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Baby-Size Kibbehs Stuffed With
Braised Lamb Shank, Tomatoes, and Onions
These kibbehs, the lightest and tenderest of all, are a must at Damascene weddings. They are fried until brown but are not crisp lest they turn dry. Serve with an assortment of dips, including Baba Ghanoush.
Yield: Makes about 36 kibbeh
For the Filling:    
1 large lamb shank, trimmed of excess fat
1 small onion, minced
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of Syrian Mixed Spices
For the Shell:    
3 cups fine-grain bulgur
1-1/4 pounds extra-lean ground leg of lamb
3 tablespoons ice water
3 tablespoons grated red onion
Olive oil or butter-flavored oil spray
Oil for frying
Strip the meat off the bone and cut into 1-inch chunks. (Save the bone for some other purpose.) In a medium nonstick skillet, sauté the onion in the butter or oil over moderate heat until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the meat and brown lightly. Add the tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, and spices and stir. Bring to a boil, partially cover, and cook over low heat until the meat is very tender and almost all the liquid has evaporated, about 45 minutes.

Cool the meat, then chop or pulse it 10 times in a food processor. Adjust the seasoning and chill before continuing. Makes about 1 cup filling.

Wash the bulgur in a sieve under running water, then allow it to drain. Puree the onion in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the meat and seasonings and process until smooth and pasty. Add a few tablespoons ice-cold water to the meat and process about 5 seconds, until well mixed. Add the bulgur and process for an instant. (You can do this in batches.)

Turn the mixture out onto a work surface, then knead the dough until it is smooth and pliable. Separate it into batches. Return one part to the food processor and knead in short bursts. Repeat with the second batch. (You don't want the mixture to heat up, lest it turn mushy.) Kibbeh dough should be cold, smooth, and a little sticky. Chill the dough in the refrigerator or freezer if it is soft.

Pinch off walnut-size pieces of the bulgur-meat dough to make, shape, and fill the kibbehs.

To facilitate shaping your kibbeh ovals, fill a wide, shallow bowl with cold water mixed with a tablespoon of cornstarch and a good pinch of salt. The salt inhibits the bulgur from turning mushy.

For easiest handling, wet both palms before shaping each oval and keep hands, fingers, and shell moist at all times. Pinch off a piece of the ground lamb and bulgur mixture and roll into a smooth oval.

If you are right-handed, hold the ball in your wet left hand and make a hole in it with the forefinger of your right hand. Use the palm and cupped fingers of your left hand to mold a thin, egg-shaped, smooth oval around your forefinger.

Make quick open-and-closing motions with your left hand and fingers. Meanwhile twist your entire right hand from the wrist to the forefinger, making short half turns always in a clockwise direction. Left-handed cooks carry out this operation with opposite hands. Seal any breaks by briefly dipping the shell in the prepared water, then smoothing the dough.

Quickly slip the prepared filling into the shell. Pinch ends to seal, using a few drops of cold water to bind. Use fingertips to smooth out dough. Gently squeeze the oval with wet palms to form a smooth football shape. The ovals should be thin and small. Set them out, 1/2 inch apart, on a flat tray, spray with butter-flavored oil or olive oil, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze or refrigerate until ready to cook.

Fry a half dozen kibbehs at a time in hot oil until brown but not crisp. (They can be broiled on all sides.) Serve warm or at room temperature.

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©1999—2006 Paula Wolfert