Jeff & Linda's Kitchen of Diversity
Kibbe (كبة) is one of the most popular dishes in Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Syria. Typically kibbe is made from finely ground lamb mixed with bulgur wheat, onion, nuts and various spices. This mixture is pressed flat into a baking pan, where its top is scored into diamond shapes with a knife, topped with olive oil or melted butter, and baked. In one of our favorite versions a layer of sautéed onions, pine nuts, and coarsely-ground lamb is laid down as a center filling. In another, the fine-ground lamb mixture is formed into a ball which encases the onion-pine nut filling and then deep fried. Aleppo in northern Syria is known for its more than 17 different versions of kibbe, variously spiced with sumac, yogurt, quince, lemon juice, pomegranate, or cherry. An Iraqi version of kibbe is made with rice rather than bulgur, while in a typical Kurdish version kibbe balls are put into a tomato-based stew.
The good news for vegetarians is that not all kibbe is made with meat. In the following recipe, mashed potatoes replace the ground lamb, with the resulting paste being baked in a pan with sautéed onions. It is spectacular served either hot or at room temperature.
6 medium potatoes
1½ cup fine bulgur
1 medium onion
½ cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried spearmint
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup flour (optional and generally not needed unless your mixture is very loose)
1 large onion halved and thinly sliced
¾ cup olive oil
Cook potatoes in boiling water until tender, then peel and mash. We find that using a potato ricer for this task makes for especially light kibbe.
Cover the bulgur with cold water and let sit 15 minutes. Drain through a fine sieve pressing out the excess water with the back of a spoon.
Puree the medium onion, parsley, spearmint, cinnamon, salt and black pepper until a smooth paste is formed.
In a large bowl well mix by hand the mashed potatoes, drained bulgur and onion puree. If the mixture is too loose, sift the optional flour over the top and remix.
Sauté the large onion slices until golden brown in ½ of the olive oil. Place cooked onion slices into bottom of a 9½ x 13 inch pan. Dot the potato mixture over this layer and gently smooth the top. The goal here is to keep the onions as a uniform layer across the bottom of the pan, and not have them bunch up in some places and be absent from others.
Next, score diamond shapes into the surface. First, with a sharp knife cut straight incisions 2 inches apart along the long axis of the pan about ¾ of the way through the potato mixture. Then repeat across the short axis, making sure that the incisions are offset about 20° from parallel. Pour remaining oil over the top and bake in a 400° F. oven until lightly brown.
You'll want to be sure to use a mealy baking potato to make the mashed potatoes. Use a mild, sweet onion like Alisa Craig and a flat-leaf parsley like Giant of Italy. Be sure to use spearmint, as peppermint will make your kibbe taste like toothpaste.