Kibbeh nayeh, or ‘raw kibbeh’ is one of Lebanon’s most famous delicacies. It relies on extremely fresh lean lamb or veal meat that is mixed with ‘kamouneh’ spices which you can find here, and a bit of bulgur wheat. My mother recalls how they used to have a special stone mortar they used to prepare it in and she claims that when they used to ground the meat down, the shear force of the stone used to kill most of the germs. Now, I don’t know how scientifically accurate that is but it’s a nice thought. These days most people use food processors which is less romantic than grinding it in a stone mortar but still effective. Similar to lots of other mediterranean dishes such as carpaccio, it is a celebration of local produce and you wouldn’t dare to use old or pre-frozen meat. Getting the seasoning is perhaps the most important skill in preparing kibbeh nayeh. Make sure you keep the fresh meat cold until you are ready to prepare it, and come serving time, you want it to be almost at room temperature.
Use the very best extra virgin olive oil and fresh bread to accompany. It is also customary to serve fresh herbs, radishes, cucumber and raw or spring onion with it. You can make pretty indents to hold the oil or score knife patterns as you wish, and use a bit of water to smooth it down if it gets sticky. If you think eating raw meat is bad for your health then you might like to know that my husband’s grandfather, who is over 90 at least, eats kibbeh nayeh most days of the week and insists it be hand beaten the traditional way. He is a picture of health and puts it down to his rural lifestyle and a frequent helping of kibbeh nayeh with lots of fresh herbs and vegetables.
Traditional Lebanese raw kibbeh with herbs and spices
- 500 g of lean lamb or veal fillet all fat trimmed off
- 3/4 cup fine bulgur wheat
- 1/2 small onion
- 1 tsp kamouneh spices
- 1 tsp salt
- 3-4 mint leaves
- 5-10 basil leaves
- 1/4 tsp dried Mediterranean herbs
- Extra virgin olive oil
In a food processor, blend the lamb fillets on a fine setting until it begins to clump together in a ball. Repeat if necessary to achieve an extra fine mince
Soak the bulgur wheat in water to cover for five minutes, then drain in a fine sieve
Chop the onion and herbs extra fine
In a mixing bowl, add the spices, onion, fresh and dried herbs, and salt to the meat along with the bulgur wheat. Mix together well and taste to adjust the seasoning if necessary
In a serving platter, transfer the kibbeh and use a spoon or knife to make a pretty pattern with indents. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top
Add ice on top to keep cool and serve immediately with flat breads and a selection of herbs, pickles, sliced raw onion and cucumber.