce (Kibbeh Arnabieh)

January 25, 2010  •  Category: ,

If you ask a traditional, die-hard Beiruti, one whose family has  been residing for generations in West Beirut (called Ras Beirut, the oldest and original part of the  city), what  their favorite dish is,kibbeh  arnabieh would be in the top three.

This dish is one of the great classics of Lebanese cuisine. It is usually made in the winter season.Why? Because this is when Seville oranges (called Bousfeir oranges in Lebanese, or Bigarade in French) are in season. We would be invited to my aunt Wadad‘s to have this meal, as it was a very special meal, an event.  I found Seville oranges at my neighborhood middle-eastern store. (fyi: the blossoms of these oranges are the ones used to make the orange blossom water). In this dish, Seville oranges can be replaced by lemons.

This dish is a lengthy affair.One question:  Do you hear the French apologizing when their classics take forever to make? I don’t know why I feel bad!  However, there is a quicker method to make it and I will point it out; so figure on at least 2 days and making it in stages.

Kibbeh Arnabieh is made up of :

  1. Kibbeh balls, hollow, poached or baked first and then simmered in the sauce.
  2. A sauce combining  Seville orange juice (or lemon juice) and tahini and lamb bouillon and pureed onion.
  3. A rice pilaf as a side dish.


  • The traditional  recipe only uses these Seville oranges or lemons; in modern recipes you will find other citrus being used and this is what I decided to do. So this kibbeh  arnabieh is including Seville oranges, mandarin oranges, Navel oranges and a bit of lemon juice.If you are a purist, stick to the Seville oranges! or use lemon juice instead. Seville oranges are bitter-tasting, just like lemons. I would use orange or mandarin juice and some lemon juice so that it is not too bitter.
  • Slight variations exist of this dish based on the community that one belonged to in Beirut. Instead of using only kibbeh balls, some people add lamb shanks and garbanzo beans.
  • The citrus sauce in this recipe is also used to cook fish fillets, foregoing the lamb stock altogether and the kibbeh balls.
  • Kibbeh arnabieh can be prepared two days ahead and reheated gently when served.
  • Each of the lamb stock, kibbeh balls and juices can be prepared ahead and frozen.
  • FOR A QUICKER VERSION: Use only the lamb shanks, add a can of garbanzo beans rinsed and drained the last half hour of cooking the sauce. For the sauce, make it with a mixture of orange (3 parts)and lemon juice (1 part).

MAKING THE LAMB STOCK: (Enough for 2 separate meals)

  • 2 Large lamb shanks
  • Seasonings consisting of: a bay leaf, whole pepper, a few cloves, a large onion quartered, a sprig of parsley, two cloves of garlic, a small carrot.

  1. Brown the lamb shanks in a large pot. Add 8 cups of water and the seasonings and partially cover the pot.
  2. Simmer gently for at least one hour until the shanks are done. Remove them from the pot.
  3. Reduce the stock to about 2 cups or more. Cool and set aside. You are going to need 1 cup of stock for this recipe. You can freeze the remaining stock and use later.
  4. Either use the lamb shanks in this recipe or reserve for another dish.

MAKING THE KIBBEH BALLS: (Enough for 2 or more separate meals)

  • 1 pound of extra-lean meat (beef, veal, lamb), minced
  • 1 onion (about 5 ounces)
  • 1 1/3 cup of fine bulgur #1
  • Spices: 2 teaspoons of allspice, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, salt to taste.


  1. Puree the onion in a food processor. Place the bulgur in a strainer and run tap water over it or soak it in water for 3 minutes then drain it and squeeze all the moisture out with a spatula. Add to the onion.
  2. Place the meat in a food processor and run the machine for a few minutes until the meat texture changes and becomes smoother. Add the bulgur and onion. Add the seasonings and run the machine a few more minutes, until the mass is cohesive and smooth.
  3. Cover and place in the fridge for a while or overnight. Prepare a work surface.
  4. Get a small bowl of water with ice cubes and a dash of salt ready. Prepare a cookie sheet to place the kibbé balls in once they are done. Get a cookie scoop or large spoon ready and start scooping out the meat dough in even portions, about the size of a small egg or a large walnut.
  5. Dab your fingers in the ice water and taking one ball at a time, roll it between your palms until it is even and smooth. Start carving a hole in the ball with your index finger, turning the kibbeh balls continuously, to get some thin and hollow balls with thin “walls”, the thinner the better.
  6. When the kibbeh has been hollowed out, start pinching the hole little by little to close it up. When it is closed up, pinch it on both sides to make the ends looks fine and dainty.
  7. Set the balls one by one on the cookie sheet. For this recipe, you will need about 20. Freeze the remainder in a freezer bag to use at a moment’s notice.
  8. Bake the balls in a 350F oven for about 12 minutes till cooked. Set aside.

MAKING THE SAUCE: Quantity will yield 6 servings

  • 1 large onion (250 g)
  • a few tablespoons of oil to fry the onion
  • 1 cup of tahini
  • CITRUS JUICES: 3/4 cup of Seville orange juice, 1 cup of mandarin juice, 1 cup of orange juice, 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
  • 1 cup of lamb stock
  • 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (optional, but recommended)
  • Salt and white pepper to taste.

  1. Heat the oil in a pot and fry the onion for at least 40 minutes very gently until it becomes a deep caramel-brown color. Puree the onion in a mini-processor or in a mortar until it is pasty and somewhat smooth. Set aside.
  2. Place in the pot the tahini, orange, mandarin and lemon juices. Stir with a wooden spoon on a regular basis until the mixture becomes smooth and starts steaming. Reduce the heat to low, add the lamb stock and the pureed onion and spices. Simmer very gently for a few more minutes, adding the pomegranate molasses.
  3. Add to the sauce the kibbe balls and let them swim in the sauce for at least 10 minutes on low heat. If necessary, add a few ladles of hot water to the sauce.
  4. Fry the pine nuts on low heat in a bit of butter until browned but not burned, about 3 minutes. Set aside. The pine nuts will  be used to garnish the dish.


  • 1 cup of fideos (vermicelli noodles)
  • 1/4 cup of oil or butter
  • 1 1/2 cup of long-grain rice
  1. Fry the fideos in butter till they are browned. Be careful, they burn quickly!
  2. Add the rice and stir a minute to coat the rice in butter.
  3. Add 3 cups of water and a dash of salt. Cover and let the rice cook over medium to low heat for about 20 minutes.
  4. Toss the rice and fideos. Serve.

I have used the guidance of Mrs. Marlene Mattar for this recipe Maeedat Marlene, mina Al-shark wal-gharb.


35 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. dana says:

    What a wonderful recipe. I remember that whenever Dad had a craving for it, my Teta would prepare the dish and lunch would become a lengthy family affair.

    I am planning to attempt making kibbe. Any recommendations for the cut of meat to use? Does it have to be the tenderest cut possible so that meat paste wouldnt have so many strings?

    I wonder Joumana why is it called “arnabiyyeh” since no rabbits are used in this recipe and why would the kibbe balls remain hollow as opposed to the filled balls in kibbe b laban?


    • Joumana says:

      I was wondering that too! I will ask around and let you know!
      As far as kibbé cuts, I would definitely look for the best cut possible. If you don’t mind cutting bits of the fat yourself, then leg of lamb is best. Some butchers are used to preparing meat for kibbé in the DFW area for their middle-eastern customers. In Plano, there is a butcher called Gary Hirsch his store is called Meat market (I vaguely remember) and he may be helpful. In Dallas, there is Kuby’s in Snyder Plaza, they cut meat for kibbé (or they used to) because of the restaurant “Food from Galilee” orders from them.In my area, there is Sara’s Bakery (Richardson) and their meat is halal. If using beef, I prefer ground sirloin. It needs to be at least 96% fat-free, and still it is not perfect. Not really like “habra” from back home.
      As far as hollow or not, we always had ours hollow, even in making the “labniyyeh”. I guess it depends on the community. I know some people like it stuffed for arnabiyyeh too.

  2. peachkins says:

    Hello. Thanks for dropping by my blog today. I have posted lots of Filipino recipes and also some Filipino street foods at my blog which you can check by backreading. You have some interesting dishes here. I will surely be cak for more…

  3. Joanne says:

    I really love kibbe because of all of the spices in it but I’ve only ever really had it on kabobs. This looks really delicious with that citrus sauce! I’ll have to keep a lookout for seville oranges…

  4. SE says:

    wow…truly and elaborate and sure this is a traditional recipe !!! wonderful step by step explanation !!!

  5. Simply Life says:

    That looks delicious and as always, great photos!

  6. Nadjibella says:

    J’ai mangé des kibbé préparés par une syrienne. Le bonheur.
    J’ai tout acheté pour les faire mais je ne me suis pas encore lancée.
    Tu me donnes très envie.
    A bientôt.

  7. senga50 says:

    J’ai tout aimé sur cette page ! tes kebbe sont si bien expliqués, j’ai eu la chance de les goûter chez mon amie Cléo qui est l’épouse d’un syrien, Bachar et qui nous a fait ce fameux repas divin, j’ai même participié à la confection avec délice car j’adore cette cuisine parfumé. Ton plat est doux et le riz très tentant avec ses oignons frits, un régal Bravo ! les cigares, me tentent aussi facile et parfumé…

  8. Dinners & Dreams says:

    These kibbe look truly delicious. The creamy citrus sauce is making me hungry.


  9. Geetika says:

    Wow! I have missed so many updates while I was away! This recipe looks so intricate and interesting. I read it through and want to make it – but I am vegetarian 🙁 However, some scrolling and clicking has led me to a vegetarian lentil version that I can’t to try myself! 🙂

  10. Turkish Food Passion says:

    Lovely dish. Kibbeh, what we call Icli Kofte in Turkey is my favorite dish. I imagine it would be very pleasing to try it with citrus sauce. Would Lebanese restaurants serve this meal here in the U.S.? I’ll look for it next time I go to a Lebanese restaurant. Thanks for sharing, it really looks incredible!

  11. sophia says:

    I already know how awesome kibbeh is…but that SAUCE is just wowing me! It looks ad sounds incredible!!! What a citrus kick that goes perfectly with the meaty kibbeh and rice!!

  12. Stacy says:

    Yum, yum, yum. What a beautiful post with great instructions! I will be back to visit!

  13. HistoryOf GreekFood says:

    Oh, bousfeir is the bitter orange, not the bergamot!
    Bitter orange is widely used in savory and sweet recipes from Western Crete and I love its flavors! Your kibbeh arnabieh is a great dish!

  14. spice says:

    Must say u r pro at traditional lebanese dishes & the way u give pictorials is really amazing…..I hardly manage to click a pic or two of any dish I make…..I don’t get enough time to try such time consuming recipes, but would love to try some whenever get some time….

  15. Diana@Soap&Chocolate says:

    Have never eaten kibbeh but of course now I’m DYING to try!

  16. Arlette says:

    Seems there is telepathy going on between us, every time I think of a recipe I found yours already posted…
    I am planning to do the kibbee this week… I do stuff my kibbee, fry it a bit then add it to the sauce.since cannot find seville oranges here too, I mix mandarine, oranges and grapefruit with the lemons to get the nice flavour.
    I use a whole sirloin piece and I cut it and clean it myself…not lucky to find ontario lamb grain fed always..
    have to wait for the summer… to get a half a lamb

    I am coking mloukhieh now… come over for supper.
    by the way this is a great posting

  17. Ivy says:

    This dish sounds amazing especially with the citrus sauce.

  18. lebwmex says:

    I just found your site. Wow, I wish I had found you 7 years ago when I married my Leb husband. It is so nice to read your twist on Lebanese food. I have found that Lebanese are some of the toughest food critics about their traditional food. Now I can make some of your recipes and tell them to hallas with your comparing it with your Mother’s cooking. LOL.

    • Joumana says:

      Your comment made me chuckle! You are right, Lebanese (men, especially) are so into “how does it compare to my mother’s cooking”! Better to laugh about it than to pull your hair!

  19. CGB says:

    It is hard to find bitter orange in the US, but luckily it is widely used in Mexican and Latin American cooking. You can find bitter orange juice even at Kmart in some areas under Naranja Agria.

  20. najwa says:

    I,m very, very happy and i love this recipie .Thankyou very match.

  21. Hannibal says:

    My family is one of the original seven families of Beirut. I was born in Ras-Beirut myself. I recall from my childhood that my grandmother stuffed the kibbeh with hashweh, used plain water (not meat broth), and 4 different citrus juices to make the sauce. Of course, bitter orange juice is always a key ingredient.

    The shape of the kibbeh qras for arnabiyeh were different than the traditional football shape. They looked, more or less, like cones. When plated, the kibbeh looked like “rabbit ears”; hence the name. Therefore, the name arnabiyeh is never used if the meat ingredient is anything besides kibbeh. As far as I recall, only fried fish was considered as an alternate. Beef cubes or lamb shanks must have been introduced in the last few decades to shorten the cooking time and effort involved when preparing this dish. I do not recall what the name given to the dish when fried fish is used instead of the kibbeh. Nonetheless, I am certain that the dish has a different name altogether. Best.

    • Joumana says:

      @Hannibal: Thank you so much for the information and clarifications! I will try and see if I can find an example of this rabbit ear-shaped kibbeh anywhere!

    • Nayla says:

      I agree with all of the above except for the hachwe, the kebbes should be empty so the sauce can get inside and make like a weight so they float pointy side up like rabbit ears. I am from Achrafieh ,also from the 7 families in Beirut. Probably different versions. But this dish is always a holiday dish , especially new year, so the year will be all white! Sahtein!

  22. ange says:

    i love it our beiruty famouse dish , its took long time to do but so yummmmmmy 😀

  23. Ryaan says:

    This recipe sounds delicious.

    Where is the best restaurant in Beirut that I can try this???

  24. Roger Younan says:

    Any idea about the calories for one serving ?

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