In elementary school I was the kid with the weird food. No contest. My lunch wasn’t cute like a pb&j nor was it stringy like the cheesy pizzas on Pizza Fridays. I had falafel, tupperwares of hummus brimmed to the top – typical Middle Eastern food, with the occasional ‘I love you’ note from my mom. This is what inspired today’s post. For the longest time I thought I could get by just blogging about the famous Middle Eastern dishes, leaving the tricky ones that don’t photograph well away from Olive Juice, but that wouldn’t be fair. I’ve blogged about the big names like tabbouleh (تبولة), baba ganoush (بابا غنوج), baklava (بقلاوة), but now it’s time for kibbeh (كبة).
Kibbeh is a traditional meat dish native to the Levant area (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan) that can be prepared over 20 different ways. It’s a dish that’s dear to me because it’s most popular in Aleppo, Syria, the city where my grandparents are from. All the different preparations for kibbeh start with the same particular cut of meat called habra (هبرة) and that’s what I’m featuring today.
Habra is particular in that it cannot have any fat. Zip. Zilch – nada. This used to be an issue and a royal pain in the butt, but not anymore. Although my mom and grandmother still (stubbornly) de-fat their own meat, Sylvia is always more than happy to help me. Sylvia is my friend and head butcher at my local Whole Foods. I don’t want to turn this into a PSA, but befriend your butcher, fish monger, produce (guy/gal?)… they can make or break your grocery shopping experience. Plus, they’ve always got interesting stories. So yes, if your butcher is willing, ask him or her (kindly) to de-fat some inside round and pass it through the grinder 2-3 times. Make sure to specify though that it have no fat, because this is what makes habra.
The rest of the job is done by your handy food processor, which has conveniently replaced the mortar and pestle. You want to pulse the meat with a tiny, tiny amount of baking soda, salt, and the smallest amount of ice water necessary to make it sticky, but not watery. Can you imagine how long this would have taken to do with a mortar and pestle? Seriously?
Once you’re done, I like to divide the meat into handy 500g (1/2 kg) portions that I keep in the freezer for when I want to make kibbeh, which will be featured on my next post. These portions can last months in the freezer, so load up and get ready for some awesome kibbeh posts to come.
1.5 kg (3 500g portions)
- 1 kg inside round meat*, extremely lean
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp salt
- ice cold water, as necessary
Putting them all together
- Trim and defat inside round cut of meat making sure that it is impeccable and no white spots are visible (ask your butcher nicely and he/she might do this for you).
- Pass the cleaned meat through the grinder 2-3 times (can also be done by the butcher).
- At home, pulse the meat in the food processor with baking soda, salt and very little water (approx 1 tbsp). You want enough water to make the meat sticky, but not watery.
- Separate into 3 500g portions and freeze until ready to use.
note: Traditionally this is made with (extra lean) lamb meat, but it has become very popular with beef as well.
Thank you to all those who submitted ideas and suggestions for my morning show appearance on Fox 5 earlier this month. Here’s the clip of the baklava segment. Thanks for joining me on my blog and for making it so much fun! You rock 🙂