Every culture has some variation of a meat pie; the simplicity of a holdable pocket of meat and spices transcends any geography or culture. The origin of stuffing meat into a bready pouch is much debated; steamed buns or dumplings from the Far East? Or the affable Cornish Pasty? Kibbeh from the Middle East, or empanadas from Latin America? So many articles can be written. For now, though, let’s talk kibbeh.

Vegetarian Kibbeh, served by chef Ahmad Yasin at Kareem’s Restaurant.

Kubbah, the Arabic word for “ball,” has many different variations, from the popular kibbeh/kibbe throughout many Middle Eastern countries, to quibe/kibe in Latin America, or kofte in Turkey. Most people will recognize kibbeh as a round bulghur-wheat shell stuffed with spiced minced lamb and perhaps some vegetables. Some World War II veterans may refer to these as “Syrian Torpedoes,” due to their availability to soldiers serving in the Middle East.

A very basic recipe for kibbeh involves taking bulghur and mixing it together toasted pine nuts, ground lamb, onions, and spices for the outer shell, and then mixing lamb and more spices for the filling. Form into a ball, stuff with the filling, and either bake or fry until crisp and browned. Kibbeh is usually served with tahini, or a spiced yogurt somewhat similar to Indian raita. Several variations of kibbeh are available online:

For those more inclined to buy kibbeh in an already-made form, Boston has several great sources. Sofra Bakery and Cafe at One Belmont Street in Cambridge offers food inspired by the cuisine of Turkey, Lebanon and Greece. Try the carrot kibbeh with labne, raisins and pinenuts, or snack on tomato kibbeh from the hummus bar. The Red Fez, at 1222 Washington Street in Boston’s South End, offers a baked kibbeh as part of their Middle Eastern menu. Over in Watertown, Sevan Bakery offers an exceptional selection of Middle Eastern savories, including kibbeh, lahmejunes (lamb flatbreads), and boregs (turnovers). Just down the street from Sevan are Massis Bakery and Arax Market, also popular retailers of Middle Eastern foods.

For those wishing to have a catered event featuring kibbeh and Arabic cuisine, Kareem’s Restaurant (formerly Yasin Culinary) is the top choice in the Boston area. Chef Ahmad Yasin provides both vegetarian and lamb kibbeh, along with other delectable Syrian specialties. A Boston Globe article from 1998 offers a juicy, delicious description of Ahmad’s kibbeh.

Whether you decide to prepare it at home or order it from a restaurant or caterer, give kibbeh a try. The texture and nutty taste of bulghur is a hearty, refreshing departure from rice or bread. when mixed with savory lamb and toasted pine nuts, it’s a wonderful dining experience.


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