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12
Sep

kibbeh nayeh-finished 2 copy

Every now and then I have a perfect lunch and this is what happened today thanks to my friend Jerome and my brand new meat grinder. Jerome (who is head chef at Mosimann’s) gave me some fabulous lamb (from the top of the leg, which he calls single muscle) for me to make kibbeh nayeh. As for the meat grinder, I wouldn’t have bought one if I hadn’t lost Ramiz, my brilliant Lebanese butcher at Zeina who decided to return to the home country. This said, I am pleased to have it because I now have total control over my kibbeh which is not to say that I would not have left this control with Ramiz if he had not abandoned me and many other faithful clients! Anyhow, I thought I would share with you the way to the ultimate kibbeh nayeh.

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10
Dec

1- Cooking Dinner copy

A couple of months ago, I wrote about Lena’s kibbeh and I gave a recipe for the kibbeh itself, and just described how Lena made the stuffing — Lena does not give out recipes, not because she is not willing to share (she is extremely generous) but because she doesn’t believe in them. Then, a reader posted a comment asking for the onion and meat filling which I had mentioned. I was about to post it as an addition, then I thought that instead of posting it alone, I would do a full post on kibbeh bil-saniyeh which I have been making often recently — it’s been my dinner party mainstay for the last few months.

There are a hundred and one way of preparing kibbeh. Possibly more. I could write a whole book about kibbeh alone. How to make it into balls and either grill or fry these or cook them in yoghurt, or in a sauce made with tahini and seville orange juice, or in sumac juice, or cook them with quince in fresh pomegranate juice. Or how to shape the kibbe into disks which are then filled with spiced tailfat or with labneh (strained yoghurt) and coriander. Or how to make kibbeh into a pie (bil-saniyeh) as in the recipe I give at the end of this post. In fact, I could give many more examples of how to shape and prepare this highly seasoned mixture of minced lamb (and don’t let anyone convince you that it is nicer with beef or veal), burghul and onion. But I won’t. I will just show you how to make kibbeh bil-saniyeh.

The pictures here were all shot by Aglaia Kremezi, while I was cooking a Lebanese dinner at a friends’s house in Napa. Also cooking with me were Janet and Doug Fletcher who you see in the photos.

2-Cooking Dinner 1 copy

Janet and Doug took care of the shopping too, and more importantly, they took care of grinding the meat for the kibbeh, very fine and very lean for the kibbeh itself and slightly coarser for the stuffing.

So, we got to work. I was in charge of making the kibbeh, Janet of making the pumpkin dip which I had learned from my friend Reem Kelani, the wonderful Palestinian singer (you can read about my cooking with her here and see a lovely picture of the dip) while Aglaia was in charge of making the Swiss Chard fatayer, helped by the “Pastry Princess”, Lissa Doumani — we were at her father’s (Carl) wonderful house where he lives with lovely Pam Hunter.

I started by making the stuffing, then mixed the kibbeh, then set about making the pie, trying to spread the kibbeh as thinly as possible, something I learned from my mother and grandmother while Lissa and Carl make it thicker in their family. We couldn’t find a round baking dish which is the traditional shape so we settled on the rectangular dish below. I spread the bottom layer, covered it with the stuffing and then set about covering the stuffing with another layer of kibbeh. The top layer is a little trickier, it being laid over the textured stuffing.

3-Kibbe step2 copy

It is always best to start in one corner and to slightly overlap the layers of kibbeh so that you don’t have cracks at the end. And you need to make sure you have even layers of both kibbeh and stuffing.

5-Kibbe step1 copy.4-Kibbe step3 copy 6-Kibbe step4 copy 7-Kibbe step5 copy

You also need to wet your hands in a little salted water every now and then to make it easier to work the meat mixture. You can see how thinly the kibbeh needs to be in the first picture. And once you finish making the pie, you need to decorate it. My decoration is rather intricate, with each quarter cut in a different, rather tight pattern while Lissa’s and Carl’s family decorate the pie with lozenges all over. Not bad but not as pretty as my handiwork, if I may say so myself. And once the kibbeh is out of the oven, it is a good idea to let it rest for a few minutes before cutting it so that it doesn’t fall apart.

8-Kibbe plate copy

Kibbeh bil-Saniyeh

My London butcher is used now to my eccentric request for a leg of lamb, which he has to bone, skin, defat and, the ultimate crime, put through a fine mincer. If there are other customers waiting, I have to first apologize for monopolising the butcher’s time, then I feel compelled to explain that the meat is not being misused but on the contrary prepared for one of our most renowned national dishes. Serves 4 to 6

for the stuffing

60 g (2 oz) unsalted butter
60 g (2 oz) pine nuts
500 g (1 lb 1 oz) large onions, finely chopped
200 g (7 oz) lean minced lamb    2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
sea salt

for the kibbeh

1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
500 g (1 lb 1 oz) lamb from the leg, boned, skinned and defatted
200 g (7 oz) fine burghul
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
small bowl of lightly salted water

Spread the pine nuts on a non-stick baking sheet and toast in a hot oven for 5 minutes, or until golden brown.

Fry the chopped onion in the butter, until soft and transparent. Add the minced meat and cook – mashing and stirring it with a wooden spoon or fork to separate the meat and stop it from forming lumps – until it loses all traces of pink. Take off the heat, season with cinnamon, allspice, pepper and salt to taste. Stir in the pine nuts. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Put the lamb through a fine mincer. You can mince the meat in a blender but you have to be careful not to process it too much. If you do, it will become too smooth and not only lose texture but also be more difficult to shape, especially when you are making kibbeh balls. Before you mince the meat in a blender, cut off and discard as many white chewy ligaments as you can – the blender’s blade will not break these as well as that of the mincer – then drag a serrated knife through the minced meat to catch the last bits of ligament. Wipe the ligaments off the blade and drag the knife through the meat a few more times until you stop picking up sizeable  pieces of ligament.

Put the quartered onion in a blender and process until very finely chopped. Add the minced meat, cinnamon, allspice, pepper and salt to taste and blend together until smooth. If your blender is not big enough to take the onion and meat in one go, process them in two equal batches. Prepare a bowl of lightly salted water and have it at hand before putting the meat in a mixing bowl.

Wash the burghul in two or three changes of cold water, drain well and add to the meat. Mix together with your hand, dipping your hand every now and then in the salted water to moisten both your hand and the kibbeh, also adding a little water to the kibbeh to soften it. Knead until you have a smooth mixture, about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Grease a deep baking dish about 30 x 20 cm and 5 cm deep (12 inch x 8 inch and 2 inch deep) with a knob of butter and preheat the oven to 200º C/400º F.

Divide the kibbeh into two equal parts. Moisten your hands in the salted water and pinch off a handful of kibbeh from one piece. Flatten it between your palms, to a thickness of about 1 cm (1/2 inch) and place it on the bottom of the baking dish starting from one edge. Smooth it down evenly with your fingers. Pinch off another handful from the same piece, flatten and lay next to the first piece, slightly overlapping it. Dip your fingers in water and smooth the pieces together until the joint disappears – make sure you connect the kibbeh pieces well together so that they do not come apart during cooking. Continue the above process until you have finished the first half of kibbeh and covered the bottom of the pan. Then go over the whole layer with moistened fingers to even it out.

Spread the stuffing evenly over the layer of kibbeh and lay the other half of kibbeh over the stuffing in the same way as above. You might find the top layer slightly more difficult to do as you will be laying the kibbeh over the loose stuffing instead of the smooth surface of the baking dish but you will soon get the hang of it.

Cut the pie into quarters, then with a knife make shallow incisions to draw a geometric pattern across the top of each quarter (see photos). The decoration work is time consuming and can be omitted without affecting the taste, although the presentation will lose its attractive traditional look. After you finish decorating the pie make a hole in the middle with your finger, put a knob of butter over the hole and one over each quarter. Insert a round pointed knife between the edge of the pie and the side of the pan and slide it all along the pie to detach the meat from the sides.

©anissa helou from Lebanese Cuisine


17
Sep

fresh dates-1 copy

I live in East London and have done so for the last ten years but for some reason, I still go West for my Lebanese shopping. I could easily go North to the Turkish shops in Green lanes, and I do sometimes but Zeina in Moscow Road remains my favourite Lebanese shop, not only because they have the best and freshest produce and meat but also because they bring in all kinds of wonderful fruit and vegetables when they come into season. You remember the lovely fresh pistachios from a few posts back. Well, the pistachios are even better now. More mature with the shell more open and the nut plumper. I have to add here that my friend Pierre Antaki, the secretary of the Académie Syrienne de la Gasstronomie, remonstrated wtih me for not mentioning that these pistachios were more than likely to have come from Aleppo (the name in Arabic is fistuq halab meaning the nut of Aleppo) where some of the world’s best pistachios come from.

In any case, I went to Zeina a couple of days ago to buy meat to make kibbeh bil-saniyeh (baked kibbé) and  they had  fresh dates. These have been in season for a while but like the pistachios, they are just coming into their own just now and they looked  particularly good that day.  So I bought some and I couldn’t resist eating half of them on the tube on the way back home while thinking back to the days when my father used to bring us huge straw baskets filled with the same fresh dates from Iraq where he spent time building roads and bridges. It’s funny, I do not remember eating them, just the  sight of the spectacular baskets filled with  bunches of gorgeous yellow dates.  If you live in London, do go to Zeina or any other Middle Eastern store to buy some dates. And if you would like to read a little more about dates, go to this article which I wrote recently for one of the FT magazines:


10
Sep

lenas-kibbeh-qubab-copy.jpg
©Ben Stechschulte

Not long now before I go off again on my Syrian adventures. I have to say, I love going to Syria. I love the souks, the people, the sites and, of course, the food. And one of my favourite places to eat there is at my friend Lena Toutounji’s House. Her food is just exquisite, as is her home and her hospitality. I still remember my first lunch there. I had heard a lot about Lena and her cooking from friends in Beirut, and of course from her brother, Pierre Antaki, who took me there. I was very excited at the idea of the lunch and true enough, it was totally memorable, for many reasons. The grace with which Lena received us. Her lovely old butler, all dressed in white. And the menu, which that day consisted of a gratin of desert truffles and a version of kibbeh that I had never had before: tiny little balls with pointed tops (kibbeh kubab means domed kibbeh; the dish is also known as Iraqi kibbeh) with the most luscious spicy filling inside. As I helped myself, Lena warned me not to bite into the kibbeh balls or else my crisp white shirt would be splattered with red fat.

The filling is made by mixing chopped up fat from the tail with grated onion and pepper paste (an Aleppo speciality) and seasoning the mixture with cumin, salt and pepper. Once the balls are made, they are arranged in a baking dish and a knob of butter is placed on each before they are baked in a hot oven until slightly crisp. One of the best dishes you will ever taste. Unfortunately Lena does not do measures, so, all I can offer you here is my recipe for kibbeh and let you work out the quantities for the filling, if you can get tail fat that is. Not to worry if you can’t. You can use butter instead. Not quite the same but it should work.

lenas-dining-room.jpg
©Ben Stechschulte

Kibbeh

I always get my meat already ground, from a good butcher making sure I ask for the best part of the leg for the kibbeh. And be sure to use very fine burghul, otherwise the meat mixture will be too coarse and not so easy to shape. Makes 50 balls

1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
500 g finely minced lean lamb from the leg
200 g fine burghul
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
salt to taste
small bowl of lightly salted water

1. Put the quartered onion in a food processor. Process until finely chopped, then add the meat and process until mixed well. Wash the burghul in two or three changes of cold water, drain well and add to the meat. Pulse a few times. Transfer the meat mixture to a bowl.

2. Prepare a bowl of lightly salted water and have it at hand.

3. Add the cinnamon, allspice, pepper and salt to taste and mix with your hand, dipping your hand every now and then in the salted water to moisten both your hand and the kibbeh, until the spices are well incorporated. Knead the meat mixture for about 3 minutes, until you have a smooth paste. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

4. Divide the kibbeh into 50 balls, each the size of a small plum.

5. Lightly moisten your hands in the salted water and place one meat ball in the cup of one hand. With the index finger of your other hand burrow a hole into the meat ball while rotating it – this makes the hollowing out easier and more even. You should produce a thin meat shell resembling a topless egg. Be careful not to pierce the bottom or sides of the meat.

6. Put 1/2 teaspoon of Lena’s stuffing inside the meat shell, gently pushing the stuffing in with your finger, and pinch the open edges together with your fingers, pinching it upwards to create the pointed top. Put the finished ball on a non-stick baking dish. Continue making the balls until you have finished both meat and stuffing. Place a knob of butter over each kibbeh ball.

7. Preheat the oven to 200º C. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crisp and lightly golden. Serve hot.