Baked Kibbeh: You say meatloaf, I say meatlove

We aren’t the only ones making kibbeh this week…David Tanis at the New York Times baked a kibbeh sahnee yesterday using a recipe from the Lebanese grandmother of a friend of his. He considers kibbeh a transformation of meat loaf, and tough as it is for me to place “kibbeh” and “meatloaf” in the same sentence, I suppose it is—ground meat combined with a binding element (cracked wheat) and spices. It’s always fascinating for me to see variations on the way Lebanese dishes were prepared in my home growing up. David’s kibbeh is served with caramelized onions and pine nuts on top, a version of the househ that I noted with my raw kibbeh post yesterday. I’ve had baked kibbeh only with the househ stuffed inside, never on top and never with the onion so pronounced. It looked delicious.

I keep thinking about the meat with meat combination that reigns in Lebanese cuisine: raw meat with cooked meat on top (kibbeh nayeh with househ), or baked meat stuffed with sautéed meat (kibbeh sahnee stuffed with househ), or even the appetizer version of raw kibbeh that I learned about this summer called frahkeh. For that you set aside a bit of your kibbeh meat and mix it with crunchy cracked wheat that has not been reconstituted in water, and up the cayenne quotient for added bite. The frahkeh is shaped into little torpedoes and passed around to whet the appetite just before a platter of kibbeh nayeh is served up.

What is with the meat bonanza?! All I can say is that when you are cooking with exceptional ingredients such as the perfectly lean, nearly sweet meat used for kibbeh, you just can’t get enough. I also have the idea that these dishes represent a kind of strength. It’s something like what my Sitto used to tell me about the farm she grew up on, where not one thing was wasted when it came to cooking and keeping house. When they killed a chicken for a special dinner, they used every last bit of that chicken for more than one meal. So my thought is that kibbeh was probably served up infrequently and specially in the rather humble Lebanese mountain villages where my family comes from, so when they indulged, they indulged big. The animal protein nutrition likely needed to go a long way until next time.

There are several ways to cook kibbeh after you’ve had your fill of the raw. I will admit that you can also skip the raw kibbeh if you must, and head straight for the baked or fried dishes—in which case, the perfectly sterile grind of the meat is far less of an issue. When I stayed at a villa in Umbria, Italy on a writing retreat with a group of food writers, one evening we each decided to make a special dish to share. I went on a quest that day to find the ingredients to make kibbeh, fried in little patties, for my friends. The cracked wheat was tough to tackle, but we found some kind of boxed tabbouleh (this is the one time I was happy to see the wheat trump the parsley for tabbouleh) and pilfered the bulghur from that. Telling the butcher in Italian that I needed fine ground meat with no fat whatsoever for Lebanese kibbeh was likewise surreal. I ended up with a more standard rather than finely ground meat, but because it was to be fried, it worked out fine. The flavor of the kibbeh was a great foil to the richness we had been indulging in all week—truffles we foraged ourselves (I have a framed certificate proving that I did hunt truffle), ricotta we made on the idyll of our lawn.

But I digress. It’s so easy to when it comes to food, isn’t it?

The simplest way to cook the kibbeh is to shape it into flat patties, unstuffed, and fry it in a few tablespoons of olive oil. But I love a sahnee, a.k.a. Lebanese meatloaf (ouch)–it’s a delectable dish that you can share if you are willing, or eat yourself in a variety of ways over several days: on a plate, with labne and a salad or tomatoes, or in the hand as a Lebanese-style wrap of thin pita bread filled with the kibbeh, labne, tomatoes, pickled turnips, and anything else you think would taste good. And don’t worry about getting the top of your sahnee cut like a stained glass window as my mother did in the photo below; simple squares will taste just as good.

Baked Kibbeh Sahnee

2 lbs. raw kibbeh
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 lb. ground beef from chuck
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and pepper
Lemon juice from ½ lemon
½ cup toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Make the stuffing: in a large frying pan, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions and about a half teaspoon of salt and sauté until soft. Add the ground beef and season with cinnamon, another half teaspoon of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until browned, breaking up the meat with a metal spoon into small bits as it cooks. Squeeze the lemon juice over the househ, taste, and adjust seasoning if needed. Stir in the pine nuts and set aside to cool.

Coat a 9x13x2 inch baking dish with oil. Set up a small bowl of ice water where you are working and use the water to coat your hands as you flatten and shape the kibbeh. Use half of the kibbeh to form a flat layer covering the bottom of the baking dish. Smooth the layer with cold water.

Spread the stuffing evenly over the flat kibbeh layer. Using the remaining kibbeh meat, form another flat layer over the stuffing and smooth with cold water.

Cut squares (with the traditional diamond pattern if you’d like) into the kibbeh, cutting through to the center layer but not all the way to the bottom of the dish.

Place a dab of butter on each square—this adds a wonderful savory flavor and moisture to the kibbeh. Bake in the center of the oven for about 50 minutes, or until the kibbeh is deep golden brown. Be sure to let the kibbeh bake long enough to get nearly crusty on top, otherwise it looks more like a mundane meatloaf than the kibbeh we love.

Find a PDF of this recipe here.

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20 Responses to Baked Kibbeh: You say meatloaf, I say meatlove

  1. Christine Hogan says:

    When do you have a cookbook coming out! should be a good one…

  2. Still to this day, women in Lebanon are judged by their kibbeh…funny! Yours look great and would definitely land you a few marriage proposals! :)

  3. So enjoyed reading this; you are providing me with delicious bites of culinary education in a subtle way. It’s woven into stories and photographs; maybe like househ stuffed into kibbeh sahnee, if I understand you correctly? And pleasurably: my favorite line here: “What is with the meat bonanza?” Glad to be here to enjoy it all.

  4. Gary Saydah says:

    Maureen,

    Your presentation is as elegant as ever! Thank you for the recipes.

    -Gary

  5. Roger Toomey says:

    I found that if you can’t find bulghur you can use couscous as an acceptable replacement. My children actually like it better. It should also be mentioned again the the bulghur needs to be soaked, or I have seen water added to the mix and the wheat soaked up the water from the mix.

    As with most old school cooks, both my mother and grandmother went by sight and taste rather than measurement. The standard was a 50/50 mix of wheat and meat. by sight. It always seemed like a lot of wheat before it was mixed but always came out.

    We also add nutmeg and black pepper to the mix.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Couscous, wow!! The old school cooks did it so much that they barely needed to open their eyes in the kitchen!! Thanks and loved your comment.

  6. Megan Catherine Casey says:

    Beef? Come on! It has got to be lamb!!! Beef is a cheap way to cut corners, it is a bastardization! No Lebanese I know would be caught dead using beef for Kibbe!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      I love your passion, Megan! Come on up to Michigan and you will meet many Lebanese who use beef for kibbeh…it is what I and many others in my hometown grew up on, even in restaurants here. That, I believe, grew out of the lack of availability of quality lamb meat year round.

      • Jim Albert says:

        I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is very difficult to find lamb up here. When you do find it, it’s very expensive, but I’m willing to pay for it when I can get it. Although I think kibbeh made with lamb is far superior, I’d rather have it made with lean beef than not have it at all.

    • Theresa says:

      I live in Illinois just outside of Chicago and also have family downstate Peoria Illinois (Huge Lebanese community) and ALL of us use good beef instead of lamb Megan!

  7. Carina says:

    Hi Maureen,
    I also love cooking, a trait passed on by my (Irish) mom who learned to cook Italian dishes from my dad’s mother and Lebanese dishes from her best friend whose family owned a restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. Some of mymost favorite childhood memories revolve around the evenings we all had dinner at the restaurant and the amazing dishes prepared especially for us. I am thrilled to find recipes on your site to indulge myself and share with my friends. Thanks for your time and effort in bringing these dishes to those of us who have forgotten some of the finer points of Lebanese cooking. Carina

  8. rene hallal-gonen says:

    ok– so i got back on the “kibbeh with stuffing” horse today–using your recipe…and while the taste was FANTASTIC– the layers, as always–did not stick together! i don’t know what i’m doing wrong, and it’s making me crazy!!!!!! i cut into the pan of beautiful, crusty baked kibbeh–and it falls apart… :( help!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hmmm, I think that the kibbeh often wants to fall apart, and you just put it together on the plate. Maybe your pieces are a little too small? Also, the top and bottom layers of kibbeh shouldn’t be too thick. Press the top down into the househ layer too. I understand the crazy! Hope these tips help. Let me know!

  9. Jackie says:

    We use to stir fry about a pound of ground lamb, finely chopped onion, pine nuts, and cumin and used a full teaspoon of that mixture to stuff the kibbeh before frying the ovals…really yummy and special treat in the middle :-)

  10. Raquel Black says:

    Thank you for the recipe. I am looking forward to your book. My grandfather was born in Haifa and immigrated to Dom Rep where he married. My mother carried on the tradition of cooking the Lebanese food my grandfather was so fond of. But she past 7 years ago. I am now trying to recreate the wheel in order to find recipes for those special dishes I so enjoyed. I do remember my mother used to add chopped fresh parsley to her meat filling. Is that not traditional? My mom was known for adding her “twists” to recipes.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Thank you Raquel–I have seen fresh parsley in the kibbeh, but not often. How delicious. I will try it this summer! Keep up the great work carrying on the tradition of making our Lebanese specialties!

 

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