Kibbeh, considered one of the national dishes of Lebanon, is an old and representative dish of all Near Eastern countries. The Food Heritage Foundation’s Zeinab Jeambey takes us on a journey to discover its regional adaptations in villages across Lebanon
Gubibate, a dish made with cracked wheat and meat, is the ancestor of what is now known as kibbeh and was one of the many delicacies that once adorned the table of the King of Assyria in 9th century BC.
Kibbeh’s main and constant ingredient is bulgur, cracked parboiled wheat. The most common type of kibbeh is made by kneading finely minced meat with bulgur and shaping it into balls or patties, with or without meat stuffing.
In Lebanon, one of the most famous meat kibbeh is Kibbeh Zghirtawiyyeh, shaped in a glass bowl to obtain an over inflated ball, stuffed with minced sheep fat and baked over charcoal. Kibbeh comes in many shapes and forms, be it hollow balls or patties, and can be mixed with many different ingredients that give the dish its descriptive name.
FROM TOMATO KIBBEH TO FRAKEH – THE AROMAS OF SOUTH LEBANON
Both tomato kibbeh and frakeh are based on kammouneh, an aromatic green looking bulgur, obtained by mixing fine bulgur in a food processor with basil, marjoram, mint leaves, parsley, dried rose buds, orange rind, black pepper seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon and dried hot chilies. Kammouneh is widely known in the south of Lebanon.
Tomato kibbeh, also known as tomato kammouneh, consists of kammouneh kneaded with diced raw tomatoes and served on a plate with a generous drizzle of olive oil.
Frakeh, another southern delicacy, is made with very finely ground raw meat mixed with kammouneh, formed into small, squeezed balls and offered as an appetizer before meals.
WHERE TO EAT
Order tomato kibbeh at To Tango Restaurant (07 768431/ 07 769431, Nabatiyeh) and frakeh at Restaurant Abu Naim (01 750480, Hamra Street, Beirut).
FROM KIBBEH SUMMAKIYEH TO BOILED PUMPKIN KIBBEH – THE COLORS OF THE BEKAA VALLEY
Kibbeh summakiyeh, prepared the northern Bekaa way, is made of flour and bulgur wheat kneaded to form a dough. It is then formed into balls, stuffed with potatoes, onions and spices and boiled in sumac water, prepared by soaking sumac flower or powder in water overnight. Earthy colors are reflected in the dish as white kibbeh balls turn pink, upon boiling with purple sumac water.
In West Bekaa, pumpkin kibbeh, stuffed with labneh and kawarma – minced sheep or cow meat, stir-fried and conserved in sheep fat is boiled in a light keshek soup (a dairy product made from yogurt and bulgur). For those who know it, the sight, aroma and taste of light orange balls of kibbeh floating in a milky soup bring a comforting sensation.
WHERE TO EAT
Try kibbeh summakiyeh at the women’s coop in Hermel, led by Khadijeh Chahine (71 579547) and pumpkin kibbeh boiled in keshek at Lina Haddad’s Table d’Hôte (70 671399, Khirbet Qanafar).
FROM KIBBEH ARNABIYYEH TO KIBBET SAMAK: THE FLAVORS OF THE COAST
Ingredients found along Lebanon’s coastal areas, namely fish and citrus fruits, make up kibbeh arnabiyyeh and kibbet samak. Kibbeh arnabiyyeh, also known as kibbeh bel tahini, is prepared by cooking meat kibbeh balls in a mix of tahini (sesame paste) and up to seven citrus juices, including different types of oranges, tangerine, mandarin and lemon. The resulting dish is nothing less than majestic, combining both earthy and tangy flavors that marry perfectly with kibbeh balls.
Equally succulent is kibbet samak, a delicate dish, but definitely worth the cooking time. Well-refrigerated fish, preferably grouper, is de-skinned and deboned. Mixed with fine bulgur, coriander, orange rind and spices, the patty is either formed into balls or spread in a pan, stuffed with lots of stir-fried onions and nuts and then either baked or deep fried.
WHERE TO EAT
Try kibbeh arnabiyeh at Socrate (01 846646, Sidani Street, Ras Beirut) and kibbet samak at Aal Baher restaurant (09 541116, Byblos) or at Al Fanar (07 741111, Tyre).
71 731437, food-heritage.org
Food Heritage Foundation