The Traveling Arab Croquette: Kibbeh
By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
If there is one Arab delicacy that has become beloved from Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria all the way to countries as far away as Brazil, Spain, and the Dominican Republic, it would have to be kibbeh. Imagine a savory layer “cake,” where two crunchy yet moist layers of fragrant ground meat and bulgur envelop braised chopped meat and pine nuts on the inside. Earthy spices like allspice and cinnamon flavor every bite, and aromatics like caramelized onion add a touch of sweetness to the filling.
This beloved and versatile dish can be prepared two ways. Prepared as a main entree casserole, kibbeh resembles a shepherd’s pie, where the bulgur and meat blend replaces the mashed potatoes. This version is called “Kibbeh Suniyeh.” As an appetizer, the meat and bulgur are shaped like footballs, then deep fried like croquettes. One bite reveals the intoxicating steam from the meat, onion, and pine nut filling.
The word kibbeh itself is an ancient Akkadian word that was introduced into Aramaic. This originally Assyrian dish has been a staple all over Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Syria for hundreds of years. There are countless different types of kibbeh incorporating ingredients like lamb, fish, chicken, potatoes, rice, lentils, seafood and even pumpkin.
As Arab immigrants from the Levant moved to other countries, they brought their cuisine with them, which is why you can find kibbeh on the menu in the Dominican Republic, where it is called “kipe.” The Dominicans replace the lamb with beef as that is their local preference. The Lebanese brought kibbeh over to Brazil, where they also prefer this specialty with beef served croquette style served with a yogurt sauce. If you enter La Boqueria, the largest and most popular food market in Spain, you will find kibbeh nestled in to-go cups alongside traditional Spanish croquettes.
The shaping of kibbeh croquettes is more time consuming to assemble than the casserole version, but the taste is worth the effort. To learn the technique of both styles of kibbeh, click on the video below:
Traditional Meat Kibbeh Two Ways 10 Servings
3 cups of bulgur wheat (the finest kind, #1) 3 cups hot water
1 pound of ground beef 1 pound chili cut lamb
½ onion pureed 2 cloves of garlic
2 small onions diced 2 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cinnamon Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil 2 tbsp melted for brushing the top
½ cup pine nuts sautéed for 2 minutes in 1 tbs. olive oil
3 tbsp melted butter, divided
Boil three cups of water and pour over the bulgur wheat in a large bowl. Set aside for 30 minutes. In the meantime, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter in a large skillet. Add the chile cut lamb, salt and pepper to taste, 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 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 your 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 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 the remaining 2 tbsp melted butter, and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until the top is browned.
To make the kibbeh appetizer, separate the beef “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 (like sunflower or avocado oil) in the deep fryer, and heat until a piece of bread bubbles and floats at the top. Deep fry the kibbeh 5 at a time until golden brown, place on a plate lined with paper towels. Serve immediately.
Blanche Shaheen is the author of the cookbook called “Feast In the Middle East, a Journey of Family and Cuisine” which you can order here: https://secure.mybookorders.com/mbo_index.php?isbn=9781545675113 She is also a journalist, and host of the popular 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 at https://www.youtube.com/user/blanchetv Her recipes can also be found at: https://feastinthemiddleeast.wordpress.com/