The Shepherd’s Pie of the Middle East: Kibbeh
By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
While the United Kingdom enjoys shepher
d’s pie, essentially a casserole of meat and potatoes, Arabs have their own version of this dish called Kibbeh which is so beloved in the Middle East. In fact, many countries like Lebanon have declared it their national dish, and for good reason. This savory treat takes on many shapes and flavors depending on your taste preference. Kibbeh can be served casserole style, or appetizer style, molded into football-shaped torpedos and deep fried until extra crisp. The key difference between kibbeh and shepherd’s pie is that kibbeh contains bulgur wheat instead of potatoes, with Middle Eastern seasonings. The Lebanese also make kibbeh with groundfish, chicken, and even pumpkin for a vegetarian version.
As a casserole, this makes a great main entrée with a mixed green salad on the side. Imagine two moist layers of nutty bulgur wheat and ground meat, accented with allspice and a hint of cinnamon. The bulgur layers envelop a savory filling of meat, onions, and pine nuts.
The word is kibbeh is derived from the classical Arabic word “kubbah” which means ball. As children, we could call the crispy appetizer version “footballs” and try to sneak as many of them into our mouths as possible before our mother served the rest of them to her guests.
To learn the technique of how to assemble both the kibbeh casserole and kibbeh “footballs” check out the video below:
“Kibbeh”–The Shepard’s Pie of the Middle East
3 cups of bulgur wheat
3 cups hot water
1 pound of ground beef
1 pound chili cut lamb
½ pureed onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 small onions diced
2 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. olive oil
½ cup pine nuts sautéed for 2 minutes in 1 tbs. olive oil
2 tbsp melted for brushing the top
Boil three cups of water and pour over the bulgur wheat in a large bowl. Set aside for 30 minutes. In the meantime, heat two tbsp olive oil in a large skillet. Add the lamb and sauté until browned. Add the onions and garlic and continue to sauté until the onions are soft and all of the liquid released from the meat has evaporated. Mix in the pine nuts. Set lamb mixture aside. Now it’s time to drain the bulgur wheat. Drain the bulgur and squeeze out all of the excess water with a towel. In about three batches, place the bulgur and ground beef in the food processor and blend until it makes a paste.
If you have a large enough food processor you may be able to do this all at once. Place the meat mixture in a bowl, and add the pureed onions, salt, pepper, allspice, and cinnamon. Work with hands until the ingredients are incorporated. If you want to make a kibbeh casserole, butter a 13 by 7-inch baking dish. Take half of the ground beef mixture, and spread on the bottom. Then take the sauteed lamb filling and spread that on top. Finally, take the other half of the ground beef layer and spread that over the filling. Brush the top with olive oil, and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until the top is browned.
To make the kibbeh appetizer, separate the beef and bulgur “dough” into 3 inch balls. Roll each one into a football shape, then poke your finger through one end, scoop about 1 tbs. of lamb filling in the middle, and pinch the other side closed. Once you have made all of the kibbeh, use about 2 cups of vegetable oil in the deep fryer, and heat until a piece of bread bubbles and floats at the top. Deep fry the kibbeh until golden brown, place on a plate lined with paper towels. Serve immediately.
Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, food writer, and host of the cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond You can check out her cooking video tutorials and cultural commentary on growing up Arab American on her Youtube page. Her recipes can also be found here.