Kibbeh is found in almost all of the Levant countries and surprisingly is the national dish for several Middle Eastern countries. That is a surprising amount of information about a dish that I didn’t know existed until last week when my Arab friend took me to a halal restaurant and ordered this mediocre looking appetizer. It’s like finding out that your run-of-the-mill neighbor Jim is actually the immortal Perpetual who serves as the ruling monarch of the Imperium of Man, and is described by the Imperial Ecclesiarchy and the Imperial Cult as the Father, Guardian and God of humanity. This meze is literally a ball of fried bulgur (cracked wheat flour) stuffed with ground meat. It has slight modifications depending on the country and the ruling party, the Turks call it an Içli köfte (ich-li kuf-ta) and add some potato in the dough and use ground walnuts instead of pine nuts in the meat stuffing. Pine nuts taste better but cost more, and the potato gives a much needed consistency to the dough. I’ve made this dish several times using recipes from different countries and come up with an abomination that probably tastes good. Let’s begin!
2 cup fine bulgur
1 cup lukewarm water (and maybe a couple table spoon more)
1 large egg
1 large boiled potato
1 lbs ground beef (80/20)
2 tsp paprika
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp black pepper
1.5 tsp cumin
1 tsp all spice
3 tbsp or about 50mL olive oil
1 large onion
1 tbsp butter
0.5 cup toasted pine nuts or walnut halves
Oil for frying
Before we begin, we must do some prep work with the ingredients. Cut the onion in half, chop half of it normally and grind the other half using a food processor until it is very fine. Boil a potato until you can mush it with your hands. If you are using pine nuts and they are kind of soft, dry roast them in a pan until they feel crisp but not too much. If you are using walnuts then leave them in water for about an hour, this will make the walnuts taste fresh. Take out and set aside.
Add the 1 cup lukewarm water to the fine cut bulgur and let is soak it all up. You may need to add a couple more splashes of water to make sure it is completely moist. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
Add the egg, onion paste, boiled potato, 0.25 lbs ground beef, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tsp cumin, and 0.5 tsp all spice.
Knead this into a consistent dough. If possible, use an electrical dough maker until it is smooth. If you don’t have one, then keep kneading this dough for about 30 minutes. Basically you need to get a consistency strong enough to shape balls which you can form into small containers. If you feel it is too dry, add some water. If it is too wet, knead some more until the water evaporates. Set in fridge for 20 minutes while you cook the stuffing.
Heat the olive oil in a sauce pant and fry the onions until they are translucent, about 8 minutes.
Add 0.75 lbs of ground meat and mix until it is well separated. Let it cook on medium heat for 10 – 12 minutes or until the water evaporates.
Add 0.5 tsp salt, 0.5 tsp pepper, 1 tsp paprika, 0.5 tsp cumin, and 0.5 tsp all spice. Mix and let cook for another 5 minutes. During this time you can use a food processor and pulse the pine nuts (or walnuts) a couple times.
Turn off the heat and add the walnuts and butter and mix until it is even. Set aside to cool.
Now comes the hardest part of the entire recipe, the stuffing. Take about an egg sized ball of dough and make it into a ball. Then using your thumb, make a hole in the center, and rotate the dugh until it is the shape of a bowl. There is no way I can explain this to you so it is better that you just find a nice video on YouTube.
Add about 1 tbsp of the meat filling and close it up. Smart people don’t fill it to the brim so they can close it. I am not one of those people, I just put more dough on top and just did my best to seal the edges.
First I like to roll it into a ball and then roll it into a football looking thing. The first one will be hard, but it will get easier after the second. If these are any cracks, then just add more dough and fix it up. this recipe will make around 16-18 meat grenades.
Heat frying oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and fry these thing for about 5-7 minutes until dark brown, since they are round, it is easy to cook all sides evenly. Don’t put more than two at a time.
Serve this dish with a side of salted yogurt and some lemon. Usually I’ve seen this appetizer with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, but its up to you if you want to get these extra ingredients. The appetizer would go well before any Middle Eastern meal. If you think you have made too much, then put them in Ziploc bags before frying them. They can be in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw out at room temperature for 3 hours or in the fridge overnight before frying again.