Potato kibbeh is deeply savory with a lemony spinach filling. Very delicious on its own or served with a garlicky yogurt sauce with mint.

Potato kibbeh in a square dish

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).

Spinach with chickpeas in a creuset saute pan

Squeezed lemon rinds on a board

Mashed potatoes with bulgur in a pot

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.

Buttered dish with potatoes and spinach filling

Potato kibbeh top layer in a dish with spinach filling

Potato kibbeh in a square dish with red brush and melted butter

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.

Potatoes layered with spinach in a glass dish

Slice of potato kibbeh in a blue and white dish

Potatoes layered with spinach in a glass dish

Potato Kibbeh

Servings: 9 slices
Recipe by: Maureen Abood

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.

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Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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8 Responses to "Potato Kibbeh"
  1. Robbie says:

    How could I best prepay this for a Lenten potluck dinner a head of time? We have services on Wednesday evenings. And I go from work to church.
    Thank you
    Robbie Namee
    Wichita, Ks

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Robbie–can you reheat at the church? If so, make and bake the kibbeh the day before and refrigerate, covered with foil. Bring to room temperature during the day while you’re at work or if it’s cold in your car, leave at room temperature during the service. Reheating will be faster and less drying if the kibbeh is already at room temp. Leave the foil on top of the kibbeh and reheat at 350 degrees. The kibbeh is also good eaten at room temperature!

  2. Is there any way I can make this gluten free m? I have celiac disease.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Cathy, you can try replacing the bulgur with quinoa that has been cooked al dente. Remember to rinse the quinoa before cooking it to remove the bitter flavor. I haven’t tested this but the quinoa should work fine as a 1 to 1 substitution for the bulgur.

  3. Steffi says:

    Will this taste the same if I use fresh spinach and mint? I have both in the garden right now. Is there anything I would need to do differently to compensate for extra water?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Yes Steffi! Will be delicious with fresh, just be sure to chop the spinach well. If the mix seems watery, cook a little longer to reduce juices.

  4. Joycelyn says:

    Hello
    Wondering what your mean by “fine bulgur” as the only form of bulgur I’m able to buy at my local shop is labelled bulgur, there’s no reference to fine or other forms.
    Thank you

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Joycelyn, there fine bulgur refers to the size of the bulgur granule. The smallest granule is “fine” or #1 grade. Typically the bag of bulgur will indicate #1, #2, #3.

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