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Kibbe (Midle Eastern Meat and Bulgur Balls)

Serves: Makes 12 servings


  • 2½ cups bulgur
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 medium yellow onion, grated
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 pounds ground lamb

  • Stuffing:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ½ pound ground lamb
  • 1½ cups minced yellow onions
  • 1½ teaspoons minced fresh basil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice

  • Cucumber Yogurt Dipping Sauce:
  • 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups Greek yogurt or other plain yogurt (preferably not nonfat)
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
  • ¼ cup grated yellow onion


There are dozens of types of kibbe found throughout the Middle East. This version comes from one of our best friends, Jim Hanna, whose Syrian mother would visit from Portland, bringing along kibbe to share with us all. Jim’s wife, Ga, and I have also cooked this recipe together many times, based on the family recipe, with a few minor updates made over the years.
In many recipes, this one included, I like to grate onion rather than simply chopping it. Grating breaks the onion into fine slivers, while also releasing the onion’s juices, which adds flavor and moisture to the dish. For a large volume of grated onion, use your food processor’s grating attachment; smaller amounts I’ll just grate on a classic box grater.
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil 2 large rimmed baking sheets.

  2. For the stuffing, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and brown gently for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the ½ pound of lamb and cook for 10 minutes, breaking the meat into small pieces as it cooks. Add the minced onions, basil, salt, cinnamon, and allspice and continue cooking for 5 minutes, or until the onions are tender. Set aside to cool.

  3. While the stuffing is cooling, place the bulgur in a large bowl and add cold water to cover by an inch or so. Let sit for 10 minutes, then drain well in a sieve and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt. (This keeps the bulgur from getting mushy.)

  4. Combine the grated onion, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, allspice, and cinnamon in a large bowl and stir well to mix. Add the bulgur and olive oil and stir to mix, then add the 2 pounds of lamb and work with your hands to fully blend the ingredients, kneading with your palms to form a cohesive mixture.

  5. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of the bulgur mixture into your hand and form a ball. Use a finger to form a large indentation in the ball. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the stuffing into the indentation and pinch it closed. Roll the ball in your palms to form it into a football shape about 2½ inches long. Repeat with the remaining bulgur and stuffing mixtures; you should have about 3 dozen kibbe.

  6. Arrange the kibbe on the baking sheets, not touching. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until just cooked through. Turn the kibbe a few times and switch the baking sheets halfway through to ensure even cooking.

  7. While the kibbe are baking, make the dipping sauce. Mash together the garlic, mint, and salt in a mortar and pestle, then transfer to a medium bowl. (Alternatively, press or mince the garlic and stir with the mint and salt in a medium bowl, pressing with the back of the spoon to crush the ingredients together.) Stir in the yogurt, cucumber, and grated onion.

  8. Transfer the warm kibbe to individual plates, with a small bowl of the cucumber yogurt sauce alongside. Or arrange the kibbe on a large serving platter, with the sauce alongside for dipping.

by Sur La Table & Renée Behnke

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