Nearly two centuries ago a wave of immigrants from the former Ottoman Empire found its way to America (the continent), fleeing persecution and economic hardship. With them they brought bits and pieces of the rich cuisines from a territory that surrounded most of the Mediterranean, and the Red and Black seas.
Kipe / quipe, as we Dominicans call it, is one of those culinary treasures. You can find kibbeh from Northern Africa to the Middle East, and everywhere their inhabitants have emigrated to, which includes most of Latin America. The most common version in our country is the fried, bullet-shaped one; but the fact that I have been asked many times to include this one in our recipe collection tells you that the love for the baked kibbeh has not been lost.
Let me start by quoting the wonderful cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottholenghi and Sami Tamimi:
Kibbeh, kubbeh, or kokeba all mean “the shape of a ball” in Arabic. Indeed, this is how they started. […] For generations of Jewish and Arab Women being able to make nice kubbeh was considered one of the basic requirements of a “good” domesticated woman; a test of their refinement and elegance. A less arduous version–why hasn’t anyone told the poor women–is kibbeh b’siniyah, where the casing and the filling are layered in a dish to form a pie.
But how does a Dominican with no discernible Middle Eastern heritage write the “right” recipe amongst thousands of versions of a dish of disputed provenance? The same way I do with every other recipe here: I make them the way I like them, and cross my fingers you’ll like them too.
To be honest, I didn’t find making this dish that much easier than the traditional fried kibbeh, perhaps because I have made the other one many times, and can make them in the right shape with my eyes closed (exaggeration warning here!). But if you think this kibbeh is any less flavorful, or has anything to envy the other one, you’ll be surprised. This one has an even more complex mixture of flavors and textures. And I would take it any day over the traditional one, and not just because it is lighter in the fat department.
Notice also that Middle Eastern kibbeh is made from lamb, a meat that is noticeably absent from Dominican cuisine. I have found that, as a general rule, Dominicans dislike lamb and prefer their cousin chivo (goat). Kibbeh in the Dominican Republic is made with beef.
Many a recipe for baked kibbeh called for a food processor. I am a fan of food processors, but I wanted something more “affordable” for the beginner cook, and I also love the texture of the “whole” bulgur. This worked just perfect for me.
Like I sometimes do, I used my yoga classmates as my test subjects (which is why I am not losing any weight doing yoga), and this passed with many oohs and aahs.
- 2 cups of bulgur
- 1 lb [0.45 kg] of lean minced beef
- 1 large purple onion, minced finely
- 3 teaspoons of salt, divided
- ⅛ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon of cumin seeds
- ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon powder
- 2 large tomatoes, skinned, seeded and diced
- 6 tablespoons of olive oil
- ⅓ cup of raisins
- ⅓ cup of pine nuts
- 4 tablespoons of chopped parsley
- Pour the bulgur into a bowl and add enough water to cover, let it rest for an hour.
- In the meantime, mix the meat with onion, 1½ teaspoon of salt and cayenne pepper. Mixed thoroughly using your hands.
- Divide the meat into halves, and reserve half.
- Add cumin seeds, cinnamon, and tomatoes to the half you will work with.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the meat and quickly stir. Simmer, occasionally stirring, until the meat has cooked through and the liquids have evaporated. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Remove from the heat and mix in raisin, pine nuts and parsley. Cool to room temperature.
- Once the hour has passed, use a sieve to drain any water that wasn't absorbed, pressing down lightly to remove any excess water. Pour the bulgur into a large bowl.
- Heat oven to 400 ºF [200 ºC].
- Mix the uncooked meat you had reserved with the bulgur, doing a kneading motion with your hands. It should be mixed well enough that it retains its shaped when you press on it.
- Pour 2 tablespoons of oil on the bottom of a 7 x 10½ inches [18 x 27 cm] baking pan. Spoon in half the bulgur mixture and press down with your hands to obtain an even, compact layer.
- Cover with the cooked meat, pressing down to make an even layer.
- Cover with the remaining bulgur mixture and press down to make a compact, even layer. Score deeply with a knife in a diamond pattern about 2½ x 2½ inches [7 x 7 cm]. Pour remaining oil on top.
- Bake for 40 minutes, or until top is golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes before serving.
- For serving, I suggest a light salad of diced cucumber, onion and thick yogurt seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.