Kibbeh bi Saneah: Minced Meat And Burghul Pie

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The first time that I brought Mike to my parent’s house for dinner my Dad made Lebanese food.  I was nervous for so many reasons.  I was bringing a guy over to meet my parents, which is something that in 10 years of dating I had only done a handful of times.  What if they didn’t like each other?  What if it was really awkward?  (ha!  Of COURSE it was going to be awkward!!) What if my parents told embarrassing stories about what an ‘eccentric’ I was in high school and how I didn’t shave my legs for almost a year when I was going through my hippie phase?  What if they probably should have told him that so that he would know what to expect in the wintertime?  What if Mike didn’t like Lebanese food?

Ah, yes.  The liking of Lebanese food, of course, was key.  If he didn’t eat my Dad’s food, he wouldn’t be very popular.  Oh, and I don’t just mean ‘eat’ the food, I mean ‘polish off with relish and then ask for more tabouli.’  Food is a centripetal force in the average Lebanese household. The success of any given event is in direct proportion to the quality and mass of food on the table, and every Lebanese cook has their own way of making their specialty dish, which they take great pride in.  Poor Mike didn’t know how charged the situation was.  He expected a bit of uncomfortable small talk, some rather pointed questions, and the general First Time Meeting The Parents interview.  What he didn’t know is that watching him eat dinner is where the critical judgement would happen, and where he would either enter the land of Possible Son-in-law or start rapidly swirling the drain.

Thankfully, Mike likes Lebanese food.  A lot.  All of my fussing and worry was for nothing as he slurped up his minted yoghurt soup with shish barak, ravaged a platter of stuffed vine leaf rolls, and dug a canyon through the bowl of tabouli on the table….and then asked for seconds.  WHEW, those five little words, “May I have some more?” and I knew that we were in the clear. Afterwards, on the way back to his house, I grudgingly confessed about how nervous I had been that he wouldn’t like the food.  He looked confused, and said, “Why wouldn’t I like it?  I mean, that stuff’s GOOD.”  Then he looked pensive as he thought about it, and came up with one of the best explanations that I’ve heard about why some people may be afraid of Lebanese food.

You look at the table and everything is brown, green, or brown and green.  There’s some grayish brown meat, and some green…stuff.  And some more green stuff.  And some brown meat, maybe (?) with green stuff in it, and then the brown stuff which isn’t meat but you don’t know what it is.  And then there’s some gray stuff over there beside the beige stuff, and the other beige stuff, and the white stuff that you’re pretty sure is yoghurt but it sure as hell doesn’t taste like Yoplait.  I will openly admit:  there is a lot of Lebanese food which just isn’t pretty.  BUT:  it’s so dangnably good.

So we take kibbeh, for example.  Kibbeh is ubiquitous in Lebanon, to the point where Kibbeh Nayyi  (a mixture of raw minced meat with burghul, comparative to steak tartare but more…ethnic) is considered by some to be the national dish. Baked kibbeh is deliciously simple and subtly spiced, easy to prepare, and perfect for serving a crowd when you need to stretch your meat-dollar.  But the thing is, you take everything that makes people suspicious (“I don’t know what it is, but is that GRAIN in there?  Seriously?  WTF IS that?!”) and give it the charming appearance of your average meatloaf.  It’s hard to make kibbeh pretty.  Really, really hard.  Impossibly hard.  Give-up-before-you-try kind of hard.

I’ve been waffling over whether or not to post this recipe, because try as I might, there wasn’t a single picture of the kibbeh I made which would make it look appealing to a vaguely suspicious audience.  I figured that this was okay, I should have SOME culinary privacy, and it doesn’t matter if people don’t want to read about my kibbeh because at least *we* (and our dinner guests who happily took some tupperware to go) enjoyed eating the leftovers for days afterward.  

But then last night I got a phone call from my Dad.  He called to tell me that there was a sale on at a local grocery store.  Oh, and that he was looking at our website the other day and I should know that the food didn’t look very appealing.  “You know,” he says, “People eat with the eyes.”  Yeah, gotcha.  They won’t want food that doesn’t look appealing.”  Huh.  You don’t say.  “Yes,” he continues, “maybe if your food looked better more people would want to read about it…………”

AND WITH THAT THE KIBBEH GETS POSTED. Being the stubborn wench that I am, nothing else could have provoked me into posting a dish as…ehrrr….’aesthetically challenged’ as kibbeh if he hadn’t said that.  I KNOW that it’s not something you’d drool over on Tastespotting.  I KNOW that most people will look at the picture and quickly skip over to the next post.  But at the end of the day, kibbeh is one of our favorite dishes because it’s just good.  It’s comforting, nourishing, and about as flavorful as minced meat with onions, allspice and seasonings can be!  And really, at the end of the day, what matters is that your dinner tastes savory and delicious – even if she’s not the prettiest girl at the party, it’s what’s inside that counts.

(PS:  What’s inside is seasoned meat and walnuts.  That’s way better than a cheerful demeanor.) 

Kibbeh bi Saneah:  Minced Meat And Burghul Pie

Serves 10-12, depending on what you have for sides

Kibbeh Nayii (base and top) *

  • 3 lb extra lean ground beef, lamb, or a combination of the two**
  • 2.5 cups fine burghul
  • 5 cups ice water
  • 1 medium yellow onion, grated
  • 3/4 tsp allspice 
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1 tsp black pepper, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup salted butter, melted before use

Hashwat Kibbeh (filling)

  • 1.5 lb medium ground beef or lamb**
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp salted butter
  • 3/4 cup walnut pieces
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

* If you trust your butcher (ie., you don’t shop for meat at No Frills) to have really fresh meat, this is a recipe for Kibbeh Nayii.  Leftover Kibbeh Nayii often gets repurposed into cooked kibbeh or turned into a stuffing.  

** Why two different types of beef?  A very lean beef will not shrink as much when it cooks, and it also won’t release as much molten fat into the pan.  However, fat is totally where the flavor is at, and the filling can be too dry if there isn’t a bit of extra fat in there.

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Start by making the kibbeh filling.  Finely chop the onion and mince the cloves of garlic.

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Just in preparation, you should also mince the parsley and chop the walnuts up a bit finer than they came in the package.

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Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet, making sure that it doesn’t brown.  If your range tends to run hot, you may want to do this over a lower heat setting.  When the butter is melted, add the onion and garlic.  Sweat the onion out until it’s translucent, and then add the ground beef or lamb, allspice, salt and pepper.  I like to use beef for the kibbeh layers and lamb for the filling, but this time I used all beef….because the only ground lamb at the grocery store was some incredibly overpriced “Grain Fed New Zealand Spring Lamb” (is there a small town called ‘New Zealand’ in Ontario?  Because this mince looked like it was from somewhere outside of Hamilton…*shudder*) and at $9.50 per lb (!!) I’ll just use my beef, thanks.

Break the meat up with your spoon as it cooks down to make sure that there are no big chunks.  Meat balls doth not a good kibbeh filling make.  Continue cooking the meat over your relatively low heat until it’s browned through.   At this point, add the walnuts and let them cook with the meat for a minute or two before adding the parsley and taking it off the heat to cool down.  As it cools some of the fat will separate out from the meat and pool, but be sure to stir this back in before you use it in the kibbeh.

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And now!  On to the kibbeh!  Measure the dry burghul into a medium size bowl and cover it with the 5 cups of ice cold water.  Let this sit for just 5 minutes – don’t forget about it.

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After 5 minutes, drain off the water and press the burghul to get rid of as much liquid as possible.  I find that the easiest way to do this is to pour off the excess water and then scoop up a handful of burghul, squeeze and pack it between my hands like I was making a particularly dangerous snowball, and then toss it into a larger mixing bowl when I’m satisfied that I can’t squeeze any more liquid  out.

If you had a stand mixer then you could throw it into the bowl of that, as your mixer with a paddle attachment would be perfect for incorporating the meat.  The thing is though, for some reason I really like to mix raw meat by hand…..is that creepy?  No, really, is it?

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Grate the yellow onion on a box grater and add this to the burghul, along with the spices, salt and pepper.

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Add the beef/lamb and start working everything together with your hands.  Really, really work it.  Get right in there, fully immersing your open fist into the mince as you twist, stir, mix and knead that meat into submission.  Squeeze the meat and let it push out between your fingers.  Keep going, it only feels weird at first and then it just starts to feel natural – like you were born to make kibbeh and this is how you do it (baby). 

What you are basically doing is emulsifying the fat with the meat, which will yield a much more tender kibbeh at the end of the day.  

When the meat is pretty much uniform in color (with the exception of the burghul) and it almost starts to look ‘hairy’, you’re done.  That’s not meat hair (what a vile thought!) it’s just protein strands from the meat which have separated out.  This is good.  Oh, and because of my ridiculously lacking photography skills, this picture looks really light – it’s not.  It’s the colour of….ground meat with burghul.

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Butter a large casserole pan (9×13 or larger) and press half of the kibbeh mixture into the bottom.  

Spread the cooled filling mixture evenly on top of the kibbeh base.

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Gently press the stuffing into the base layer.  Pinch off a small ball of the remaining kibbeh and flatten this into a disk which will be placed on top of the stuffing.  Make another kibbeh disk and place it so that it just slightly overlaps the first one.  Continue the process until the whole top of your casserole is covered.

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Moisten your hands with cold water and press the top layer down, smoothing it out as you go so that the surface is even.  Having hands that are cold and wet will help you enormously in this process. Put the kibbeh into the fridge to chill for a half hour, or up to a day.

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When you’re ready to cook the kibbeh, start by preheating the oven to 350F with your rack in the center.

Press the tip of a sharp knife (NOT serrated) into the kibbeh, just deep enough to feel the texture change.  You just want to cut through the top layer and stop when you reach the stuffing.  Gently cut the top layer into angled strips, each about 2 inches apart.

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Cut again in the opposite direction to form a diamond pattern.  The Lebanese like things cut to diamonds as much as the Irish like triangular wedges and the Brits like squares.

Brush the top of the casserole with the 1/4 cup of melted butter.

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Bake the kibbeh on the center rack of your preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until it’s done.  How long it takes to be done will depend on how big your casserole dish is.  If you used a 9×13 dish, then your kibbeh is really thick – meaning that it will take an hour to cook through.  If it is thinner, in a large lasagne pan for example, it may only take 45 minutes.  Either way, you want to cook it until it’s done.  If you must, use a thermometer to ensure that it has reached 160°.  Otherwise, you can usually tell whether or not it is done by the appearance – the top will be browned, it will have started to pull away slightly where you cut it, and it will smell  fragrant.

Be sure not to overcook the kibbeh, because the meat is so lean that overcooking it will lead to a dried out greyish mass that falls apart when you cut it.

Re-cut the kibbeh along the path you had drawn, but this time cut it all the way through.

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I warned you, didn’t I? It’s not pretty.  I get that.  Hey, we’re talking about minced meat with burghul.  It won’t be beautiful no matter what you do to it.  However, if you decide to make this at home and you want somebody to come and do a taste test?  Grab the closest Arab you can find – they’ll be happy to help. Oh, or Mike.  Or myself.  Or our friends.  

If you’re the kind of person who shakes their fist at the sky yelling, “MEATLOAF FOR THE MASSES!!!!!” this may be just the dish for you.  The mince is tender and flavorful but honest tasting.  The burghul adds body, texture, and a bit of a toothsome appeal.  The butter does what butter does.  Really, for a cheap-ass ground beef dinner, this is comfort food elevated to the levels of sublime. 

 I firmly believe that relations in the Middle East would be in much better shape if the political powers just skipped over the small talk and pleasantries, and shared a home-cooked meal instead.

“That’s our land.”
“No, that’s OUR land.”
“Hey, this hummus is really good.”
“Oh, thanks.  Hey, your kibbeh tastes like my Tata Badia’s!”
“Maybe we can share the land?”
“DEAL.  Pass the olives, please.”

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  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

    This is one of my favorite Lebanese Brown Food Things.

  • http://www.dubnerdesign.com Analise

    I, too, grew up with middle eastern food… all kinds, because my dad is an Armenian from Jerusalsem, and so the cuisine sort of borrowed from all the regional variations.

    Frankly, people who won’t try Kibbeh because of how it looks? Don’t deserve it. They can miss out.

    It’s probably my most favorite thing in the world… with lemon squeezed all over it and paired with yoghurt. My mom tended towards making the Saneah version as we all got older (because it was easier)… but some of my favorite childhood memories are helping my dad make it ‘torpedo’ style, where it’s shaped like a really fat, football-y cigar you can dip in yoghurt or Jajik.

    No walnuts in ours, tho. Pine nuts. Mmmmmm, pine nuts.

    A

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Analise – thank you for stopping by and leaving your comment! Regional variations is one of the things that I LOVE about Middle Eastern food. Everything tastes just a wee bit different depending on where you are, and the particularities of the cook.

      YES to kibbeh paired with yoghurt! Oh, or kibbeh balls in yoghurt soup – love, love, love, love, love. My Dad often used pine nuts as well. I adore pine nuts, and frankly I like either type of nut in kibbeh – I just use walnuts more often because I’m a cheapskate……

      That’s hilarious that you used to make the torpedo kibbeh with your Dad – so did I. He also used to let me help when he made vine leaf rolls, or when he made tabouli. I was the designated parsley topper and cleaner for that. I remember always being so chuffed when he’d let me participate, but I figured out eventually that it was just because kiddies’ wee hands are ideal for the time consuming tasks that he didn’t want to do!!

      • http://www.dubnerdesign.com Analise

        I didn’t get to chop the parsely for the tabouli, I got to wash it and pick off the stems. Much less exciting than chopping. Yes to the grape leave construction. Also with the stem picking job, however. And the pruney fingers that would develop from that.

        The single most labor intensive job for myself and my siblings, however, was when Shoosh Bereg was on the docket, and we all had to bend to the task of making those little dumplings.

        Still… labor was worth it. When I make Shoosh Bereg now, I just use store bought tortellini because I have no time for making dumplings… and while its still decent… its no where NEAR as good.

  • http://www.foodforlaughter.blogspot.com Astra Libris

    I’m SO glad you decided to post the recipe!! YUM! The photos are gorgeous, btw – I think brown foods are awesome! (this might be because my Dad’s Israeli, so I grew up with lots of brown chickpea and Bulgar dishes too 🙂 I can’t wait to try your recipe!

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Thank you Astra Libris!! It’s funny how when you grow up with something you recognize it for what it is (delicious, flavorful, simple food) even if it wouldn’t normally be appealing. There is a bulghar dish which is made from coarse bulghar and chickpeas, scented with onion and cinnamon and served with yoghurt. Did you eat that as a child? It was one of my favorites when I was a vegetarian, and SO abominably cheap and easy. Mine never tasted as good as my father’s, but that’s okay…..

  • http://thespitefulchef.blogspot.com kristie

    You should write Obama a letter and explain your plan for peace in the Middle East. I don’t know what burhul is, but I’ll google it and try making your lebloaf. I’m a big fan of Middle Eastern food anyway, even if the primary condiment in that region seems to be “religious strife.” Not your dad, though. He’s ah-ite.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Kristie – Burghul (aka burgul, bulgar, bulghar, etc.) is just wheat which has been parbroiled, dried and then cracked or ground. It looks a lot like couscous but the flavor is much nuttier and the grain has a slight chew to it. You’ve probably eaten it before if you’ve had tabouli (unless it was Heathen’s Tabouli made with couscous, which is a tragedy that should never befall the innocent salad). If you don’t have a Middle Eastern grocery store in your area, or a supermarket which sells ‘International’ ingredients, you might still be able to find it hunkered up beside the rice and grains.

      PS – my Dad checked out your blog and thinks you’re hilarious. He’s always had a soft spot for spunky chicks.

  • Ray

    Fabulous description of the importance of food to the Lebanese. Thank goodness my non-lebanese wife liked kibbeh the first time she tried it. I’ve never gotten her to like Kibbeh Nayyi but that’s her loss.

    I can’t wait to try your receipe but not until my Mom (your aunt) approves it. But Walnuts? Never! It has to be pine nuts (also called pignolia nuts). Near me the burhul is sold in different sizes as #1, #2, etc do you know which one is good for Kibbe Nayyi?

    The corner pieces always seem to taste best. I wonder why????

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Ray – thank you for stopping by! I ADORE pine nuts, I just tend to use them sparingly when it comes to a choice of mortgage payments vs. dinner 😉

      I did a quick search on what the sizes represented, but couldn’t come up with any kind of an adequate description. I’ve only seen it sold in coarse, medium or fine. I think that Kibbeh Nayii is best when it’s made with the finest burghul that you can find, because you still get that body to the dish but it’s almost ‘silkier’. The coarser (or medium) grains throw me off texturally. However, that’s all a matter of preference I suppose. Oh, and your wife isn’t alone – my father won’t eat Kibbeh Nayii either. I’m the only one in our little family unit that thinks it’s divine!!

  • http://kopiaste.org Ivy

    Tina, I love kibbeh (in Cyprus we call them koupes), we make them a bit different but definitely we have a lot of influence from Middle Eastern cuisine. I never thought of making them as a whole pie, as I usually make them into small individual torpedo shaped ….
    Shall definitely try making them this way as well.

  • http://www.cookeatfret.com claudia (cook eat FRET)

    i’ve made the meatball version… but i think the pie version looks just dreamy…

  • http://www.eatingclubvancouver.com [eatingclub] vancouver || js

    This is on my to-do list.

    I totally understand about the brown food — but brown food is delicious!

  • http://www.weareneverfull.com we are never full

    i love, love love lebanese food. how lucky to have grown up with it. i would LOVE you to post more lebanese dishes. we made one a LONG time ago on our blog and i based it off a memory of a dish i ate at a great lebanese restaurant in DC. who the f knows if it was authentic, but it tasted good. this is one i want to make.

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  • http://www.colette2008.blogspot.com Colette

    This sounds really good. I’m trying this today – it’s in the oven now.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Ooh, let me know how it turns out and what you thought!! I’m super-excited that you tried this recipe, because it’s not something that a lot of people would be attracted to if they weren’t used to Middle Eastern fare. Please comment back with your thoughts!

  • http://www.colette2008.blogspot.com Colette

    I tried it on Sunday after I took it out of the oven, and was somewhat ambivalent (possibly due to eating too many pitas). I’ve been taking leftovers for lunch, and I think I like it more now than I did fresh out of the oven. Definitely something I’ll make again (but next time, I’ll do it when there are more people around – it makes a lot!).

  • katrina

    Yummy! I haven’t made Lebanese food in ages..but really..it’s the best! I only wish I could make..Mah’moul? and the little croquette like things made from chickpeas fried..I just could never get that one to come out right…
    Kibbe kabobs..are pretty darn good to!
    Mmm…and fatoush…Oh, and fish baked with tahini..so yummy…
    Thanks for the memories! Maybe it’s time to find some time to bake again!

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Katrina, you certainly know your stuff! You’ve also just touched on so many of my favorites – falafel, mah’moul, fatoush….oooh, so good. I always think of fatoush as summer time food for some reason, probably because my father served it with BBQ chicken so often, so now that it’s March I’m counting down the months!!!

  • Ronda

    I love and miss kibbeh so so much, thank you for your recipe Tina, it looks and sounds most like my mother’s kibbeh so I am going to give it a go this week.
    I can cook most Lebanese dishes – am Lebanese/Syrian and grew up on this fine fine cuisine also and my American husband loves everything I have made so far, I am sure he will love this. I just have a hard time finding the ingredients we need living abroad like we do (Japan, and now in Sicily) and mum often sends me care packages of AllSpice, Ghee and Tahini etc… bless her.

    My fondest memories of Kibbeh are helping mum and dad make Kibbeh Mishwi, which is in my opinion the BEST kibbeh (with that extra fat in the filling that makes you go “ewww ma!” but tastes sooo good mmm) but is time consuming and not as easy to just up and make. My ma always made it with a mix of nuts, pine/walnut/almond slivers etc …

    So for now I will start with Kibbeh bi saneah and as it gets warmer and we start firing up the charcoal grill I will try my hand at Mishwi – if you ever do it please post your recipe :o)
    Shukran!

  • Fredrick

    What a great food topic….one of my favorites. It is interesting to search and see the many different variations on recipes. Kibbeh is one of my favorite foods to eat. It seems lately that there appear to be more Lebanese restaurants opening up across the nation, each with their own version of this fabulous food.

    I have often wondered why you don’t see this and other Lebanese products in grocery stores. Anyway….it would be nice to be able to walk into a store and buy it when you are pressed for time and don’t have the time to make it.

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  • Jen

    Ooh I knew if I searched you’d have posted your kibbeh recipe! 🙂

    I make it very similar…I use my Siti’s recipe…she uses the pine nuts, and tons of cinnamon instead of all spice and cayenne. And always, always tops it with laban.

    I want this SO BAD right now!

    I wonder if this could be tweaked into making little mini-kibbehs in muffin pans? Hmm…

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Jen – your Siti’s kibbeh sounds delightful. My father sometimes puts laban in with the meat and nut stuffing when he makes the kibbeh balls, and it’s delicious!

      Mini kibbeh in muffin pans is SUCH a great idea!! You could still stuff them but form them into balls, the cooking time would be so much faster. What a wonderful thought….and now I’m wondering how soon we can power through our Thanksgiving leftovers so that I have an excuse to make this….

  • Jen

    I’m not that great of a cook, so when I do try it, its possible failure would have more to do with the cook than the idea itself…LOL. So if you get to it before I do, I’m sure however you do it, it will turn out amazing! (And then tell me how so I can do it too!) I’m having images of me burning the hell out of it in its dark little muffin pan.

    I was seriously considering making it yesterday but I don’t have any laban. I have vanilla, key lime pie, and strawberry yogurt…but no plain. =(

  • Mtngigi

    Enjoy your blog. 

    I’m first generation American-Lebanese (both parents born in Lebanon) and grew up eating this and all the wonderful food coming out of my mother’s kitchen. She usually spread yogurt cheese in the middle of the layers, and that is how I make it. She also studded each diamond in the top with a pine nut … and she always used pine nuts (so do I). 

    I’ve found a good source at a coop sort of market here in Colorado, and they’re “only” $23 a lb. Well, that’s better than the $44 lb. at one of the local health food store bulk sections. But I also discovered that you can get REALLY good deals on pine nuts on Amazon, so you might want to check that out. Do a search for “pine nuts bulk”. Even with shipping (sometimes free), they’re a better deal that buying at the market. I know, they’re still more costly than walnuts, but so worth it for something like this.