Growing up in Sao Paulo I often enjoyed great Middle Eastern food.  Thanks in part to the huge inflow of immigrants from Lebanon in the 20’s,  paulistas have an abundance of Middle Eastern restaurants to choose from.   I was spoiled on kibbe, sfiha, hummus, tabouleh, fattoush, kofta… delicious cuisine!   Only after I left Brazil did I realize that those delicacies aren’t available at every corner of the planet.   And… I miss them.

Whenever I return to Sao Paulo to visit my family it seems like I’m too busy enjoying Brazilian food, mostly home-cooked, to seek out restaurants, so  Middle Eastern food gets postponed until “next year.”   Because this “next year” pattern has recurred for more than a decade, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I’ve had this recipe since 2000 – from one of my visits to Sao Paulo, when a friend of mine gave it to me, straight  from her Lebanese neighbor.  It’s hard to accept that it took me a decade to make it, but it’s better late than never,  and I’m sure glad that I did!

You can make kibbe (or, as we spell in Brazil – quibe) in two basic ways.  The first is to shape the meat around the filling as individual portions, with a classical torpedo shape.   In this case, the kibbe is fried.   The second approach is to bake it in a tray, with the filling in a middle layer.  I opted for the latter, which was always my favorite.

(from a Lebanese-Brazilian)

For the bottom and top layers
2 pounds ground round steak
1 cup bulgur wheat (tabouleh type)
1/2 onion, grated
1/4  tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2 T fresh parsley, minced
1 T fresh mint, minced
dash of cinnamon

for the middle layer (filling)
3/4  cup ground round beef
1/2 T olive oil
1/4 cup grated onion
1/2 cup pine nuts, slightly toasted
dash of cinnamon
salt and pepper

Soak the bulgur wheat in cold water for 30 minutes and drain well.   Add it to the other ingredients of the top and bottom layers and mix very well with your hands, and then set the mixture aside.

Prepare the filling by sauteeing the ground beef in olive oil with the other ingredients (except the pine nuts), until cooked through.  Drain off the excess fat, mix in the pine nuts and set it aside to cool.

Assemble the kibbe:  divide the meat/bulgur mixture in two and spread half on the bottom of a baking dish, forming a layer 1/4 to 1/2  inch thick.  Add the cooked meat/pine nuts mixture over this layer, then cover it with the remaining meat/wheat mixture.   Cut into squares appropriate for single servings (this step makes it a lot easier to serve later).

Place the dish in a 325F oven for 35-45 minutes, depending on the thickness of your kibbe.   You can increase the temperature to 400F for the final 5 minutes, or run it under the broiler to brown the top.   Allow the kibbe to cool for 10 minutes before serving.


(to print the recipe, click here)

Comments Kibbe is not a light dish; it quickly fills you up as a result of the bulgur wheat, so it calls for a light side dish.  We had it with white rice and cucumber salad with a yogurt-based dressing.

This composite photo (click to enlarge it) shows the addition of the filling (cooked ground beef), the addition of the top layer (raw beef/bulgur), and the kibbe right out of the oven.

One simple variation of this dish is to only bake the meat/bulgur, without the middle layer.  It’s also quite good, but this version is more traditional and, in my opinion,  better.   Don’t omit the pine nuts!  Their crunchy texture and nutty flavor are essential.

Now that I’ve recalled my gastronomic memories of Middle Eastern food, I’m craving sfihas!  We’ll have to do something about that too… 😉

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