The Recipe

Syrian Kibbeh

As Asraa Ghazal, from Alkut, Iraq, learned from a Syrian friend in Damascus, Syria, and taught to Lindsay Sterling in Portland, Maine.

Makes: 16
Cooking Time: 1 1/2 hours

2 cups fine bulgur wheat
1/2 cup semolina flour
1 tsp + two dashes salt
about 1 1/2 cups hot water
1 1/4 yellow onions (1 cut into wedges + 1/4 minced)
1 1/4 lb. lean beef or lamb, ground (or in chunks if you have a meat grinder)*
dash ground allspice (optional)
dash ground cinnamon (optional)
dash ground cumin (optional)
dash ground cardamom (optional)
2 Tbsp pine nuts
about 4 cups oil for frying 
lemon slices (optional)
fresh mint (optional)

food processor
large mixing bowl
small bowl
cutting board 
chef knife
small to medium sauce pot
tongs or slotten spoon
2 large platters or sheet pans 
paper towels
1 serving platter

1. Mix bulgur, semolina, and 1 tsp salt in a large mixing bowl. Add enough hot water so that the water hits the surface of the bulgur but bulgur isn't floating, about 1 1/2 cups. Contents should be wet but none should be floating in water. Seal bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes. 

2. Saute minced onion in 1 Tbsp oil. When onions are soft add 1/4 pound ground beef, two dashes salt, and one dash allspice, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, and pepper and cook until meat loses all its pink. Saute pine nuts in a separate pan in a little oil until they turn golden. Mix pine nuts and meat mixture together and take off heat. 

3. If you have a food processor, process the onion wedges until as fine as possible. Then add meat and bulgur and process until you have a uniformly colored, light pink dough. 

4. Assemble kibbeh. Gather 1 large platter, a bowl of ice water, the kibbeh dough, and the meat filling. Form a lemon-sized chunk of dough into a ball and press your pointer finger into it. Rotate the dough around your finger creating an oblong shape with a finger-hole cavity in it. Fill the cavity with about a teaspoon of ground meat mixture. Press the dough closed around the hole. Toss the kibbeh in the palm of your hand over and over. Use the niche in the space between the base of your thumb and your palm to create a nub on one end of shape. Turn the kibbeh around and repeat, creating a nub on the other end. If you have some lumps in the shape, dip two fingers in the ice water and use the water and the pressure of your fingers to smooth any lumps out of the sides of the dough. Place completed kibbeh on a platter.

5. Heat up vegetable oil (deep enough to submerge kibbeh) in a medium sauce pot. Oil should be hot but not smoking. Once hot, keep oil on medium low temp. Try test-frying the first one. If no bubbles appear around the kibbeh, the oil needs to be hotter. Bubbles should boil up up around the kibbeh and it should slowly turn to brown over about ten minutes. If it turns dark brown within minutes, then the inside won't be cooked. Let the oil cool a little bit before trying again. It should take about ten minutes of deep frying at the right temperature for them to turn brown on the outside and be thoroughly cooked on the inside. Deep fry batches of kibbeh with enough room so that they don't touch one another in the pot. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove kibbeh, and place them on a towel-lined platter to cool. Transfer to serving platter and garnish with lemon slices and mint.

*She used a meat grinder to make her kibbeh dough. If you happen to have one, in step 3, instead of using the food processor, put the soaked bulgur, onion wedges and 1 pound of meat through the meat grinder. Form soft-ball sized balls out of the spaghetti-like extrusions, and then send those through the meat grinder once more. Then knead the grounded meat-bulgur-onion mixture into dough that is consistently light pink. Continue to step 4. 

Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2013