So kibbeh has a special place in my heart. Taita was a true kibbeh master and although each neighborhood in Damascus has a butcher who knows well how to prepare meat and kibbeh dough, my taita did everything from scratch. The thing about butchers in Damascus is that you never ask for a specific cut of meat, you tell them what you’re cooking, and they just send you the perfect meat for your dish. This has always amazed me. Yet, tita preferred to take matter into her hands, literally!
I clearly remember accompanying her to the stairwell to bring the meat grinder. There are certain rituals for Kibbeh and the proportion of meat to burghul would vary widely depending on the kind of kibbeh you’re preparing. This meant that everything was prepared in batches, because when it was time for Kibbeh day, it simply meant we were having at least 4 kinds of kibbeh. Once, the kibbeh tray was finally prepared, we took it to the baker downstairs, who would bake the kibbeh to perfection in the wood fired oven. I won’t lie I looked forward to Kibbeh day every day all summer long.
My favorite as a kid was the fried kibbeh, but as I grew older the baked kibbeh has become a favorite, especially that it so easy to prepare at home without the need for special equipment, or a talented Syrian butcher, both of which I have no access to. All you need is burghul and minced meat. I use beef, but you’re free to you use lamb mince.
Baked kibbeh is more like a pie and has 3 layers. Kibbeh dough on the bottom and top and in between an onion minced meat stuffing. Out of this world and melts in your mouth.
Let’s get cooking!
To soften the burghul, it has to be soaked for 30-40 minutes in boiling water. This method is exclusive for kibbeh bel seneyeh and cannot be followed for doing any other type of kibbeh. Soft burghul will make it hard to shape kibbeh balls or keep their shape when cooked. Also, it is important not to soak it for more than 40 minutes.
It is also very important that the minced meat is very fine. I usually ask my butcher to run it in the grinder for 4 times, it should have a paste like consistency.
Onions are also a crucial ingredient in the kibbeh dough as they add sweetness. Using a food processor, process the onion until pureed. This step is also important because if the onion is not pureed, it won’t mix well with the kibbeh dough and will burn during baking.
I like to then knead the burghul, meat, onions and spices really well by hand, adding 1 cup ice cold water, ¼ cup at a time. Some people prefer to use the food processor for this. Feel free to use whatever makes you more comfortable. If using the food processor, you might only need ¼ cup water, or not at all.
When preparing the stuffing, make sure the onions are cooked well and very soft.
Watch the pine nuts carefully while toasting/frying, they tend to brown very quickly. Burnt pine nuts are actually bitter and have an unpleasant after taste.
Before assembling the layers of kibbeh, the filling has to cool completely.
If freezing, follow all steps right before adding the ghee, then cover it really well and freeze. Thaw it in the fridge the night before you’re planning to bake. Add ghee and bake as usual.
Do not change the amount of ghee used for baking or replace it by any other type of fat. Yes, I know it is a lot, but trust me it is much less than is traditionally used and if you don’t use all of it, you will end up with a dry baked kibbeh. And no one likes a dry kibbeh!
Baked Kibbeh (Kibbeh bel Seneyeh)
- 32 cm round baking tray
- ½ kg fine burghul or 3 cups
- 350 g fine minced beef
- 1 tsp Salma’s spice
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 onion
- 1 tbsp red pepper paste
- 3 cups boiling water for soaking
- 1 cup ice cold water for kneading
- 500 g minced beef
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp Salma’s spice
- 1 tbs vegetable oil
- 1 tsp sumac
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
- 4 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp safflower optional
To make the filling:
- Place a large frying pan over medium heat.
- Add the vegetable oil and chopped onions and cook for almost 8-10 minutes or until very soft, stirring continuously.
- Add the minced beef and cook for 10 minutes, or until cooked through.
- Stir in the spice and salt.
- Remove from heat and stir in sumac and pine nuts.
- Allow to cool completely before using.
To make kibbeh dough:
- Soak the burghul in 3 cups boiling water, with salt and Salma’s spice, for 30 – 40 mins or until all water is soaked up.
- Using a food processor, finely puree the onion. It should have a paste consistency.
- Add the onions, minced meat and red pepper paste to the burghul.
- Add 1 cup of ice-cold water, ¼ cup at a time and knead for 15 minutes or until the mixture is fully incorporated. The mixture should be a smooth paste.
- Pre heat oven to 200˚C.
- Divide the kibbeh dough in half.
- In a 32 cm round baking pan, spread ½ tbsp ghee.
- Spread half of the kibbeh dough.
- Add all the filling and press it really well in the pan, preferably by placing another pan on top of the filling and pressing it firmly. This will ensure the final kibbeh will not split into layers.
- Spread the other half of the kibbeh on top of the filling.
- Wet your hands and spread the safflower on top. This will give it a nice color but is totally optional.
- Cut into square or into the star shaped classical shape, refer to the photos above.
- Add the remaining ghee and distribute equally.
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Serve hot or warm with Fattoush salad.