Tag Archives: yucatan

Kibbeh with Lemon Pickled Red Onions and Yemeni Hot Sauce


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)

Cochinita Pibil

cochinita pipil

Cochinita Pibil

A traditional slow-roasted dish from the Yucatan peninsula, Cochinita Pibil is a combination of Mayan and European influences. For many years, the Peninsula was isolated from the rest of Mexico but its ports were in constant exchange with Europe. This mix resulted in dishes such as this one which combines pork introduced from Spain with pre-Hispanic condiments and cooking techniques.

Traditionally cooked underground over hot stones (the word pibil is Mayan for “pit”), its main seasoning is achiote or annatto, a tree native to Central America and Mexico which was known for its therapeutic properties as an anti-inflammatory and healing agent. Its was used also used by the ancient Mayans as a dye for textiles and for body paint.

For the pork:
3 pounds pork butt
2 tablespoons seasoned achiote paste
1 cup bitter orange juice (you can substitute ½ cup orange juice and ½ cup lime juice)
5 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
salt and pepper
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 large banana leaf, about 4 feet long

To make the marinate, mix the achiote paste with the bitter orange, oregano, salt and pepper and set aside.

Cut the pork into pieces and place in a large Ziploc bag or glass bowl. Pour the marinade over the meat, making sure it is all bathed. Add the chopped onion and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.

Prepare the banana leaf. Remove the center core from the banana leaf, rinse, dry, and cut the leaf into two 2-foot sections. Toast on a skillet and use the leaves to line a slow-cooker – lay one down the length, the other across the width.

Lay the meat and onions over the banana leaves and pour in the marinade. Fold up the banana leaves to cover everything, roughly encasing the meat. If it doesn’t encase the meat completely, add a few more leaves.

Place the lid on the slow-cooker, turn to low, and cook for 6 hours. (If you don’t have a slower-cooker, cook the meat in a Dutch oven at 300° F for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.)

Remove from the meat from the slow cooker and shred. Place in a large serving dish. Spoon off any rendered fat from the juices and add 1 cup of sauce to the shredded meat. Mix well. Discard the onions and the banana leaves. Serve warm with corn tortillas and pickled red onion.

Though not entirely authentic, I love it with Pineapple Habanero Pico de Gallo, but leave out the red onion if you’re serving the pickled kind.

Here’s a quick and easy version for the pickled red onion (cebolla en escabeche):
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 red onion, thinly sliced

Whisk the water, vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl until the sugar and salt dissolve. Thinly slice the onion and place in a glass jar. Pour the vinegar mixture over the onions and let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before refrigeration. Drain before serving.

Serves 6

Picture courtesy of my amazing cousin, Boni Carmona.