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Kibbeh Nayyeh: The Unique “Arab Tartar” Dish of the Levant

posted on: Dec 1, 2021

By: Leyelle Mosallam / Arab America Contributing Writer

Kibbeh Nayyeh: The Unique “Arab Tartar” Dish of the Levant

Kibbeh nayyeh is an iconic Levantine dish, which is most popular in Lebanon and Syria. Kibbeh nayyeh is said to have originated in the Syrian city of Aleppo, but it is still a much-loved dish by the Lebanese people. Today, kibbeh in all of its forms is a national dish of Syria and Lebanon.

Traditionally, Syrians and Lebanese ate kibbeh nayyeh as soon as the animal was slaughtered because they believe that fresh meat was the key to good and safe raw kibbeh. But, in modern ages, butchers have developed strategies to ensure kibbeh nayyeh is still a fresh and safe dish to eat.

Kibbeh nayyeh is minced raw lamb or beef combined with a mix of spices and cracked wheat also known as bulgur. The spices used to make kibbeh nayyeh often depend on who is making the dish. Some make kibbeh using Baharat, a popular Middle Eastern spice mix known as Seven Spices, while others might even use cinnamon or coriander. But, in this article, we will be making kibbeh nayyeh using kamouneh spice. Kammouneh spice is a common spice used to make kibbeh nayyeh, especially among the southern Lebanese population. Kamouneh, is a widely known spice in south Lebanon. The Arabic word for cumin is kamun, and that is where kamouneh gets its name as the main spice ingredient of kamouneh is cumin. Kamouneh can be made in many different ways, but for the purpose of this recipe, the spices that we will be using are cumin, paprika, whole marjoram, dried roses, black pepper, and salt. 

The United States Department of Agriculture has issued warnings about eating raw meat, and highly advised individuals not to consume this dish; however, that has never stopped the Arab population who has been eating kibbeh nayyeh for generations. Kibbeh nayyeh is often called the “Arab sushi” or the “Arab tartar” because the dish is consumed raw. Although the United States Department of Agriculture has expressed its concerns over kibbeh nayyeh, Arabs take additional steps to ensure the risk of illness is controlled. Kibbeh should always be ground to order on clean blades. A trusted butcher from an Arab meat market is a preferred place to get your minced meat. This is to avoid cross-contamination from store-bought meat. 

Kibbeh nayyeh is a very unique cultural dish of the Arab world. Compared to grape leaves or falafel, kibbeh nayyeh is not a well-known dish to those outside of the Arab world, and it is not a dish that is typically served in Middle Eastern restaurants. Kibbeh nayyeh is very much a homemade dish that can be made for various occasions. 

With that being said, check out how kibbeh nayyeh is made in a butcher’s shop! The video includes a family recipe that can easily be made at home. Ingredients and written instructions are listed below as well.

Ingredients: 

  1. Choice of meat: Ground Beef or Lamb
  2. Fine Cracked Wheat 
  3. White Onion 
  4. Red Bell Pepper 
  5. Cumin 
  6. Paprika
  7. Whole Marjoram 
  8. Dried Roses 
  9. Black Pepper 
  10. Salt 

How to Make Kibbeh Nayyeh (Instructions): 

  1. The first three ingredients that you will need are the fine cracked wheat, a white onion, and a red bell pepper. In a food processor, add the three ingredients listed above and grind them together until it looks a little bit like juice. 
  2. While the white onion, red bell pepper, and wheat are in the food processor, grab the six spices needed to make the kamouneh. These six spices are cumin, paprika, whole marjoram, dried roses, black pepper, and salt. Mix them together in a bowl. 
  3. Once the six spices are mixed together, add the spices to the food processor with the white onion, red bell pepper, and cracked wheat. Continue grinding the spices together in the food processor until the wheat and the spices suck up all the water from the white onion and red bell pepper. The kamouneh spice needs to be dry. 

Your Kamouneh spice should look a little like this: 

Kibbeh Nayyeh: The Unique “Arab Tartar” Dish of the Levant
  1. When you are finished mixing the spices together, take the Kamouneh out of the food processor and add in your minced beef or lamb. You want to grind up your meat until it gets a creamy texture. Don’t grind your meat for too long because you don’t want the meat to get warm. Some suggest grinding the meat in intervals. Five seconds on, five seconds off to prevent the meat from getting too warm. Make sure you also add the six spices to the meat while the meat is in the food processor.
  2. As soon as the meat is finished grinding, and you get that creamy like texture, take the meat out of the food processor. 
  3. Kibbeh nayyeh is be served differently depending on the person. The Kamouneh spice can be served on the side, and you can dip the meat into the spice, or it is served with the Kamouneh spice added ontop of the meat. The most common way is to add the spices on top of the meat and mix it all intogether. 

Your final product should look like this:

Kibbeh Nayyeh: The Unique “Arab Tartar” Dish of the Levant

Kibbeh nayyeh is usually served with olive oil drizzled on top, mint leaves, radish, pita bread, and onion. If you like it spicy, you can add jalapeño peppers like the image above.

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