Kebbeh

Since I moved to Miami and had to start cooking for mon mari d'amour and myself, I have been on a quest trying to re-create one of our family favorite dishes: Lebanese baked kebbeh. During this laborious process, I was lost between my mom's recipe, my mother in law's ever changing recipe and the lebanese cookbooks. I was left with a big question mark on my face. It is not “that” complicated, but one time the kebbeh shrinks when cooked, the other time it is chewy, or grainy, the texture is off, etc… Two factors are important, the ratio between the ingredients and the meat mixing process.
I know that lebanese people are very picky about their food and some recipes are sacred! You don't mess with the kebbeh. You just don't. Same goes for the hommos. It's a religion. When I was considering writing about the kebbeh and debating sharing the recipe I asked a very good friend of mine for his opinion and his answer was: " Of course you do!! Kebbeh is the new crab cake!!!" It made me laugh so much that I decided to finally do it, even if it was just for the pleasure of mentioning this quote!! Hahahaha

Kebbeh Update: In May 2014 my in-laws came to visit and I spent a lot of time cooking with Nanette. The cooking highlight of her visit was definitely the Lebanese kebbeh episode or as I called it “Nanette, The Kebbeh and I”. I have known here since early 1997 and savored her marvelous renditions of this Lebanese staple ever since. When we got married and moved to Miami in 2005 I asked her for the recipe and I have been failing to successfully reproduce her kebbeh-perfection. I can honestly say without any exaggeration that the recipe she originally gave me changed more than 20 times in almost 10 years. She always “forgets” a crucial detail, or as I describe it as “classical-mother-in-law-behavior”. I finally had my Kebbeh day! I spent 5 hours watching her prepare the dish: scaling every ingredients, taking 6 full pages of notes and some pictures. When I sensed some misleading directions (she can’t help it!!) I called my father-in-law to witness the mental-recipe-torture I was enduring!

The recipe has two steps. The kebbeh itself, which is a mixture of ground meet, bulgur and onions. The second one is about the filling: ground meat with onions and pine nuts.

It's the only dish (besides pasta) that the kids won't mind eating two days in a row. They think they live in a restaurant! But that is another story.   

The case for a huge amount of kebbeh: preparing kebbeh is a long process that involves a dirty countertop, lots of dirty bowls and utensils… Kebbeh keeps well in the freezer so make a big batch of kebbeh, arrange 2 or 3 pans of layered-ready-to-bake kebbeh and freeze it raw until ready to enjoy. You will be very happy to have it on hand when craving Lebanese food. You can of course reduce by half the ingredient quantities.

This is the updated version. I hope you like it as much as we do! :))

Bon Appétit!

Kebbeh

recipe credits: Rafaella Sargi
yields 3 round pans of layered kebbeh (11inch / 28cm).

Filling Ingredients
2 lb 2 oz (1 kg) ground beef (85/15 % fat)
1 lb 8oz (700 g) onions, in quarters
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
⅔ cup of Pine nuts
Salt
2 teaspoons ground allspice
A pinch of cinnamon

Kebbeh Ingredients
3 ½ cups very fine bulgur
3 lb (1.3 kg) ground beef (85/15% fat)
1 lb (450 g) onions, in quarters
Ground allspice
Salt
Ice cubes
Ghee / or Butter
Vegetable Oil
Olive Oil

Directions
You will need a food processor (fitted with the blade attachment), a large frying pan, 3 big bowls, 1 sieve and a medium bowl, a small bowl, multiple round baking pans and (a lot of) food safe gloves.
Scale and prep all the ingredients.

For the filling
Place the onions in a food processor with 1 teaspoon of salt. Pulse between 15 and 20 times until the onions are chopped very finely but not watery.
In a large bowl, wearing gloves, mix the onions and ground beef and one tablespoon of salt with your hands until homogenous. Place the meat mixture in a large frying pan with 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil and cook over medium high heat. Mix from time to time and let the onions and meat release their water. Once the water starts to evaporate, add the pine nuts, allspice and cinnamon. Mix well. Cover and let it cook over medium heat until the pine nuts start turning golden and the onions and meat are completely cooked through. Taste and correct seasoning (you might need a little bit of additional salt). Place the cooked meat mixture in a sieve (or strainer) over a medium bowl and let all the oil drain out. Set aside.

For the Kebbeh
In a large bowl, put the bulgur then add room temperature water. The water level should cover the bulgur by ½ inch max (around 1cm). Set aside.
Put half the quantity of the ground beef in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Mix the meat with one ice cube until you start seeing small filaments (threads). Reserve the mixed meat in a large bowl and repeat with the remaining amount. Set aside.
In a food processor, mix the onions with 1 tablespoon of ground allspice and 1 tablespoon of salt until the onions are completely pulverized and watery. Add to this half the quantity of (previously soaked) bulgur. Mix again in the food processor until everything is well combined and looks homogenous. Pour the onion bulgur mixture over the remaining bulgur and mix by hand (wearing food safe gloves).
Add the full amount of mixed bulgur to the meat plus 1 ½ tablespoons of salt and 1 teaspoon ground allspice and mix everything very well by hand (again, using food safe gloves). 


Baked Kebbeh Assembly
Have a small bowl of water and 3 to 4 ice cubes ready.
Two important options to consider: The size of the pan(s) and the thickness of the kebbeh. I suggest you try to make each spread of kebbeh mixture between ½ inch to 1 inch thick (between 1 and 2 cm).
Layering the kebbeh involves 6 steps:
1. Lightly oil the pan.
2. Spread a layer of the mixed kebbeh to the thickness of your liking, smoothing and leveling it by wetting your hand with cold water.
3. Add the filling, making sure it covers the whole surface of the first layer of kebbeh and press well the filling on the first layer of meat. It will help the consistency of the final baked product.
4. Spread another layer of kebbeh mixture on top of the filling. The second layer should, of course, entirely cover the filling layer. Again, smooth and level it by wetting your hand with cold water.
5. Using a knife, you can make the “kebbeh diamond shape design” or any of your choice but make sure you cut through the meat layers reaching to the bottom of the pan. It will help your final product.
6. With your finger, make a whole in the center of the kebbeh pan.
Baking
Add a little bit of ghee (or butter) and vegetable oil over the prepared kebbeh before baking.
Bake at 400F (200C) for 45 minutes (more or less)*
Discard the cooking "oils" in a separate container. Do this step quickly otherwise the grease will set rapidly.
Drizzle a little bit of extra virgin olive oil on the top of the kebbeh. It will give flavor and keep the kebbeh moist. Let it rest a few minutes.

Serve with yogurt/cucumber/mint salad.

*If you are planning to bake a frozen kebbeh, do not thaw it! Directly take it out from the freezer, add a little bit of vegetable oil and ghee and bake in a hot 400F (200C) oven. The cooking time will of course be longer…