Kibbeh with Lemon Pickled Red Onions and Yemeni Hot Sauce

This dish made of bulgur, minced, onions, finely ground spiced meat is considered to be the national dish of many Middle Eastern countries. The word kibbeh is Arabic for “ball”. It is a popular dish in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which has a large Lebanese population.

There are three species of cultivated chiles in ancient America, one of which was found in Mexico, wild, in cultural deposits in the Tehuacan valley dating from 7200 to 5200 BC. The use of chiles in the New World was not confined to food. Chile smoke was used as a fumigant, as a means of chemical warfare, and the Aztecs disciplined their children with it!

Christopher Columbus introduced chiles to Europe after his first trip to the Caribbean and called them peppers because he likened them to the peppercorns he was familiar with, though they are from a different family. Shortly thereafter they were cultivated around the globe and were quickly assimilated into the foods of other cultures, including those of Asia and the Middle East.

For the Lemon-Pickled Red Onions:
1 red onion, small dice
2 large lemons, juiced (preferably Meyer lemons for their sweetness)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
salt to taste

For the Yemeni Hot Sauce:
2 to 3 dried hot red chiles
2 to 3 roughly chopped, stemmed, fresh green serrano or jalapeño chiles, or more depending on how spicy you want it)
⅛ teaspoons ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems trimmed off
3 peeled garlic cloves
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste

For the Kibbeh:
1 pound lean ground beef
1 ½ cups fine bulgur
½ yellow onion
about 30 leaves fresh mint
about 10 leaves fresh marjoram or oregano
2 teaspoons allspice or Lebanese 7-spice
2 teaspoons salt, to start off, then can season to taste
2 teaspoons pepper
vegetable oil for frying

Make the lemon-pickled red onions. Dice the red onion and place into a bowl. Pour lemon juice over the onion until it is submerged. Add vinegar and salt to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for at least an hour or until ready to serve as a garnish for kibbeh.

Make the hot sauce. Soak red chiles in a bowl of warm water for 30 minutes, then drain. Remove and discard stems from chiles, then put in the bowl of a food processor. Add green chiles, cardamom, cloves, and cumin, and process until finely chopped, scraping down sides as needed. Add cilantro and garlic cloves. Process. It will not be a fine paste, but more like a thick relish. Season with salt to taste.

Prepare the kibbeh. Rinse bulgur in water then steep in until it becomes soft, about 30 minutes. Once it has softened, drain and squeeze out excess water as much as possible.

Meanwhile, put the onion in a processor and pulse. Add the beef, herbs, spices, salt and pepper until mixture looks homogenized and onion has been incorporated. Take meat mixture out and place into a bowl. Add the drained bulgur and combine with hands. Form one small pattie and fry in oil until crispy and brown, flip over, drain on paper towels and taste for seasoning. Adjust seasoning and form the remaining meat into thin, round patties about 3 ½ inches across. Fry in oil until crispy and brown, then flip over. Drain on paper towels and serve with Lemon Pickled Red Onions and Yemeni Hot Sauce.

Makes 12 or more patties
(recipe adapted from Stephanie Parra)

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