Potato kibbeh is deeply savory with a lemony spinach filling. Very delicious on its own or served with a garlicky yogurt sauce with mint.
We’ve had this conversation before, about dishes that are traditionally made with meat that are then turned into something new, vegetarian-style. The inspiration for the change-up had to be rooted in need. The fasting seasons of any religion have produced an array of vegetarian recipes that many could, and do, live on.
Kibbeh is case in point. Kibbeh nayeh, the “national dish of Lebanon,” is a sumptuous blend of carefully trimmed lamb or beef, pureed onion, bulgur and spices—eaten raw. Or eaten a myriad other ways (stuffed, baked, fried, poached in yogurt).
Yet the many variations of kibbeh extend far beyond the classic meat dish, none of which I grew up eating at home. Instead, these dishes have been inspired for me by restaurant kibbehs that will knock your socks off: tomato kibbeh, pumpkin kibbeh, and my favorite of all: potato kibbeh.
This exact style of potato kibbeh, layered with a spinach and chickpea filling that is brightened with a generous amount of lemon juice, doesn’t appear in any of my Lebanese cookbooks, but is served at our local Woody’s Oasis restaurant as a special.
I sleuthed that dish like a scientist for my cookbook, taking their potato kibbeh apart and trying to recreate the intense lemony flavor of the spinach filling and the deeply savory notes in the mashed potato layers.
What I discovered are some basic rules to follow that will give you a cohesive dish, with the understanding that the cook can play a little too. I do use butter in this dish, which is unusual in the Mediterranean diet unless you’re going for pastry (baklawa is a butter bomb, and happily so). You could try using olive oil instead to make the dish vegan, and you’ll have more of a fruity/grassy flavor than the one I’m after with the butter. But it’s all good!
Not unlike kibbeh nayeh, I want to eat Potato Kibbeh with Spinach with abandon. The recipe in my cookbook calls for a garlicky yogurt sauce over top, which I love but don’t have to have for the Potato Kibbeh to sing.
The bulgur in the mashed potato layers of this dish helps give the layers more body and more of a kibbeh-like texture and flavor. Make this recipe vegan by substituting the butter with olive oil. Serve the kibbeh as is in squares or include a topping of yogurt mixed with crushed garlic, dried mint, and salt.
- 3 pounds (about 3 very large) russet or idaho potatoes, peeled and cut in 2-inch disks
- 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 cup fine bulgur
- 4 ounces salted butter
- Few grinds black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
- 1 10-ounce package chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons Garlic Mint Salt, or crushed dried mint
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas (if canned, drain and rinse)
- Juice of 2 lemons
In a large pot, cover the potatoes completely with cool water and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Cover and b ring to a boil. Remove the cover and reduce the heat to medium, cooking the potatoes until they are soft and mashable, about 15 minutes.
Rinse the bulgur twice in a small bowl, letting the bulgur settle for a few seconds before pouring off the water. Add enough fresh water just to cover the bulgur. Soak it for 30 minutes, or until the bulgur is softened, and then drain if needed. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Drain the potatoes, putting . them back on low heat in the pot to steam off any residual water. Off the heat, mash the potatoes with 4 tablespoons of the butter and the softened bulgur, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, few grinds pepper, and the onion powder. Set aside to cool.
In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook them until they are soft and translucent, but not browned. Add the chopped spinach, season with another 1/2 teaspoon salt and some pepper, the cinnamon, and the dried mint, adding a tablespoon of olive oil if the mixture seems dry. Stir in the chickpeas and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasonings until the mixture tastes lemony and delicious.
Coat an 8-inch square baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Use half of the potato mixture to make a 1-inch thick layer in the bottom of the dish. Spoon the spinach mixture evenly over the bottom layer. Top the spinach mixture with another layer of the potato kibbeh. It's easiest to make the top layer in sections, kneading the potato a bit especially if it has cooled substantially, and forming patties of the potatoes in your hands. Lay them over the spinach, closing up any seams and smoothing the top. Melt the remaining butter and generously brush the top of the kibbeh with it, reserving some to brush the kibbeh when it comes out of the oven.
Bake the kibbeh until it is warmed through and the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Place the kibbeh under the broiler to encourage browning if needed. Brush the remaining melted butter ofer the kibbeh, cool for about 10 minutes, then cut the kibbeh in squares and serve warm.