Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kibbeh Meatballs

Meat balls stuffed with meat.

Kibbeh is definitely a recipe that kicks around the Middle East going by a more than one name. Kibbe, kebeh, quibe, kubbeh, or even torpedo and fried footballs (as they are called in my grandmother's cookbook) are all common tags for the dish. The Arabic translation (kubbah) means ball, so there you have a Middle Eastern meatball. Prepared with ground lamb or beef, seasoned with onions, allspice, mint, and pine nuts, and made fluffy with bulgur wheat, and stuffed with more meat. Other common preparations include a layered baked "pie" or a steak tartare raw version called kibbeh nayye. Anyway you make it or say it kibbeh leaves a permanent flavor imprint on your senses.

Kibbeh Meatballs

Kibbeh Balls
1/2 cup bulgur wheat #1*
1 large onion, quartered
4 sprigs of mint, stems removed
2 lb ground lamb or beef
1/8 tsp red pepper
1 tsp ground allspice
salt to taste

Meat Stuffing
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 lb ground lamb or beef
3/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp red pepper
Mint Yogurt Dip
1 cup yogurt
2 tblsp chopped mint leaves
1/8 tsp salt
1 clove garlic finely minced

For yogurt dip: mix all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate. Can be made 1 day in advance.

For the meat stuffing saute chopped onion in olive oil until edges are brown. Add the rest of the ingredients. Mixing often, cook until the ground meat is browned. The stuffing should taste a little salty with a recognizable but not overpowering allspice taste. This balance can be tough to find without over spicing. Add the allspice in parts if you are uncertain. Set the stuffing aside to cool.

Begin the kibbeh balls by covering the bulgur wheat with water in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, let stand in hot water for 10 minutes. Drain very well pressing with a spoon to remove excess water. Meanwhile chop the onion and mint until fine in a food processor. Remove half of the onion/mint and add half of the meat and half of the spices. Process until the meat forms a paste. Remove and repeat with the remaining onion, spices, and meat. Add both halves of the meat paste to a large bowl and add the drained bulgur. Mix with your hands until uniform.

Hollow, fill, and form. Practice makes perfect.

To form the balls divide the kibbeh mixture into 30 even portions. Dip your hands in cold water to prevent the meat from sticking to you. Roll a portion into a ball. Press in the center with fingers to make the ball hollow. A really experienced kibbeh maker can thin walls. I mostly focus on keeping the walls evenly 1/4 inch so they don't break. Fill with 1/2 tsp of stuffing, and smooth with fingers to close rolling the balls into football shapes. Sprinkle tops with salt before cooking.

Traditionally the balls are fried in oil. I prefer to bake them on trays in a 400 degree oven for 35 minutes. It easier and healthier. Allow the kibbeh balls to cool and serve with yogurt dip. Kibbeh balls are a nice finger food for parties, or entree with a salad for dinner. Kibbeh can be prepareed in advance, frozen and reheated in a 300 degree oven with a little water sprinkled on top.

*Note on bulgur wheat is a de-branned whole wheat found at Middle Eastern markets and often health food markets. Sold in 4 grades, #1 being the finest and #4 being coarse. I used coarse bulgur which you can see in my picture makes for lumpier kibbeh.

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