Lebanon. This name sounds very poetic, don't you think? Pronounce this unique, bewitching word and you'll get me phantasizing about refined and dreamlike dishes with exhalirating aromas and fragrant perfumes, antique temples still standing triumphantly even when in ruin, glorious ancient empires full of mystique (Phoenician, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian, Roman & Byzantine), busy markets with stalls exploding with fresh veggies, fruits, spices, dried fruits and exquisite desserts, gorgeous sunny landscapes, snowy mountain tops, flat desertic plains, luscious pine tree forests and postcard-like coastlines, small coffee shops and restaurants crowded with men and women casually enjoying a delightful meals and sipping on their coffees or arak, and hospitable as well as frindly people who open the doors of their homes to visitors and happily share their meal with you. All of that might not be very accurate or the same in reality, but it is nonetheless what this complex country inspires me...
One thing I am sure of though is that the Lebanese rich gastronomic traditions have a lot to offer for gourmets like me and there is no doubt about the reasons why this place's cuisine is venerated all around the world. It's deliciousness is incomparable. Absolutely no myth here. If you already know the century-old Lebanese cuisine, then you know that I'm not lying and if you have never tasted it, well I can only assure you that you must immediately remedy this situation as you most likely have missed out on a fabulous experience.
Every time I plan to prepare a yummy dish for the weekend, I invariably pick up one of my Middle Eastern cookooks and leaf through it's page while drooling. For me, that kind of is synonymous of culinary enlightment and extreme epicurian pleasure. I am constantly amazed by the recipes hailing from that region of the globe. But there is no mystery to why I am attracted to such wonderful exotic eats. I am crazy about spices, lamb, poultry, pilafs, mezze, dips, sticky and nutty desserts, flat breads and bulghur. Such goodies have a drug-like effect on me.
Being a really well-organized foodie who behaves like a squirrel (a stock freak) I always make sure that my cupboards and freezer are garnished with a vast array of ingredients (tons of spices, grains, legumes, pastes, sauces, herbs, cans, meat, etc..). In that way, it leaves me the opportnity to cook or bake more or less anything I want without having to run out to the supermarket.
As my pantry is a treasure trove just like Ali-Baba's cave and it hides many gems, I had no problem putting together one of Lebanon's national dishes, a "Kibbeh" that I had spotted in Claudia Roden's excellent book "Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon". Thanks to my tendency to accumulate goods I had everything at hand. The ground lamb meat was in the freezer, a bag of pine nuts that needed to get used was sitting on my dried fruit shelf, a bottle of pomegranate molasses was carefully kept in the sauce section of the counter next to the oven, a packet of bulghur was stocked in my IKEA cart and both the cinnamon as well as the allspice were waiting for me in the spice cabinet. Perfect!
The name "Kibbeh" derives from the Arabic word "kubbah" meaning "ball". This delicacy is one of the Levantine cuisine's most widespread dishes and can be found in Syria, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, the Arabian Penninsula, Armenia, Israel, Latin America (Brazil,Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras or Mexico - imported by the Syrian & Lebanese dispora) and Cyprus. This course is made with bulghur (sometimes even with rice), meat (also fish, pumpkin or potatoes) and spices. There are different varieties (vegetarian, balls, oval-shaped, patties that are either baked, cooked in broth, yoghurt, bitter orange juice or fried and there's even one version that is very similar to tartare and consists of raw meat), but the most common of them is the torpedo-shaped croquettes that are stuffed with minced beef or lamb and are deep-fried.
Making "Baked Kibbeh" for the first time was no big deal for me, thanks to my food processor and my years of experimenting with cooking. The preparation required no particular skill and was not messy, long nor complex. It was quite straightforward and idiotproof, but what came out of the oven was far from being plain or simple.
With it's complex and refined flavors, this Middle-Eastern meatloaf is extremely palatable. The meat base is soft, moist and meatilicious, and is crowned a sweet, sour, savory onion and pinenut topping. This "Baked Kibbeh" can be served hot or at room temperature as a mezze (cut in small pieces) or main dish, and makes a grandiose potluck or picnic dish that will be wolfed by adults and kids alike. With the leftovers you can even create a scrummy sandwich (use pita, fattoush breads or baguette Parisienne and add the spread of your choice - yoghurt, "Tarrator Sauce", "Baba Ganoush" or "Hummus").
~ Kibbeh Saniyeh ~
Recipe adapted from "Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon" by Claudia Roden.
Ingredients For The "Baked Kibbeh" Base:
2/3 Cup (160g) Fine-ground bulgur
1 Medium white onion, cut into quarters
1 Pound (500g) Lean ground lamb (lean & boneless cubed leg of lamb)
1 Tsp Sea salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 Tsp Ground cinnamon
1+1 Tbs Vegetable oil (to grease the pan and the top of the kibbeh)
Ingredients For The "Onion & Pine Nut Topping":
1 Pound (500g) White onions, sliced (half-moon)
3 Tbs Extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 Cup (50g) Pine nuts
Sea salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 Tsp Ground cinnamon
1/3 Tsp Ground allspice
3 Tbs Pomegranate molasses
Method For The "Baked Kibbeh" Base:
1. Cover the bulgur with water and let rest 10 minutes. Drain well.
2. In a food processor, purée the onion, then add the meat, salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Blend to a fine paste.
3. Add the drained bulgur and blend again in order to get a smooth, homogenous and soft paste.
4. Preheat the oven to 190° C (375° F). Oil a 26cm (10inch) diameter tart pan/dish and then press the paste into the bottom of the pan/dish with your hands.
5. Flatten and smooth the top. Rub with 1 tablespoons oil.
6. With a pointed knife, cut the kibbeh into 6 wedges through the center, and run the knife around the edges of the dish to release them.
7. Bake the kibbeh in the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes, until browned.
Method For The "Topping":
8. Meanwhile, fry the onions in the olive oil until they are golden brown, stirring often.
9. Add the pine nuts. Stir-fry until lightly golden.
10. Salt and pepper to taste, then add the cinnamon, allspice and the pomegranate molasses.
11. Continue cooking and stirring for about 1 minute.
12. Spread the onion mixture over the top of the kibbeh and serve.
You can replace the pinenuts by 2/3 cup (90g) shelled walnuts, broken into pieces.
If you wish, you can also add 2 tablespoons raisins that have been previously soaked in water for 15 minutes and drained (in case you are using the raisins, ommit the pomegranate molasses) or add 1 tablespoon sumac to the onion topping (then ommit the pomegranate molasses).
Serve hot or at room temperature, alone or with a salad, a dollop thick yoghurt, "Tarrator Sauce", "Baba Ganoush" or "Hummus".
~ Kibbeh Au Four ~
Recette tirée et adaptée du livre "Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon" de Claudia Roden.
Pour 4 personnes.
Ingrédients Pour le "Kibbeh":
160g de Boulghour fin
1 Onion blanc (moyen), coupé en quatre
500g de Viande d'agneau hachée maigre (ou du gigot d'agneau désossé et coupé en cubes)
1 CC de Sel de mer
Poivre noir moulu, selon goût
1 1/2 CC de Cannelle en poudre
1+1 Cs d'Huile végétale
Ingrédients Pour La "Garniture Aux Oingons":
500g d'Oignons blancs, coupés en demi-lune
3 CS d'Huile d'olive extra vierge
50g de Pignons de pin
Sel de mer, selon goût
Poivre noir moulu, selon goût
1/2 CC de Cannelle en poudre
1/3 de Tout-épice en poudre
3 CS de Mélasse de grenade
Méthode Pour le "Kibbeh":
1. Recouvrir le boulghour avec de l'eau et mettre de côté pendant 10 minutes. Bien égoutter.
2. Dans un mixer, réduire l'oignon en purrée, puis ajouter la viande, le sel, le poivre et la cannelle. Mixer afin d'obtenir une sorte de pâte.
3. Ajouter le boulghour égoutté et mixer à nouveau afin d'obtenir une pâte collante, homogène et fine.
4. Préchauffer le four à 190° C. Huiler un moule à tarte de 26cm et presser (avec les mains) la pâte dans le moule.
5. Bien applatir et lisser le dessus. Peindre avec 1 CS d'huile.
6. A l'aide d'un couteau pointu, couper le kibbeh en 6 tranches égales (comme pour une tarte) et passer le couteau dans les bords afin de les libérer.
7. Cuire le kibbeh dans le four préchauffé pendant 30-40 minutes, jusqu'à ce qu'il soir doré.
Méthode Pour La "Garniture Aux Oingons":
8. Pendant ce temps, faire frire les oignons dans l'huile d'olive tout en remuant de temps à autre,
9. Ajouter les pignons de pin. Continuer à cuire jusqu'à ce que les pignons soient dorés.
10. Saler et poivrer, puis ajouter la cannelle, le tout-épice et la mélasse.
11. Cuire encore penadant 1 minute tout en remuant.
12. Etaler la garniture sur le dessus du kibbeh et servir.
Au lieu d'utiliser des pignons de pins, vous pouvez préparer ce plat avec 90g de noix , grossièrement concassées.
La garniture peut aussi être faite avec 2 CS de raisins secs qui ont été trempés pendant 15 minutes et égouttés avant utilisation (dans ce cas, omettez la mélasse) ou bien il vous est aussi possible d'ajouter 1 CS de sumac (dans ce cas aussi, omettez aussi la mélasse).
Idées de présentation:
Servir chaud ou à température ambiante et accompagner avec une salade ou du yaourt à la grecque, du "Baba Ganoush" ou du "Hummus"..