kubba hamuth

kubba hamuth

I recently had a great conversation with my friend Tony about community-centered cooking. He’s preparing for an exciting upcoming project on Syrian food and community traditions, and we also talked through a dolma project I’m working on. The two subjects aren’t entirely unrelated, or as Tony put it—“If you’re sitting down rolling dolmas with your neighbors and family, you’re bound to connect and share very intimate details, because you have all the time in the world. And that’s so beautiful.” We covered so much ground, and whenever the topic would shift, Tony would preface it by saying, “So, I don’t know if you want to fall down this rabbit hole, but…”

And here’s the thing about me (and I think probably also Tony, and a lot of food writers): I love falling down rabbit holes. I’m currently falling down a dolma rabbit hole right now, but I think the next one I want to fall down is kubba, because from where I stand, I have a lot to learn.

I mean, growing up Middle Eastern American, I know a bit about kibbeh/kubba. In case you’re not already familiar, kubba is a meat and grain dumpling—there are a ton of different varieties, some named after the towns they’re from, and some named after the style in which they’re made. While most are dumplings, some kibbeh are baked in a tray or eaten tartare/sashimi style.

My family is Assyrian from Iraq and Syria, and we have our family specialties. As you might expect, my Syrian family makes kbeibat and kibbeh bil sanieh, and my Iraqi family makes kubba Halab (from Aleppo, but also very popular in Iraqi cuisine) and sometimes also kubba hamuth. But I haven’t experienced all that much kubba outside of these.

kubba hamuth
kubba hamuth

So when I sat down to do a little research for this blog post, I realized that what I’ve been calling kubba hamuth is actually very different than most recipes out there. Most of them (e.g., Philip Juma’s and MidEast Chef’s) use rice or rice flour instead of wheat or bulgur. The only other recipe I found that uses bulgur is Julian’s from Assyrian Dishes (who also adds greens—in her case swiss chard, which I highly recommend trying). I spoke with Hilda Sterner, whose kubba are made with rice, and she said that she would personally call my stew kubba pirdah, but that she also knows of a version that is made partly with cream of wheat.

This is all just to say that I don’t actually know what to call this stew, except kubba hamuth for now. Kubba hamuth basically means “sour kubba,” referring to the lemony tomato stew it’s simmered in, so the most crucial thing is that it’s tangy. And while I’m tempted to spend all week obsessively researching kubba, I’m going to have to wait a while to fall down this particular rabbit hole. I’m looking forward to learning more about the nuances and regional variations of all the different kinds of kubba, whether fried, boiled, stewed, or baked in a pan. But for now, while I’m busy tilting at other windmills, I’ll just leave you guys with my recipe for kubba hamuth (…or something!). This is definitely the kind of recipe that’s fun to cook as a family, so I hope you enjoy it in good company.

kubba hamuth
kubba hamuth

kubba hamuth

yield: 9 servings (about 55 kubba)
active time: 1 hour 15 minutes
total time: 2 hours
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kubba shell

  • 1 cup extra fine bulgur #1 (200 grams)

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (454 grams)

  • 1 teaspoon baharat

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  1. Soak the bulgur in a few inches of cold water for 15 minutes, then strain it through a fine mesh sieve, wringing it out with the back of a spoon for a few seconds to get rid of excess water.

  2. Combine the strained bulgur, ground beef, baharat, and salt in a food processor, and blend together for 3 minutes, until it forms a dough. The bulgur will still be a bit grainy, but it will break down slightly.

kubba filling

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (454 grams)

  • 1/4 of 1 onion, finely minced (45 grams)

  • 1/2 cup finely minced parsley (30 grams)

  • 1 teaspoon baharat

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon softened butter (14 grams)*

  1. Hand-mix the ground beef, minced onion, parsley, baharat, salt, and butter, just until combined.

  2. Stuff the kubba: Wet your hands as you work to keep things from sticking. Take a level tablespoon of the kubba shell, roll it into a ball, and flatten the ball out in the palm of your hand. Take a shy tablespoon of filling, place it in the center of the flattened shell, and wrap the sides around it until it makes a sphere. Roll the sphere in your hands to smooth it. Repeat, and pace yourself as you work, so you don’t run out of the shell or filling.**

stew

  • 3 tablespoons clarified butter or olive oil (43 grams)

  • 3/4 of 1 onion (135 grams)

  • 2 jalapeños, pith removed and minced (50 grams)

  • 1/2 teaspoon baharat

  • 2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes (2 400-gram cans)

  • 3 1/2 cups stock

  • Salt to taste

  • 4 packed cups torn or coarsely chopped dark leafy greens, like kale or spinach (100 grams)

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice (to taste)

  1. In a stockpot or large dutch oven, place the butter or oil over medium heat for a couple minutes. Once the butter melts, add the onion and cook for about 6 minutes, stirring every minute or two, until they're a little golden.

  2. Add the jalapeños to the stockpot, and cook for 3 minutes to soften them a little.

  3. Add the baharat, give everything a stir, and then add the diced tomatoes and stock, and season to taste with salt. Bring it to a simmer over high heat, and then add the kubba one by one, slightly flattening each ball into a disc between your palms right before you add them. Allow about 30 seconds for everything to come back up to a simmer, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low.

  4. Cook covered for 10 minutes, then gently stir everything, cover and cook for 10 more minutes.

  5. After 20 minutes total, remove from heat, add the greens,*** give everything a gentle stir, and then add the lemon juice. The greens will take about 2 minutes to cook with the residual heat. Give it a final stir right before serving.

* You can make the filling with a fattier ground beef, but I developed the recipe this way so that you won’t have to buy 2 different kinds. But if you have 1 pound lean meat and 1 pound higher fat meat, feel free to skip the butter.
** This recipe has the right ratio of filling to shell, but no worries if you have some leftover at the end. Simply make a few small meatballs with the leftover filling (or the leftover shell), and throw them right in with everything else.
*** Letting the greens coast will help it stay green instead of turning gray, but if you’re making this ahead for guests, you might want to add the greens at the last second, because it will continue to cook as it cools down. Everything else can be made ahead of time, reheated later, and the greens added at the last minute. If you’re just making this for yourself and your family, it keeps great as is, and the leftovers will be delicious. Kale in particular isn’t traditional here, but it’s fairly traditional to add some greens or other veggies to the stew, and kale is just what I had handy when recipe developing, so feel free to add your favorite veggie instead.

kubba hamuth

mujadara-inspired French onion lentil soup

mujadara-inspired french onion soup

As you might notice if you browse my recipes, French bistro food isn’t really my style. It’s just not something I usually find inspiration in, and while I totally get the appeal, I just don’t personally crave it. But despite this ennui, even I can’t resist a bowl of French onion soup. What’s not to love about a cheesy croûte on top of caramelized onion soup?

Underneath all that cheesy bread, I think it might just be my one exception because the flavors remind me so much of mujadara, one of my favorites. Mujadara is simply lentils and rice with a ton of caramelized onions, sometimes served with yogurt and crispy fried onions on top. And as it happens, adding lentils to French onion soup turns it into much more of a vegetarian main, sprinkling on crispy fried onions is just the thing to send it over the top, and blending za’atar with fresh thyme strikes the perfect balance between the two dishes. I channeled my inner Julia Child for this one (though I’m still not sure if she’s in there), and I hope you enjoy it on one of these chilly winter evenings. Brr!

mujadara-inspired french onion soup
mujadara-inspired french onion soup
mujadara-inspired french onion soup
mujadara-inspired french onion soup

Before I leave you with the recipe, let me just tell you how excited I am that yesterday was my blog’s second anniversary! This time last year, I wrote a bit about how difficult it is for me to recover from a disastrous recipe developing day, and I’m proud to say that I’ve had a record low number of pity parties this year. If I’m being totally honest (and probably also if you ask my family), I haven’t actually gotten much better at taking recipe developing disasters in stride, but I’ve become better at avoiding them in the first place, and productively working through them when they happen.

In my first year of blogging, there were so many times that I’d make something, it wouldn’t go well, and I would have no idea how to fix it and move forward. I’d head to the kitchen the next day with a fuzzy idea of what to do differently, and things would go even worse. Or I would come up with a half-baked idea, not spend enough time fleshing it out before heading to the kitchen, and then (shockingly! hah) it wouldn’t pan out. Of course, these failed experiments never made it onto the blog, which meant that I had to work that much harder before stumbling into a recipe I was actually excited to share with you guys. I’m proud of everything that made it onto the blog in my first year, but sheesh—I did not get there in the most efficient (or mentally healthy) way possible.

But now, I feel so much more prepared whenever I start working on a new idea. And when things don’t go right, it’s become so much easier to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. I’ve learned so much since starting, especially this last year, and I hope to keep challenging myself, learning, and growing this year. So I guess—resolution met! Kind of! Maybe I can work on the mindfulness side of the equation this time, and try to take on a more blissfully enlightened, easygoing, no-worries kitchen persona when things go wrong. Probably not, but I’ll check back in with an update next February.

Overall, it’s been a rewarding year! I wrote and posted seventy-six new recipes, I was nominated for a Saveur award in the best food culture blog category, I got involved with the Cook for Syria movement and contributed a recipe to the Bake for Syria book, and I’ve just recently started thinking about next steps and new projects. One project is way too early on to really talk about in detail, but I’ll just say that I’m having so much fun with the research stage, which has involved interviewing my Middle Eastern/North African chef/food blogger friends and spending all day thinking about, cooking, and researching one of my all-time favorite foods. Can’t wait to see what becomes of it. But in any case, I have a feeling this is going to be a good year, and I can’t wait to share some of my favorite new recipes with you here.

mujadara-inspired french onion soup
mujadara-inspired french onion soup
mujadara-inspired french onion soup
mujadara-inspired french onion soup

mujadara-inspired French onion lentil soup

yield: about 8 servings
active time: 40 minutes
total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
download a
PDF to print
see also:
mujadara, mujadara tacos, and mujadara french onion soup
notes on multitasking: While the onions finish caramelizing, start frying the ones you set aside. While the soup simmers, assemble the croûtes.

french onion lentil soup

  • 4 tablespoons butter

  • 3 pounds onions, thinly sliced (about 5 to 6 medium onions)

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed through a press or finely minced

  • 2 tablespoons flour (optional)

  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (feel free to substitute more broth if you can’t have wine)

  • 8 cups vegetable broth

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage (I used Palestinian sage, which was perfect, but you can use any)

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or za’atar (or an equal amount fresh thyme)

  • 3/4 pound green or brown lentils, sorted and rinsed

  1. Place the butter in a large dutch oven and set over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, swirl to coat and add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In the first couple minutes, you'll want to keep them moving to help them wilt. After about 5-10 minutes, you'll notice the bottom of the pot gathering a brown film. Scrape it up with your wooden spoon (preferably flat-edged) and let the onions absorb the brown bits. Let the onions sit for a couple minutes, until the brown film shows up again—scrape it up again and give the onions a stir.

  2. Continue to caramelize the onions this way, scraping the brown bits from the bottom whenever they accumulate. Control the heat so the bottom doesn't burn. Toward the end, you may need to reduce the heat to medium to keep the onions from burning. *

  3. Once the onions are very soft and golden brown (after about 25 minutes), remove 1/3 of them to a plate, and continue cooking the rest for about 10 more minutes, until they're deeply brown. You'll need to stir more frequently in these last 10 minutes, and you might need to occasionally deglaze the bottom with a couple teaspoons of water if it's too hard to scrape up.

  4. During the last minute or two of caramelizing, add the garlic and stir for just 1-2 minutes.

  5. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the flour, and cook stirring constantly for about 2 minutes.

  6. Add the wine and scrape any bits still stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the broth a little at a time while whisking, until the mixture smooths out a bit, then add the rest of the broth, black pepper, sage, thyme, and lentils and increase the heat to medium-high. Tate and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

  7. Once it comes to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 15 to 25 minutes. Once the lentils are done (no longer mealy, but not yet mushy), remove from heat (it'll stay warm if covered for about 30 minutes). Taste and season a little more if necessary.

fried onions

  • 1 cup neutral-flavored oil (canola oil or refined olive oil—not extra virgin—works great)

  • The set-aside golden-brown caramelized onions

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until an onion sizzles when dropped in (about 5 minutes). Carefully add a scoop or two of the reserved caramelized onions and use tongs to spread them out into a single mostly submerged layer.

  2. Cook, stirring every minute or so, for about 3 to 5 minutes until crispy-chewy and deeply golden brown (control the heat to make sure they don’t burn). Before they burn or become too brittle, remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel-lined plate, and then add a couple more scoops of the onions to the pan, working in batches until they're all done. Discard the remaining oil after it cools.

croûte

  • 1 French boule (or another loaf of crusty bread), cut into thick bowl-width slices (about 400-450g)

  • Butter

  • 8 ounces sliced or grated melting cheese (swiss, mozzarella, gruyere, etc.) (or 12 oz. if you want stretchy gobs)

  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

  • (optional) thyme for garnish

  1. Preheat the broiler. While you wait, lightly butter both sides of the bread slices and place them on a sheet pan (parchment-lined for easy cleanup). Broil until toasted on one side (about 1 to 5 minutes, depending on your broiler–check very frequently!), then remove from the oven and flip them over.

  2. Place the cheese slices on the un-toasted sides, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Place back under the broiler until the cheese is melted and browned in spots (another 1 to 5 minutes).

  3. Serve by ladling some soup into a bowl, topping with a croûte, and sprinkling with fried onions and a little thyme.

* If you want a method that requires less babysitting (but more time), try the method I use in my mujadara recipe

mujadara-inspired french onion soup