The Ultimate Kibbe, Syrian Style
Think back to your idea of a traditional kitchen, filled with a bunch of women, sharing stories over big bowls of food while they prepare a big meal for their family. Kibbe is that kind of food. There’s a big pot of meat, a big pot of dough, and a bunch of hands rolling and filling and frying while the kitchen echos with laughter and stories.
My friend/mother-in-law, Fatimah, tells me that being able to make kibbe is considered the mark of a great cook in Syria. I’m definitely not there, but it was very fun spending an afternoon learning how to make this classic dish.
Everyone has their own recipe for kibbe (also called kubbe). There are two main ways to prepare it – in bars or in stuffed lemon-shaped dumplings. People from Shaam, especially Syrians, make the dumpling style. These can either be fried and dipped in plain yogurt to eat, or made with a cooked yogurt sauce called shakriya. You can also make them in a patty style and slow-cook them in a barbeque, then serve them with plain yogurt for dipping. I’ll show all three of these styles in this post. The hardest thing to do is stuff and shape the dumplings into the traditional lemon form. I’ll try to show as step-by-step of a process as I can, but really, it just takes a lot and lot and a lot of patience and practice to get it right – but it’s worth it!
Other great Kibbe posts
Recipe (and lots more pictures) here:
1/4 pound ground beef
1 pound dry ground wheat (you can mix white and whole wheat)
1/4 tsp each: cumin, turmeric, allspice, salt, pepper
Water, enough to cover wheat
1/2 small onion, pureed
1. Soften the wheat by soaking in water – put the wheat in a bowl and pour enough water on top so that it covers the wheat by one centimeter. Soak it until the grains are soft.
2. Mix the meat, spices, onion, and wheat. The spices are not very strong so as to allow the flavor of the wheat to dominate the dough.
3. In batches, grind the meat/wheat mixture in a food processor until thoroughly incorporated. The resulting dough should be thick, soft, yet strong, the consistency of a thick play dough. It should hold its shape when you do anything to it. (look at the pictures above to see how it holds its shape) Do not add any water or oil, because the moisture will result in cracks/tears/craters in the dough when it is fried. This is also why you do not add a lot of onion.
4. Kneed the dough to make sure everything is well incorporated. Let it sit for at least 30 min until it is at room temperature. It may have to be mixed again to bring the warmer dough from the bottom to the top.
1 to 1/2 lb. ground beef
1 onion, diced
1 1/2 cup well-diced walnuts
Spices (approximate): 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1/2 to 1 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp allspice, dash of cinnamon
1. Sautee the onion in a little olive oil for a couple of minutes.
2. Add the ground beef, using your spoon to break it into small pieces and stir well. You do not want big chunks of meat.
3. Add the spices, stir well. Taste and adjust seasonings. The allspice and cinnamon give a lot of great flavor.
4. Add the walnuts and stir well.
5. Let the stuffing cool to room temperature. This will give you more than enough stuffing (you may only want to make 1/2 lb meat) but the stuffing is great by itself or over rice or with nachos or eggs, so it’s okay to have extra.
Making the dumplings
Part 1: Making the shell
1. Roll up your sleeves, take off any hand/wrist jewelry. Breathe. Be patient. No one makes it the first time, not even Neo. (cheesy Matrix reference. come on. I had to.). Make sure your hands are very clean, but not wet. The perfect amount of moisture on your palms is the “just-washed-and-dried-hands” amount. To achieve this, you might want to wash your hands a few times during the process to get the dough off your hands and start anew.
2. Make an oval of dough about the length of your palm and the 1/2 to 1/3 the thickness of your palm. Work it a bit so the surface is smooth. Flatten one edge just a little, but do not lose the ovular shape. You just need a working surface for Step 3.
3. Dampen your index finger just a little bit. Slowly, push it into the flat part of the oval to make a dent.
4. Ready? Here comes the hard part that will take me years to master.
5. Moving your entire finger in a circle (not just stirring with the tip of your finger), slowly and gently work to create a shell. Do not thin the entire length of the shell – leave about 1/4 inch of dough at the other end of the oval. Thin the dough all around (you may have to rotate the dough also to make sure you’re doing this evenly) just by moving your finger, trying not to flatten it by pressing down. Try for about a 1/8 inch thickness (I just made up this number – you’ll have to experiment. The best kibbe has a thin, light crust, but if it’s too light, it’ll fall apart when you fry it.)
6. Check for gaps, thinner spots and fill them in with more dough (or, better yet, just collapse that one and start over. The dough is very forgiving).
Part 2: Stuffing, Sealing, and Shaping
1. Holding the shell very gently in your cupped palm, put in two or three spoonfulls of the meat stuffing. Leave about 1/4 inch of room at the top to seal. (About the same amount you left un-opened on the other end of the shell).
2. Moisten the entire length of your index finger and thumb with water (Make an OK sign – the inside of that circle should be moist).
3. Hold the now-stuffed shell in a cupped palm. With the other hand (moistened OK sign), make a circular pinching motion to seal the top of the shell.
4. Open you palm and kind of half-cup your hands like you would if someone was pouring water into your hands. Hold the kibbe in the curve of your palm and just gently roll it around to fix the shape. With your fingers, fashion the ends of the shells into points. The completed dumpling should look like a lemon.
As you’re working with the dough, keep it covered to prevent it from drying out. Also, as you make the dumplings, lay them on a wax-paper lined platter and keep them covered until you’re done with all the dough and are ready to cook them. You can also freeze the stuffed-but-not-cooked shells. Put them into the freezer in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once they’re frozen, you can take them off the sheet andp ut them into a ziptop bag.
Cooking the dumplings
Method 1: Fried Kibbe
This is the traditional and easiest way to make kibbe. Fried kibbe are dipped in yogurt to eat. Simple yogurt is great, but you can also get fancy and add grated cucumber or something. A lentil soup as a great accompaniment, as are freshly sliced salad veggies like cucumbers, tomatoes, and radishes. Arabs also like to eat pickles with everything – so have a plate of sour pickles ready as a great contrast to the mellow flavors of the kibbe and yogurt.
1. Heat Canola oil over high heat in a deep pot. The oil is hot and ready to fry when you put a wooden spoon into the oil and bubbles form around the wood.
2. *Gently* (please, very gently) drop the kibbe dumplings into the hot oil – a few at a time, so the oil doesn’t lose heat too quickly.
3. Don’t touch the dumplings themselves as they cook. To move them to ensure they’re cooking evenly, just kind of move a spoon along the bottom of the pan, gently unsticking any dumplings that may be stuck to the bottom.
4. Fry until they are dark brown and crispy. Drain the cooked ones on paper towels until ready to serve.
Method 2: Barbequed kibbe
This kind of kibbe is a specialty that usually only restaurants in Syria serve. They are not as crispy as the fried ones, but still very good.
1. Instead of shaping the kibbe into lemon-shaped dumplings, make them a bit larger and shape them into patties.
2. Wrap each patty in an oiled piece of aluminum foil.
3. Grill (still wrapped) over low heat until done.
4. Eat dipped in yogurt.
Method 3: Kibbe bit Shakriya
This is my favorite way to have kibbe. Shakriya is a tangy cooked yogurt sauce that lends itself to many cooking options. It is a work-intensive sauce, since you have to stir continuously so that the yogurt will not curdle, but the taste is very well worth it. Once the sauce boils, the yogurt has stabilized and will not curdle. Then, you can add cooked lamb, beef, chicken, any vegetables, or these kibbe. This is especially great on the second day, when leftover fried kibbe are not as crispy as they are when made fresh.
Serve kibbe bit shakriya drizzled over big bowls of tomato rice (made with tomato broth instead of water).
A labaniyya (aka shakriya) with chicken recipe at Desert Candy
Here’s my recipe for Shakriyya – the tangy yogurt sauce these kibbe beg for. You’ll have to use pre-made broth (homemade or canned) since the shakriyya bit dajjaj recipe makes its own broth. This is one of my favorite ways to have shakriyya!
Finish the meal with a cup of arabic tea, flavored with mint or rosemary (or both!)