Baked Lamb Kibbeh

23 May 2018

Baked lamb kibbeh with onions, pine nuts and tahini

I’ve been to Beirut twice in the last three years. These were working visits, but on both occasions I managed to get some serious foodie action once the business was done. I was a fan of Middle Eastern food generally before these trips of course, but I certainly came away with an enhanced love of Lebanese food, and curiosity to explore some of the flavours in my own kitchen.

On the second of the two visits, I popped into the highly rated Abu Naim restaurant - which I reviewed here. There, I had one of the Lebanese classics, Kibbeh. They actually offered raw meat Kibbeh as well as the baked version - I must admit that with an early flight the next morning I passed on the raw version. Then I watched Nigel Slater’s visit to Lebanon on TV which showed the making of it, and I then rather regretted having passed up the chance. 

This all came back to mind because the most recent Spice Pioneer box (I reviewed the Spice Pioneer here) was themed on Lebanese food, and included a main course of baked lamb Kibbeh.

We’ve been getting the Spice Pioneer boxes every month since they sent me a couple of freebies for a review. So far, they’ve all been fantastic. Because they make an effort to seek out menus that make full use of the spice palate distinctive to the country of focus, you’re always guaranteed something that is full of flavour. And the Lebanese box was no exception.

The Kibbeh was accompanied by two salads - a bulgur and chickpea salad with zahtar and mint, and a toasted bread salad with sumac. The main course was followed by a dessert, a ground rice pudding with cinnamon and ground anise seed. It made for a great meal, with lots of complementary flavours and textures.

Kibbeh with two salads

The distinctive thing about Kibbeh is that the meat is pounded into a paste along with bulgur wheat and onion. In some versions, the kibbeh will be stuffed with a filling of some sort, but at Abu Naim and in this recipe, it was presented as a tasty slab of meat.

So the first thing to do was to pound 250g minced lamb (making enough for 2 people) with half a grated red onion and a tablespoon of shawarma spice blend, along with plenty of salt and pepper. Once it’s all well mixed in, then add 60g dried bulgur wheat and blitz in a food processor to turn it into a smooth paste. Then tip the mix into a greased dish, flatten the top and spread a little good quality olive oil over the top. At this point, you can cut it into wedges or diamond shapes and put it into an oven at 180ºC / 160ºC fan oven for about 30 minutes until browned.

Then you can fry some onions until they’re browning, add some pine nuts and cook for a little longer until they’re beginning to colour, and add half a teaspoon of cinnamon, half a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses and some salt and pepper. Once the Kibbeh is nicely browned, you spread the onion mix over the top and pop back into the oven for another 5 minutes to finish off. Drizzle with some tahini to serve (you may have to spend five minutes restirring the tahini to get the sesame pulp to be nicely emulsified into the oil, like I did).

The result was as hearty and delicious as I remembered from my Beirut experience. Kibbeh is the epitome of Middle Eastern comfort food, and I can easily see myself getting into a Kibbeh habit!

Food waste 

I had half a pack of lamb mince left. As per my usual system, that was already down to be used up in another dish the next day (home-made lamb burgers for the first barbecue of the season). Obviously, you can freeze the lamb mince - it will keep for 2-3 months frozen - but you should still have a plan and a date when you intend to use it, otherwise it will sit in the freezer well past the date by which you should eat it, and then get thrown out.

There was half a red onion from the Kibbeh, but this was able to be incorporated into one of the accompanying salads. If for any reason you’re not able to do this, you can store the halved onion in cling film or an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. You’ll want to use it in a cooked meal though, rather than raw in a salad.