Hanukkah begins at sunset on December 12th this year. Every year I share a recipe for something relevant to the holiday or Jewish cuisine in general. This year’s edition is for a snack food not only popular in Israel, but throughout much of the Middle East. It’s called Kibbeh. There are different versions of this dish that range from patties, baked casseroles and a kind of dumpling which we’ll explore in this post. This type of kibbeh is essentially a stuffed kofta (meatball). The stuffing is made of meat, spices and pine nuts while the outside is a mixture of meat, bulgur wheat and onion. They can be baked, but in the true spirit of Hanukkah we’ll be frying these in oil.
The filling is easy to throw together. The dough is the most interesting part. Red meat (lamb, beef or even camel) is combined with warm Middle Eastern spices, an onion, and bulgur wheat that has been hydrated and drained. The spiced meat and onion get blitzed together in a food processor until a paste forms and then it is worked into the wheat until you end up with a dough consistency. The dough is filled with the first meat mixture and formed into croquette shapes and fried. They have a crispy, crunchy exterior, sweet and softer texture and then a meaty stuffing in the middle. That’s the best I can describe it. You’ll have to try these for yourself. I recommend getting fine bulgur wheat for this recipe. Unfortunately I could only find medium grind bulgur-wheat. It still works, but the texture of the final product is better otherwise.
Whether you celebrate Hanukkah or not, this is a great recipe to try. Especially for the meat lovers. Kosher and delicious!
2½ cups bulgur wheat (fine preferred)
1 large onion, cut in eighths
1½ lb ground lamb (or beef)
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for frying
1 lb ground lamb (or beef)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
⅓ cup toasted pine nuts
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground allspice
Salt and pepper to taste.
The first step is to hydrate the bulgur wheat. Here is what bulgur wheat looks before this step:
Cover with at least an inch of cool water and allow it to absorb for 30 minutes. Then cover a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and pour the water and bulgur wheat inside.
Use the cheesecloth to strain as much of the excess water as possible. Set aside.
Combine 1½ lb of ground lamb, the spices, a generous amount of salt and pepper, and the onion into a large food processor.
Pulse in bursts at first before blending the contents into a smooth paste.
Combine the lamb mixture with the strained bulgur wheat and about 2 tbsp of finely chopped parsley in a large bowl. Mix with your hands until a dough forms. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
To toast the pine nuts, simply stir them constantly in a warm, dry pan for a few minutes until slightly golden and fragrant. Be careful not to burn them. Set aside. To make the filling, add 2 tbsp of olive oil to a pan over medium heat. Add the finely chopped onion and sautée until golden. Add the garlic and sautée for another 2-3 minutes. Add the ground lamb, breaking it up as much as possible with a wooden spoon and cooking it until brown throughout. Add the toasted pine nuts, spices, salt an pepper and stir to combine. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 tbsp of finely chopped, fresh parsley. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.
Now it’s time to form the kibbeh. Remove the kibbeh dough from the fridge. Keep a small bowl of water on hand to moisten your fingers as needed so the kibbeh doesn’t stick to them. Grab a handful (2 tbsp or so) of the kibbeh dough and use your thumb to form an oval shape. Make a well in the middle.
Spoon about half as much filling into the center of the well.
Use your hands to wrap the dough around the filling, sealing the top and bottom ends into points. Form the croquette into a football or lemon shape.
Place the kibbeh on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Repeat until you have used all the kibbeh and filling. If you won’t be cooking all of your kibbeh, now is the time to freeze any extras for another time within 3-4 months.
This is very important step: You must refrigerate your formed kibbeh for at least one hour before cooking. Do not skip this step. The cold air will firm the croquettes up just enough so that they won’t fall apart when you cook them.
Heat oil in a deep frying pan or pot. You’ll need just enough oil to cover the kibbeh. Once the oil is up to 350 F/177 C, you can start frying your kibbeh. Fry them in batches, keeping in mind that the temperature of the oil will drop a bit every time you add cold croquettes to it. The temperature will rise back up during cooking. Overall, the time it takes to come back to temperature will shorten the more kibbeh you fry. I just used a medium sized saucepan for this. The first 3 croquettes I fried one at a time. After that the oil was hot enough that I could fry two at a time. Adjust the heat if it gets too hot. The kibbeh should take 5 minutes or so to cook at first and shorten to about 3 as you go on. Turn the kibbeh in the oil as they fry. Fry until they are crispy and a rich, dark brown colour. Always use caution when deep frying.
Place the kibbeh on paper towel with a slotted spoon to soak any excess oil. Lightly season each kibbeh with salt as soon as you put them down on the paper towel and they’re still hot.
Allow to cool for a few minutes and serve warm with the dipping sauce of your choosing. Some great suggestions are yogurt, tzatziki, tahini, skhug/zhug (a puréed hot sauce of chilies, herbs, spices and oil), hummus or any kind of creamy-garlicky sauce. Yum! The bulgur wheat adds a mild sweetness and even more present nuttiness to the kibbeh. You distinctly get three different textures when you bite into them. One bite you end up with a little more pine nut, another you end up with more onion… They’re sensational. You could make these spicy by adding cayenne powder or finely chopped chilies to your filling, kibbeh or both. They’re fun to make if you’re into intermediate, hands-on recipes. They’re even better to eat!
Here are some other great Hanukkah recipes for you to try:
Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays, everybody!