Monday, September 15, 2008

Kibbeh: Eastern Mediterranean stuffed Meatloaf

Our daughter Lisa just had her second child, Clara. With Jason's parents visiting them in Athens to help out, Lisa wanted to have a dinner that would appeal to these meat-eating Coloradans. She also, herself, had a post-partum craving for something I haven't fixed in years, kibbeh, the fragrant roasted flat meat and bulgar wheat loaf that is stuffed with even more meat. My contribution to their dinner this evening, which was well received, was a round baked kibbeh, diamond scored on the top, and stuffed with spiced meat, onions, nuts, and golden raisins.

Kibbeh, a specialty of Lebanon and Syria, was originally lamb pounded in a mortar with bulgar wheat, onions, and lemon juice. There is a raw version, considered a great delicacy, plus the more typical fried kibbeh meatballs and the baked flat kibbeh meatloaf. The 'crust' of the cooked versions is the kibbeh itself, a mixture of puréed lamb or beef, bulgar wheat, and seasonings. One popular style is to make this into little football shapes stuffed with a mixture of chopped meat fried with spices, onions, and pine nuts or other nuts (the Lebanese in Atlanta sometimes use local pecans, as they often do in their baklava), and sometimes golden, or 'sultana', raisins. These little footballs, with pointed tips, are deep fried in oil, and served hot as a 'meze', or appetizer, with lemon to squeeze over them, and are very poular at Lebanese restaurants. The main-course version is a larger 'pie' of kibbeh, with its stuffing, baked and served with rice pilaf and some sort of sauce. It was this latter kibbeh version that I made, and for which the recipe is below.

The recipe makes enough to serve six and have leftovers, which when microwaved may be even tastier than the original dish. In my blog are several recipes for rice pilaf (1/5/07, 3/30/08) and a commonly served yogurt and cucumber sauce (4/25/08). An alternative sauce is marinara (8/7/06), omitting the fennel seeds and adding a large pinch of ground cinnamon toward the end of cooking. A dry rosé or a medium-bodied spicy red wine, such as a French Côtes du Rhône (Grenache grape), a Spanish Garnacha (same grape), or even a Chianti, go with this dish.

This recipe, unfortunately, requires a food processor. Unless you want to pound the meat and wheat with a large mortar and pestle. Bulgar wheat is most easily located at health food stores.

Baked stuffed Kibbeh Tim

Kibbeh 'crust':
1 cup bulgar wheat
1 medium onion (use 3/4 for the kibbeh, 1/4 for the filling)
Juice of 1 medium lemon
2-1/2 pounds ground beef, lamb, or a mixture, not too fatty (use 3/4 of this for the kibbeh, 1/4 for the filling)
2-1/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon dry oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil for baking

Filling:
1/4 of the onion, above
1/2 cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 of the meat, above
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
1/3 cup golden raisins

Rinse and drain the bulgar. Soak it at least 20 minutes in plenty of boiling water. (Meanwhile prepare the filling, see below.) Drain the bulgar. In the food processor, finely chop the 3/4 of the onion, cut in chunks, then add the soaked and drained bulgar and the lemon juice. Purée the mixture, scraping the sides of the food processor down several times. Add 3/4 of the meat (you may need to do this in two batches unless your processor is large), and the seasonings, and process until well blended and fairly smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and mix well. Split the kibbeh mixture into two halves.

While the bulgar is soaking, etc., mince the reserved 1/4 of the onion and chop the walnuts or pecans, if used (leave pine nuts whole). In a frying pan, fry the 1/4 of the meat, the minced onion, the olive oil, and the seasonings, breaking up the meat. When it is looking fairly well cooked, add the nuts and fry for a minute, stirring. Then stir in the raisins, and remove from the heat. Let the filling cool.

Set the oven for 375 degrees.

Lightly oil a 9- or 10-inch round baking dish, or an 8x8-inch cake dish. Press half the kibbeh mixture into the pan, making a smooth layer with a little of the mixture pushed up a half inch against the sides of the dish to make an edge. Spread the filling and any juices evenly over the kibbeh, but not on the edge. Press the filling down gently. Carefully place flattened lumps of the other half of the kibbeh over the filling, and gently push it together to make a top crust, sealing it onto the raised edge of the bottom layer. With a sharp knife, make indentations partially down into the top in a diamond pattern with the lines separated by 2 inches. Drizzle the 2 tablespoons olive oil over this.

Bake about 45 to 50 minutes, or until the edges have pulled away from the pan and the middle is springy to the touch. The baked kibbeh can be served now, or cooled, covered with waxed paper and aluminum foil (foil not directly on the meat), refrigerated and reheated in the oven until fully hot (remove the foil and waxed paper for the last five minutes of baking to dry the surface).

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