The perfect kibbeh
Making great kibbeh is an art form, and can take a lot of practise to get just right. You have to make sure the kibbeh is crunchy but not too dry. The casing has to be thin but still substantial enough to balance the filling. The filling should complement the casing without overwhelming it. When you bite a kibbeh it should be savoury and moderately spiced, never too spicy or bland.
So many things to consider but not impossible to perfect. The finished kibbeh shouldn't be too big or too small. It should fit into the palm of your hand and you should be able to finish it in a few bites. The perfect kibbeh will leave you wanting more and more till you can't count how many you've had.
Types of kibbeh
The Lebanese are kibbeh experts which is why it's the national dish. Essentially kibbeh is a bulgur wheat and meat based dish mixed with lots of different things and prepared in various ways.
This recipe is for individually fried morsels but can also be adapted to kibbeh bil sanieh (Kibbeh in a tray) to which you can find the recipe here. We also have kibbeh labanieh here, where kibbeh is cooked in a rich garlicky yoghurt sauce. If you're feeling brave you can also try our raw kibbeh nayeh recipe.
What makes kibbeh so interesting is that the meat is presented two ways with different textures. The filling shouldn't be too fine or chunky so you can't stuff the kibbeh balls easily. Press the mince meat for the filling down with the back of a spoon to break it apart.
A good amount of onions cooked slowly is needed to provide a sweetness to balance the savouriness. The more you caramelise them and have patience the sweeter they will be. I always cook them on medium high heat for the first five minutes then turn it down to the lowest heat. You can do plenty of things while the onions are cooking like prepare the casing.
The spicing of the filling is practically the same as the casing but also has sumac and walnuts. You can also use pine nuts as well but they are more expensive!
You can find kibbeh or kamouneh spices in most middle eastern shops. However it is always better to make your own and we at Zaatar and Zaytoun have provided you with full recipes as below.
- 5 tbsp garam masala or allspice
- 2 tbsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp coriander
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
For the kamouneh kibbeh spice mix (full recipe here)
- 2 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp dried rose petals
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 2 tsp dried marjoram
- 2 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried mint
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp 7 spice
- 1 tsp salt
I use a mix of lamb and beef mince which means its not too fatty but just tender enough though of course you can use whichever meat you prefer. I use a ratio of 50:50 lamb to beef but you can also do 70:30 depending on which you prefer. I know some people intentionally add extra lean lamb fat or 'leyeh' but I can't tolerate that taste so no.
How to shape kibbeh
I've made you a shaky video of my mum the pro shaping some kibbeh.
First make an indent in a golf sized ball as you turn the kibbeh. Then once you have a hollow shell, add some filling and close it up by pinching and turning in your hands until smooth.
Once you make your own kibbeh which admittedly needs a good few hours, you will turn your nose up at restaurant made ones which rarely contain the love and effort required to make them this good.
I like to make lots and lots of kibbeh because its messy and more rewarding when you can freeze several batches to be consumed later.
You can also make any left over casing into 'cheats kibbe' which though has no filling, is also delicious and especially popular with children. I usually shape these into flat rounds so I know the difference.
My cousin who has a restaurant somewhere in Paris told me the secret to making really great kibbeh is adding a spoon of cornflour to the casing which makes it extra crunchy. Don't say I don't share my greatest tips with you, but only because I love you 😘
Lebanese Kibbe Recipe (Fried Kibbeh Balls)
Classic fried kibbeh balls with a meat and nut filling
For the Kibbe filling:
- 500 g minced meat
- 2-3 onions chopped
- 1 tsp 7 spice
- 1.5 tbsp Kibbeh Spices Kamouneh Spice Mix
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 2 tbsp sumac
For the Kibbeh casing:
- 1 kilo fine bulgur wheat
- 1 kilo mince meat
- 2 onions
- 1.5 tbsp Kibbeh Spices
- 1.5 tbsp cornflour
- 1 tsp 7 spice
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp salt
- Sunflower or vegetable oil
Soak the bulgur wheat in enough water to cover and set aside
To make the filling, sauté the chopped onions in regular olive oil until golden on medium low heat
Add 500g of minced meat to the onions and cook out the meat on medium high heat
Add the 7 spice, kamouneh spices, black pepper and salt and use the back of your wooden spoon to break up the meat
When it is cooked turn off the heat and add the sumac and chopped walnuts. Taste to make any adjustments then cover and set aside
Drain the bulgur wheat and add to a large bowl. Take out the kilo of meat and prepare food processor
In several batches, add the bulgur wheat and equal amounts of meat to the food processor and process until it clumps together and starts to roll in the processor bowl.
Roughly chop 2 onions to go in the food processor along with the 7 spices, kamouneh spices, black pepper and salt. Blitz well
When you have combined all the meat and bulgur wheat in a bowl, add the blitzed onion spice mix and the cornflour, then bring everything together preferably with your hands
If it is too dry add a bit of water, you don't want it too loose, sticky or crumbly but so it holds together nicely. If you don't mind tasting a bit of raw meat check a tiny bit for saltiness and adjust as necessary
Add approx half a cup of sunflower to a small bowl which you can dip your fingers into when shaping the kibbeh to avoid sticking. Clean your table and arrange a workflow with a large clean tray, the sunflower oil, the filling and the casing mix
Take some casing and roll into golf ball size, indent the middle then hollow out the inside with your index finger turning as you do so until you have a half shell. Add a spoon of filling and close up the casing. Compress well with your hands and shape into classic kibbeh morsels (see video)
Line up the kibbeh on the tray until you finish the filling
Deep fry your kibbeh morsels in sunflower or vegetable oil and serve with yoghurt dip
- Roll any leftover casing into flat round 'cheats kibbeh'
- You can also bake these kibbeh balls in yoghurt sauce to make kibbeh labanieh
Other Zaatar and Zaytoun recipes you might like to try: