A while back, I posted a lentil kibbeh recipe, a dish specific to areas in Southern Lebanon. I got a comment from Peter suggesting that it be fried. My initial reaction, to be honest, was like that of a Greek being told by a Frenchman: “It might be a good idea to stuff your spanakopitta with Camembert.“
Later, lovely Bria chimed in and said pan-frying would be a good idea. Two people thought the same thing! That constitutes a trend in my book and I started veering to their way of thinking: ” After all, falafels are fried!” I thought; ” it would give them some crunch“; “these lentil kibbeh do need some oomph“, etc.
So, over the course of a couple of hours, I experimented. Luckily, Nick was around and I knew he would happily give me honest and even brutal feedback, if needed.
I started out stuffing the little balls with olives, the kind that are called martini olives with a pimento in the middle. I coated them with bread crumbs and pan-fried them. Nick‘s comment is best kept out of public viewing, so I tried other ideas; I stuffed them with halloumcheese. Inconclusive. Finally, bingo, I stuffed them withKiri and coated them in toasted sesame seeds. Relief! These tasted great.
Now you may be wondering what Kiri cheese is: it is a processed cheese similar to cream cheese; you can find it in middle-eastern grocery stores. It can be replaced by any cheese that will be creamy enough to ooze out a bit after frying; feta cheese would work.
- 1 cup of red lentils
- 3/4 cup of bulgur #1 (fine)
- 1 small onion chopped fine (I like to fry it, but it is optional)
- Spices: rind of an orange, 1 tablespoon of cumin, 1 tablespoon of dried mint (crumbled), 1 teaspoon of red pepper (paprika or chili pepper), a pinch of cinnamon, salt, pepper.
- 2 or more squares of Kiri cheese or the equivalent of a 3 ounce package of cream cheese or feta cheese.
- 1 cup (or more) of toasted sesame seeds
- 1 egg white (optional) to bind the dough
- 3/4 cup of fine bread crumbs
- 1 cup of oil (or more)
- This can be done the day before to save time: Boil the lentils in a pint of water till thoroughly cooked.
- Drain and add the bulgur, previously soaked briefly in water and patted dry with a spatula.
- Add the onion and all the spices. Adjust the spices to your liking, adding more heat if it tastes too bland. If the dough is too wet, add some bread crumbs, add the egg white if it is too dry.
- Cut the cheese in tiny squares and line up on a piece of wax paper. Pour the sesame seeds in a bowl and the bread crumbs in another bowl.
- Take an ice-cream scoop and dip it in water then in the bread crumbs; this will help to release the ball once formed into the oil.
- Scoop out some lentil dough; insert the piece of cheese in the middle. Add some more dough to seal it well. With a firm tap, release the ball into the bowl of sesame seeds, turning it to coat it all over.
- Place the balls side by side on a plate or board and heat up the oil. You could also refrigerate them for a few hours.
- Pan-fry for about 4 minutes till golden all over.
If the dough is too wet, it helps to refrigerate it for a while, or add some starch to it in the form of more bulgur or a few tablespoons of bread crumbs; don’t forget to adjust the seasoning though, this can easily turn bland.
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