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Author Notes: Kebbeh is a family of dishes particularly popular in Lebanon and Syria, where they are the national dish. Kebbeh is a mixture of either meat (most often), fish, or vegetables combined with bulgur and then traditionally pounded to a fine paste; though these days everyone uses a food processor. Kebbeh varieties are plentiful across the Middle East: served raw with fresh mint and spring onions in a dish somewhat similar to steak tartare and essential to an authentic mezze; spread on a baking tray and layered with onion slices and pine nuts before being baked such as the recipe showcased today; moulded into a variety of shapes, such as small torpedo-shaped croquets (named "Syrian torpedoes" by the British soldiers in Syria during the Second World War because of their shape), which can also be served as part of a mezze menu; or cooked from raw in yogurt or a tahini mixture for a more hearty, winter-warming dish. Aside from being the national dish of Lebanon and Syria and being rather popular too in Palestine, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt, it is traditional that a tray of crisp aromatic kebbeh graces the Lebanese Christmas table. Ask your butcher for lean lamb or beef that has been minced twice. —Bethany
- 9 oz ounces fine burghul
- 1lb 9 oz ounces minced lamb
- 1 large onion
- 4 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon dried mint
- 1 tablespoon dried marjoram
- 1 teaspoon dried rose petal (optional)
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- Olive oil for greasing
- Add the burghul to a medium bowl, cover it with warm water and leave it to soak for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, to a food processor add the quartered onion and pulse until you achieve a fine paste. Transfer the paste to a mesh sieve and remove as much liquid as possible then return the onion paste to the food processor and to it add 400g/14 oz of the minced lamb or beef.
- Strain the burghul very well of any liquid so that it's very dry and mix in 1 tablespoon of the salt, all the herbs and spices, reserving 1/2 teaspoon of the allspice for use later in the recipe. Add the spiced burghul to the meat and onion in the food processor and pulse for a few minutes until you achieve a fine, emulsified mixture. You may need to stop the food processor every once in a while and scrape the sides to ensure the meat is evenly worked.
- To create the meat filling, place a frying pan on medium heat, add the vegetable oil and heat through for about a minute and then add the sliced red onions for about 5 minutes or until softened. Add the remaining lamb or beef (300g/10/1/2 oz) to the pan with the remaining allspice and salt, mix well and brown the meat for about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the pomegranate molasses and toasted pine nuts. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/6G. To a small bowl add some water and ice cube (this keeps your fingers cool while handling the meat and makes spreading a little easier.) Grease a 9in/23cm in diameter x 1 1/2 in/ 4cm thick round pan with olive oil. Remove 1/3 of the prepared meat paste and spread it out into the base of the greased pan, creating a thin, even layer. You can dap your fingers into the ice cold water to help with spreading the meat but you just want drops of water on your fingers or else the meat becomes too wet. Next, evenly spread the filling mixture across the first layer and then remove about half of the remaining meat paste and flatten it in between the palms of your hands before laying it above the layer of filling. Repeat once more with the remaining paste. Dab your fingers in the ice water and then very gently stretch the meat to connect it together creating an even, top layer.
- Using a knife, gently score the top layer diagonally and then across again to create diamond shapes. Create a small hole in the centre and drizzle over about 2-3 tablespoons of the olive oil. This gives it a nice golden brown colour as well as adding a bit more to the final flavour. Bake uncovered in the oven for 40 minutes until golden brown. During the last 5 minutes turn the grill on high and allow the top layer to crisp up. Make sure you keep a close eye on it during this time to avoid burning it. Serve with cucumber and mint yogurt.
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