Recipe: Middle East Meatballs
I usually call this dish ‘kibbeh’ (in Arabic كبة), because there isn’t really a true English equivalent. The closest thing would be to call it meatloaf, but it is often formed into balls or ovals and cooked or fried that way. It’s really up to you. This recipe is a combination of a recipe from a book called Pita the Great by Virginia Habeeb, as well as kibbeh recipes from other Jordanian cookbooks I have.
Kibbeh is most widely known in the Levant (around Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and down to Egypt), and there are many variations, including fillings and cooking styles. My favorite way is to either fry balls of the meat mixture in oil (good, but time-consuming), or pat it into a pan and bake it (easier, but it tends to come out drier). Then I add tzatziki (cucumber yogurt sauce), and stuff it into a pita. It’s delicious!
2/3 cup bulgur wheat (I get Bob’s Red Mill Bulgur Wheat at one of my grocery stores. Bob’s is a great source for unusual grains and seeds; you can get almost anything! Plus, the packages are small, so you don’t have to commit to buying a gigantic package of something that you only need a little bit of.)
1 pound of finely ground lamb (You can substitute beef or veal, or use a mixture of any of these, but lamb gives the most authentic taste. Plus, lamb is a very tasty and lean meat, and is a good way to add variety to your diet.)
1 small onion, finely chopped or grated
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying, if desired (I use canola oil.)
1) Rinse the bulgur, then place in a medium bowl. Cover with cool water and let sit until tender, about 20-30 minutes. Drain.
2) Combine the ground meat, onion, and spices in a large bowl. You can use your hands to squish it all together, just like meatloaf.
3) Gradually add the drained bulgur to the meat mixture, a little at a time. It’s easiest to use your hands.
4) For baking, pat the mixture into a greased 9″ round pan. Bake at 400° for 30-45 minutes or until cooked through.
5) For frying, divide the mixture into approximately 36 portions and roll into balls or ovals. (It’s easiest if you get a bowl of water and keep your hands wet while you do this.)
6) Refrigerate the balls until firm, anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
7) Pour about a half an inch of oil into a skillet and heat until hot, but not smoking.
8) In small batches, fry the balls in the oil for 5-8 minutes, turning so that they cook evenly. Let them drain a little on paper towels.
9) Add tzatziki sauce, and eat like meatloaf or as pita stuffing.
You can tweak the seasonings however you like, and add other things like dill if that’s what you prefer. It really is like meatloaf; everyone has their own.
Recipe for tzatziki:
1 cup plain yogurt (I recommend whole-milk Greek yogurt)
1 clove minced garlic (Or if you like garlic, put in several cloves. Yum!)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup peeled, finely chopped cucumber (If desired, salt, squeeze and drain the cucumber to remove excess water. You don’t have to, but the final product will be soupier.)
1) Mix all ingredients together, adjusting seasonings to taste. Truthfully, all of the seasoning amounts are loose suggestions. I usually throw in some dill, and some people add some red pepper. It just depends on what you like! This sauce is good on pretty much anything, especially meats and as a bread dipper. My daughter loves to dip little pieces of pita bread into it, then eat it with a spoon.