April is Arab Heritage Month, a celebration of Arab people, culture, and achievements – including their contributions to our foodways! Today, we’re diving into one traditional recipe with Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ Marketing & Communications Director, Joni Kusminsky, whose Syrian-American family has been making/eating/critiquing kibbeh for hundreds of years.
“Baked kibbeh was the mac-n-cheese of my childhood. It was the ultimate comfort food,” said Joni. “My grandmother always served it with Syrian rice and labneh.”
When her grandmother died in early 2020, Joni inherited a few of her cookbooks, including her recipe for kibbeh, which was adapted from an even older recipe. “That’s when I realized that, in fact, she didn’t actually follow the recipe point for point! She worked from memory as grandmas often do – and she knew she got it right if it tasted like love at the end.”
Since then, Joni has continued to experiment, arriving at a recipe that nearly captures the taste of her childhood. Best of all, she said, it can be prepared by combining different meats (if you’re shy lamb, you can sub for beef!) and it’s a great use for the onion that’s on its way out!
Butter/ghee for coating the pan, drizzling
1 ½ cups of bulgar wheat, finely ground
3 cups boiling water
2 cups ice water
2 lbs. twice-ground lean beef or lamb (or, Joni recommends, use half and half!)
1 ½ yellow onions, chopped
Allspice or Za’atar to taste (roughly 3-4 tsps)
Pine nuts for filling (optional)
Butter/ghee for coating pan and drizzling on top
Set oven to 400 degrees.
Foil and lightly butter a 9 x 13 baking sheet.
Place the bulgar wheat in a medium, heat-resistant bowl. Boil 3 cups of water and pour carefully over the bulgar. Allow to sit for approximately 10 minutes. Drain away the excess water. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel to lock in moisture and set aside.
In a food processor, twice grind together meat and onions. (The goal is to thoroughly combine; you might still see some chopped onion in there. That’s ok!) Transfer ground meat and onions to a large mixing bowl.
Add the bulgar wheat and spices to the meat/onion mixture. (Be careful here! Bulgar wheat might still be hot to the touch.)
Prepare a small bowl with 2 cups of ice water.
Give your hands a dip in the ice water, and then knead the contents of your large mixing bowl. Ensure that meat, onions, bulgar, and spices are thoroughly blended together. Dip hands as needed in ice water to keep the mixture from sticking to them!
Once the mixture is combined, roll balls roughly the size of a walnut in the palms of your hand, shaping each like a miniature football. Dip your index and middle finger in ice water, and then press in the center of each. Work inside the wall of the kibbeh by pushing the meat against your palm in a circular motion to form a cavity, leaving a ¼ inch thick shell of meat. Fill with pine nuts to taste (~½ – ¾ tsp.). Loosely pull the sides of the shell closed around the pine nuts and squeeze gently to seal the edges. Place on your lightly greased baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining kibbeh mixture.
When all the kibbeh balls are on the baking sheet, drizzle with roughly two tsp. of melted butter or ghee. Place in the oven and bake until fully cooked, approximately 40-45 minutes at 400 degrees.
Yields about 24-30.
Tip: If you don’t have or can’t use pine nuts, no worries! Simply shape your meat mixture like a football, skip the filling part, and place on the pan! Still yummy!