Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kibbeh Nayeh: A Family Recipe

Wait, you're family doesn't eat raw lamb during the holidays? You are SO missing out.

I know these pictures aren't going to make many people run out to buy a leg of lamb and a meat grinder, but bear with me. I need to preserve these unwritten food traditions in my family. Besides, one day you might have Lebanese in-laws or a Lebanese boss to impress, and you'll know where to go for a kibbeh recipe...or at least you'll know what kibbeh is. Specifically kibbeh nayeh--twice ground lamb mixed with bulghur wheat, onions, and spices and served raw with olive oil, sliced onions, and flat bread. Sort of like steak tartare but much better. The taste is surprisingly mild, not as gamey as cooked lamb often is, and the texture is similar to any spread you would put on a good piece of bread. The hint of allspice and cinnamon accent the meat, and the bulghur wheat adds a contrast of texture.

I'm not even a big fan of lamb, cooked lamb, but I LOVE this. It might be genetic. All my dad's brothers and sisters got a share of the kibbeh nayeh after we made it, and I heard quite a few stories about when my grandmother made it. Apparently there was a certain uncle of theirs that managed to eat unimaginable amounts of the kibbeh nayeh, frightening my dad and uncles into thinking they wouldn't get any.

My grandmother (who is Italian-American) learned how to make kibbeh nayeh from my grandfather's sister (who was Lebanese-American). And my dad learned to make it from her. And while I was home, my brother and I learned how to make it from him.

This was an all day project. First, all the fat had to be removed from the lamb. I mean all of it. You see white? You're not done then. This took hours. (Now you're totally inspired to make this, right? Raw lamb that takes hours to prepare...well at least try it if you ever get the opportunity and appreciate the hard work done by others.) The good news is that once we de-fatted 9 pounds of lamb the hard part was done.

Well, kind of. Then the bulghur had to be soaked for 30 minutes then all the water had to be squeezed out by hand. I imagine this would be easier with a cheesecloth, but I didn't want to argue about technique since it was my first time in the kitchen with the lamb and the meat grinder. Then the spices are just mixed in and it is ready to serve!

I made many, many loaves of fresh flat bread to serve with the kibbeh, but I didn't get any pictures, so I'll have to make that again so I can share my recipe and technique (which was adapted from a guide I met in Egypt who cooked his bread on a piece of scrap metal over an open fire--kind of hard to replicate in a Western kitchen.) I also took some of this kibbeh nayeh and turned it into another type of kibbeh, which is cooked, for those who don't indulge in raw meat. But again, I forgot to take a picture, so that will have to wait for another day too.

Kibbeh Nayeh
Serves many

1 leg of lamb, de-boned
3/4 cup of bulghur wheat (#2) per pound of meat
1 white onion
1 tbs. cinnamon
1 tbs. all spice
1 tsp. salt per pound of meat

-Remove all of the fat from the meat, discarding the fat.
-Rinse the bulghur thoroughly, then soak for 30 minutes in water.
-While the bulghur is soaking run the lamb meat through a meat grinder once.
-Cut an onion into small pieces and mix it with the meat. Mix in the cinnamon, all spice, and salt.
-Run the meat mixture through the meat grinder a second time.
-Squeeze all of the water out of the bulghur using your hands or, a sieve or cheesecloth.
-Mix the bulghur in with the ground lamb.
-Taste and adjust seasonings.
-Serve with pita or flat bread, olive oil, and thinly sliced onions.


Alina said...

Fun to find your blog! Sounds interesting and delicious!

Anonymous said...


lol @ "serves many". sounds like every Lebanese recipe.

ps - this is THE BEST recipe ever!! YUMMMM!

muddywaters said...

Thanks for sharing. Great post. I love hearing about different cultural and family traditions.

I heard a NPR story about six months ago on NPR about Kibbeh in Clarksdale, MS. I guess, that part of Mississippi has a large Lebanese immigrant population.

I look forward to reading more about your family traditions.