Kibbeh nayyeh (kibbi, kibbe, naye, nayhe)


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Gonna make some kibbeh nayyeh, which is sort of like a Lebanese lamb tartare. Guidelines, which really could not be easier: Grind the basic mixture in a meat grinder (I use a vintage Enterprise #10 with a 3/16th inch die), mix in spices and bulgher (but see below) and knead to an elastic paste with (optional) additional chilled water to distribute spices. Note: I personally prefer to lightly mix the meat by hand and not add water, because I prefer a coarser texture. Be sure to process the meat as close to eating time as possible, with perhaps an hour or so in the fridge before serving. Do not use ground lamb from your local market, for you will never know how long it has been sitting, nor will you know the exact cuts used in creating it. Serving and preparation variations are discussed below.

For the basic kibbeh mixture (which should be tasted as a baseline before spicing):

  • 1 pound lamb leg, trimmed of fat and sinew to lean meat only (though there are those who make it with lean beef: 1)
  • 1 onion, white or red (or a couple shallots) (put into the grinder or diced to a superfine pinhead mince)
  • whole grain bulgher: 1/4 to 1 cup (dry measure, your call as to quantity). Traditional recipes use fine grained bulgher. Not for me.
  • salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon black or white pepper)
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • iced water (for kneading the mix to an elastic paste, if that is your preferred texture. I prefer a chunkier texture, so I omit the water except for using leftovers for meatballs)

Possible spice additions (use one or more. I usually steer clear of using cinnamon and allspice). Remember to taste your basic, unspiced kibbeh mixture to establish a baseline. Do not be a ham-fist with your spices, but do not fear the contribution they can make!:

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne or other ground chili pepper (not southwestern chile powder!), or a couple fresh hot chilies
  • 1 teaspoon cumin, ground,
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice, ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove, ground

For the supplemental drizzle (should you desire it, and many do):

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice or slim lemon wedges (or diluted tamarind juice)

Additional garnishes which may also be served on a separate plate for diners to add to taste:

  • cosmetic dusting of paprika and/or cayenne
  • chopped scallions
  • mint leaves
  • olives
  • white onion wedges
  • middle eastern pickles
  • thinly sliced radishes
  • chopped parsley
  • basil leaves
  • marjoram leaves
  • walnuts or toasted pine nuts

How to serve and present the dish: To eat, pita bread, Arab or lavash bread, romaine (or other) lettuce pieces, or quartered onion pieces are often used to scoop up kibbeh. Kibbeh may be spread thin on a plate, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh lemon juice and garnished to taste, or it may be formed into cigar shaped spears and placed on lettuce leaves with similar drizzle and garnish applied. Some roll the kibbeh into small balls, with or without lettuce, but usually with garnish and drizzle nearby; others do not mix the bulgher with the meat, but prefer to spread the meat thinly and press bulgher into the meat after it has been arranged on its plate. I prefer a hybrid: Mix some bulgher into the meat, then press bulgher onto the top. For those of you who need to follow the specific guidelines of someone else’s cookbook, I recommend, as a starting point, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Rodin. I don’t mention her book because it has the definitive recipe for kibbeh nayyeh, but because it mentions several variations for raw and cooked kibbeh, as well as the Turkish cig kofte. There is also a kibbeh naye [sic] recipe in the River Cottage Book of Meat by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, as well as in any Lebanese cookbook. The more you seek the recipe out, the more variations you will find.

Know, too, that raw kibbeh is very versatile. If your guests are squeamish about eating raw meat, the kibbeh mixture can be quickly made into meat balls or kebabs and fried, broiled or baked. Any leftovers can be cooked the same way, or made into a creative sausage with some additional spices.

Ideally, each reader/cook will create his or her own special kibbeh.


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