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.
- 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.
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I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!
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.
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!
Is there any way I can make this gluten free m? I have celiac disease.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
This looks super delicious. Normally, I would simply go out and buy #1 bulgur, but I only have #3 bulgur at home. Should I par-cook the coarse bulgur, or do you think it would be OK to only soften it?
Helen, you can use your coarse bulgur and it will work fine just softened, not cooked. Enjoy!
How can I make this into stuffed kibbee disks and either fry or bake using oil, not butter? I am not used to a buttery taste with kibbee.
Kathleen, good question. Though I have not tested this method, I would be sure the potato mixture is very thick and sturdy (less liquid in the mashing) in order to shape into disks stuffed with the spinach mixture. You can substitute olive oil for the butter.
Hi Maureen I love your blog and your wonderful stories which all remind me of the warm and connection in my family. I used your koosa recipe and your warek enab one the first time I made each dish. My ta- tas and my jiddo who all were wonderful cooks, never wrote anything down. So I want to make this but substitute pumpkin for the potato due to a dietary restriction in my family. I’ve had that before and love it but never cooked it. Any idea how I would translate the proportion of potato to pumpkin? Since they are both firm do you think I can do one to one? Thanks!
How special Renee, thank you very. much. For the pumpkin, use similar amount but be sure to drain the pumpkin puree (from fresh or canned) to remove as much moisture as possible.
My mind is blown and I’m so happy to find this recipe after many failed attempts at recreating woody’s vegetarian kibbeh!! I lived on this is college and tell everyone about it. I even just stopped to grab some at woodys yesterday and it got me searching for a recipe again. Thank you thank you!
Jen, that’s so great! Thank you!
This recipe is so good! My Situ was a fabulous Lebanese cook, but she didn’t make many vegetarian entrees. Thank you for sharing this delicious version of kibbeh. We made it on New Year’s Day and enjoyed every last bite.
Cristin I’m so glad you tried out the potato kibbeh and loved it! So many excellent vegetarian dishes to add to your already-great Lebanese repertoire, Situ’s special legacy.
Fantastic recipe, Maureen. We did this last night using your recipe. Turned out great. One of my favorite meals growing up included mashed potatoes and spinach. I would mix them together on my plate. Delicious. When I read your recipe I was excited to prepare this one. My sweet wife, Denise, did most of the preparation and I acted as souse and dishwasher. Superb taste and texture.
Charlie that’s so great to hear! You inspired me to make this dish last night. We love it too! I think that lemon juice in the filling really does the job!
Sorry but this isn’t Kibbe. I truly believe that calling things what they are not is an assault on Leb food culture. Kibbe is a very specific spice with a very specific taste. None of it is found in this recipe or the photos. Come on, stop doing this. No chocolate hummus for anyone either.
There certainly are strong thoughts about our cuisine! Where I’m from, and in most every Lebanese cookbook I own, there are versions of kibbeh made with tomato, pumpkin, potato. I first tasted potato kibbeh in a traditional Lebanese restaurant in my hometown!
I love both of your recipes (potato and tomato), and just recently (two days ago) purchased several of your spices and pomegranate molasses. I can’t wait to use them in the hopes that they will help me elevate my usual meals, to more closely match the wonderful dishes that my grandmother used to make.
My Catholic Lebanese grandmother (born and raised in Souk el Gharb above Beirut) used to make various forms of vegan kibbe, especially around Lent. I had never written down her recipes, so it was quite nice to find yours.
I always loved her meat-based kibbe. Especially raw, but since transitioning to a vegan diet about a decade ago, I enjoy the alternatives.
I have tried several versions of tomato kibbe, but yours is by far the closest to what she as well as my other Lebanese relatives used to prepare. many of your recipes that I have tried bring back fond memories of beautiful meals around a big table with lots of love.
Thank you very much! What a wonderful site.
Tony, thank you for sharing about your special family traditions and memories. I’m so glad these recipes are similar to what your family made. The food and the memories and the traditions…that’s what it’s all about…
I’m trying your koosa soup today. The kitchen smells wonderful! Instead of cinnamon, I’m using the Lebanese 7 spice that I bought from you
What a delicious idea…
Oh thank you!! I have been trying for years to recreate this dish as it is my absolute favorite at Woody’s! And now that we live in MN, I can only get my fix when we come back to MSU. I can’t wait to try it. I have to admit, I didn’t think about using butter:)
Nicole I’m so happy to hear that! Enjoy every delicious bite!
H, Maureen, I love all your stories. It reminds me of growing up with my Mom cooking all her Lebanese favorites. Our daughter took us to Woody’s near MSU and we became fans so I was pleased to see this recipe. I wonder if I would substitute cauliflower mash for the potatoes to keep it a Keto meal? Too much moisture. I usually par cook them in the microwave first. May be worth a try.
Thanks so much Maureen! Love your idea of the cauliflower mash in place of the potatoes. If they’re too wet you could dry the cauli in a thin layer on top of paper towel or kitchen towel. Love to hear how it goes!
I made the Potato Kibbeh and the Lebanese Slaw, Malfouf Salad and they were both the hit of our Easter Meal. I usually make the routine Easter dinner but I am so glad I made these. Thank You So Much! These made the day! I love your recipes; I use many!!! So close to my Sitho’s and Mom’s way!
Those sound SO delicious! What a great Easter dinner menu you made. I’m so happy you enjoyed and that my recipes are similar to what your mom and Sitto made. That’s an honor!!