We’re not from around here. Kipes are the proof.
One of the things that marvel me about America, the continent, is that for the most part, we are all young nations, some more stable and prosperous than others, but we all have one thing in common: a short memory. This is well illustrated in Dominican society as our inability to bear long grudges.
Nations around the world are still fighting wars, with words or with arms, that started so many generations ago that in some cases nobody remembers how it all started. In contrast, the Dominican Republic consists of people who arrived from many continents, all amalgamated into one. We are, after all, a nation of people who all came from somewhere else: Taínos, Africans, Europeans, Asians. They came in waves, each giving us bits and pieces of their culture to make what is today the Dominican Republic.
Personally, while I’m not really interested in tracking my ancestors back to wherever they came from, I’m obsessed with the origin of our dishes. I believe it says at least as much about who we are than knowing what village in Europe or Africa begot my forefathers, or how many drops of my blood came from our Taino ancestors. Your mileage may vary.
Many a time when researching about a recipe we spend as much, or even more time, trying to find out where it came from and how it evolved into what we eat today. And while unfortunately there isn’t that much research we can consult, in many cases, the arrival or creation of a dish is recent enough that we can tell with near certainty where it came from. Luckily this is the case with kipes.
Kipes, or Quipes, are a Dominicanized version of the Lebanese kibbeh.
They were brought to our shores by a wave of Middle Eastern immigrants that arrived in the Dominican Republic at the end of the 19th century.
Besides becoming a prosperous, respected community, these immigrants added several of their culinary traditions (arroz con fideos, tipili, niño envuelto) to our cuisine, this is probably the most popular of these additions.
Bear in mind that kipe has undergone some drastic changes from the traditional Middle Eastern kibbeh, starting with the preparation, and just as importantly, using beef in lieu of lamb (which isn’t popular in the DR), and leaving out many spices and herbs (like mint, cumin, pine nuts, and others).
Next to the recipe for Dominican Cake this is the recipe that seems to give people the most trouble, and like that other recipe this one started as a simple set of instructions, but still many readers seem to struggle with it, so I guess it’s time to expand this recipe to add more details that will help beginners get a good result on the first try. The most important thing to remember is to read the recipe carefully, and follow the instructions to a T. If you already know what you are doing then, by all means, stray from the instructions as these steps are just what I’ve found to work for me.
- 1 cup bulgur (whole grain)
- 1 qt [1 lt] of water, divided (may not use all)
- 1 lb [0.4 kg] of ground beef
- 1 bell pepper, very finely diced
- 2 basil leaves, chopped
- 1 small onion, very finely diced
- 3 teaspoon of salt (or more, to taste)
- ½ cup tomato sauce
- ¼ cup raisins
- 2 cups oil for frying
- ¼ teaspoon of pepper
- Put the wheat in a bowl and add enough water to cover and let it sit in for 4 hrs, stir a couple of times while it rests.
- Pulse onion, and basil in the food processor until you obtain a coarse paste.
- In a bowl, mix meat, bell pepper, basil and onion. Add a pinch of pepper and 2 teaspoons of salt.
- Using your hands mix the meat with the vegetables until you get an uniform mixture.
- Separate in thirds and set aside ⅔ of the meat.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan over medium heat. Add ⅓ of the meat you've taken out. Brown the meat. Add tomato sauce and mix well. Stir in ½ cup of water and the raisins and simmer over medium heat.
- When all the liquid has evaporated, remove from the heat.
- Let it cool down to room temperature. Set aside.
- Drain the leftover water from the bulgur and sieve to get rid of all the water (this is very important!). I suggest squeezing the bulgur with a clean cotton tea towel if you are not sure if there's water left after sieving.
- Add the remaining raw meat to the bulgur.
- With your hands mix the bulgur and raw meat, kneading it until it is mixed uniformly. This is a key step, the better mixed this is, the better chances of kipes not breaking apart in the hot oil. Knead for your life! If you want, you can also pulse for a couple of minutes int he food processor for a more compact texture.
- Put 2 tablespoons of the mixture on the palm of your hands and roll into a ball.
- Make a deep indentation in the ball.
- Place 1 tablespoon of the filling in the indentation.
- Gather around the hole, closing it, and roll the kipe with the palm of your hands making it as compact as possible. Pinch the ends to give it its traditional shape.
- Refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
- When it is time to fry them give them another quick squeeze to make them even more compact.
- Heat the remaining oil in a frying pot over medium heat. The oil has to be very hot, cool oil will make your kipes break down and possibly ruin the oil too.
- Being very, very careful with splatters (hot oil and cold liquids do not get along well) fry your kipes, preferably one at a time, dropping them in the oil with a slotted spoon to avoid burning yourself.
- After frying, the kipe has to be deep brown outside. Open the first one when you are done, if there is any pink part inside it means there is still raw meat, a bad thing, fry the next one longer. Place them on a paper towel to drain excess oil.