by Claudia Roden
from Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon
Kibbeh forms a major portion of the national dishes of Lebanon. There are countless versions, from a raw meat paste to little, oval shells stuffed with a round meat filling and deep-fried or cooked in yogurt or bitter-orange juice, as well as vegetarian kibbeh with pumpkin or potato, and one with fish—each version having a number of regional variations. One thing all these kibbeh have in common is bulgur (“burghul” in Lebanon). Since most are labor-intensive and require skill and application, they are not the kind of thing you undertake if you are not part of the culture. So I was very happy to discover a traditional kibbeh that was truly delightful and relatively easy, with only one layer of kibbeh and a flavorsome onion-and-pine-nut topping. I found it in a little restaurant in Beirut called Kibbet Zaman (Yesterday’s Kibbeh). It can be served hot or cold (I prefer it hot), as a main dish or cut up small as a mezze. It is really worth doing—I guarantee you will surprise your quests. Accompany it with baba ghanouj, hummus, and a salad.—Claudia Roden
For the baked kibbeh base
2/3 cup fine-ground bulgur
1 medium onion, cut in quarters
1 pound lean, boneless leg of lamb
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
For the onion and pine nut topping
1 pound onions, sliced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 to 1/3 cup pine nuts
Salt and black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground allspice
1/2 to 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (optional)
Make the kibbeh base
1. Rinse the bulgur in a fine sieve under cold running water and drain well.
2. Purée the onion in the food processor. Add the meat, salt, pepper, and cinnamon and blend to a paste. Add the bulgur and blend to a smooth, soft paste.
3. With your hand, press the paste into the bottom of an oiled, round, shallow baking dish or tart dish, about 11 inches in diameter. Flatten and smooth the top and rub with 2 tablespoons oil. With a pointed knife, cut the contents into 6 wedges through the center, and run the knife round the edges of the dish.
4. Bake the kibbeh in an oven (preheated to 375°F [190°C]) for about 30 minutes, until browned.
Make the topping
1. Fry the sliced onions in the olive oil until they are golden brown, stirring often. Add the pine nuts and stir until lightly colored. Add a little salt and pepper, the cinnamon, allspice, and, if you like a slightly sweet-and-sour flavor (I do), the pomegranate molasses. Cook, stirring for a minute or so.
2. Serve the baked kibbeh with the topping spread over the top.
Instead of pine nuts, use 2/3 cup shelled walnuts, broken into pieces and, if you like, 2 tablespoons raisins soaked in water for 15 minutes and drained. (If you are using raisins, omit the pomegranate molasses.)
Add 1 tablespoon sumac to the onion topping and omit the pomegranate molasses.
Recipe © 2006 by Claudia Roden. All rights reserved.