How to make: Pretteh kibbeh
Ghenwa Steingaszner gives us two variations on a Levantine theme
Kibbeh is made using bulgur (crushed wheat), which is the staple cereal in Lebanon. It is said that if a young man shows up at his intended wife's parents' house with a grinding stone, he will never be refused the bride. It is also said that the better versed the wife is in preparing various kibbeh, the happier that family is.
Unlike winemaking, which can be traced back 3000 years to the Phoenicians (the ancient Lebanese), the kibbeh tradition is more recent and traceable to most countries of the Levant (Jordan, Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and parts of Turkey). In the 1500s, this area was part of the Ottoman empire, which survived for more than 300 years and stretched over the Balkans as far as Budapest.
The Ottomans (Turks) had a lot to do with spreading the traditions of cooking, hence some form of kibbeh can be found in all these countries. The Halabis (inhabitants of the Syrian city of Aleppo) make 15 different kinds of kibbeh. The Levantine diaspora is responsible for spreading the art of kibbeh to many countries.
Belgian croquettes, for example, look and even taste suspiciously like kibbeh. One should not be surprised to find kibbeh facsimiles - it is the kind of food everyone falls in love with.
In Lebanon, varieties of kibbeh are numerous and delicious, some served as meze or starters (mostly shaped like small rugby balls) and some as a main dish. Kibbeh can be fried, baked, boiled and even served raw. The ingredients range from bulgur and meat (mostly lamb but also beef and, in the mountains of Lebanon, goat meat), to chicken, fish or vegetarian.
It is sprinkled with an incredible array of exciting and very tasty spices and served with different kinds of salads, sauces, humus, labneh and the ever-present fresh cold-pressed olive oil. - Géza Steingaszner
These fried kibbeh balls are served as a meze dish.
500ml (2 cups) bulgur (fine crushed wheat)
500g lamb or beef mince
15ml (1 tbsp) Lebanese mixed spices (see chef's tip)
2.5ml (½ tsp) chopped fresh chilli
15-30ml (1-2 tbsp) salt
45ml (3 tbsp) grated onion
45ml (3 tbsp) cornflour
125ml (½ cup) sunflower oil
500g onions, finely chopped
400g beef or lamb mince
30ml (2 tbsp) Lebanese mixed spices
75g pine nuts, roasted
15ml (1 tbsp) salt
Extra oil, for deep-frying
For the dough, place the bulgur wheat in a bowl, cover with cold water and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain bulgur and squeeze excess moisture out with your hands. Add the remaining ingredients and mix, wetting your hands with ice water while mixing it to keep the meat cold. Refrigerate until needed.
For the filling, heat the oil in the pan, add the onions and cook until soft. Add the meat and spices and stir-fry until meat is browned. Add the pine nuts and salt, mix and set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
With wet hands, take an egg-sized amount of kibbeh dough and form into a rugby ball shape. Poke a hole in the middle with your index finger, place 15ml (1 tbsp) filling in the hole and pinch to seal, reshaping into a rugby ball shape. Repeat for the remaining dough and filling and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Heat oil in a deep pot and fry the kibbeh until golden brown. Drain on paper towel and serve with tabbouleh salad and hummus or labneh.
Kibbeh can be stored in a sealed container in the freezer for up to 3 months before frying.
In Lebanon, Lebanese mixed spices are known as seven-spice mix.
To make your own, combine equal amounts of ground cinnamon, ground cloves, finely ground black pepper, allspice, ground ginger, ground cardamom and ground nutmeg. Ghenwa makes her own special mix which can be purchased from her cooking school.
These pumpkin kibbeh are served as a vegetarian main course.
1 kg fine bulgur wheat
1½ kg pumpkin, peeled, cubed and cooked
60g (½ cup) cake flour
30ml (2 tbsp) grated onion
30ml (2 tbsp) allspice
15ml (1 tbsp) chilli powder
15-30ml (1-2 tbsp) salt
45ml (3 tbsp) finely chopped fresh mint leaves
250ml (1 cup) sunflower oil
500g onions, finely sliced
500ml (2 cups) cooked chickpeas, peeled and halved
250ml (1 cup) roughly chopped walnuts
45ml (3 tbsp) sumac
15ml (1 tbsp) salt
15ml (1 tbsp) allspice
For the kibbeh dough, wash and drain the bulgur and mix with the pumpkin, squeezing with your hands to drain excess moisture. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until you have a moist dough that holds together, adding extra flour if necessary.
For the filling, heat half the oil in a pan, add the onions and cook until soft. Add the remaining ingredients and cook for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
To assemble, divide the kibbeh dough into 2 equal portions. Flatten one portion into an oiled 4-litre ovenproof tray. Spread the filling on top. Flatten the remaining kibbeh dough on top, using wet hands. Cut into diamond shapes with a sharp knife. Drizzle the remaining oil on top and bake in a preheated oven at 190°C for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot or cold with salad or labneh balls.
Ghenwa's Lebanese Cooking Club operates in Somerset West. Call 0218471989, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.iLaaikSomersetWest.co.za.