Kibbeh is a Middle Eastern sensation. Just about every city has its own preparation, and you can find countless varieties if you do just a quick search. Kibbeh is diverse, prolific, and completely beloved. Thus, kibbeh is a food that resists definition and categorization. It's most often translated in English as "Middle Eastern dumplings," which is closest to the word's etymology. And true, most are dumplings (sometimes boiled, sometimes fried), but some preparations, like kibbeh bil saniyeh, are baked in a casserole or sheet pan, and some are eaten raw, like steak tartare. So whenever the dumpling comparison doesn't fit, kibbeh is defined as having some sort of dough made out of bulgur wheat. But this isn't always the case, because some are totally gluten free, made with potatoes or rice. So while I guess you could say that the platonic form of kibbeh is a bulgur dumpling, that only begins to scratch the surface of what's possible. This particular dish, kbeibat, fits both definitions, and is a great place to start.
My aunt Masy taught us all how to make kbeibat a few weeks ago. We had just about everyone over to my parents' house and she demonstrated how to expertly form the dough into little hollow cones, how to prepare the finely minced filling, and how to make a farina and bulgur dough. She wasn't totally happy with how the dough turned out, but we spoke on the phone a couple times afterwards, and she gave me some more crucial advice. I put her suggestions to practice when I made my own kbeibat, and this resulted in a dough that's perfectly soft, pliable, and not so sticky that it's hard to work with, but sticky enough that it holds together when you want it to.
Kbeibat dough is usually made with some combination of bulgur and farina/semolina. Masy soaks, strains, and purées bulgur in a food processor, and then kneads in some farina and water. The filling is made with ground beef, spices (in my family's case, just some black pepper), onion, and parsley. Some cooks fill their kbeibat with raw meat and some fill theirs with sautéed meat—there are pros and cons of each method, and each result is totally different. The sautéed filling has that seared-meat flavor, which nicely contrasts with the subtle flavor of the boiled dough. On the other hand, the raw filling gently cooks along with the dough, and result in a more satisfying texture. To see an example of semolina kbeibat, made with the raw filling method, check out my friend Tony Tahhan's kbeibat. Either way, you can't go wrong.
1 cup bulgur # 1 (extra fine)
1 quart of water (for soaking)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 1/3 cups farina
1 1/3 cups water (for the dough)
Soak the bulgur in 1 quart of water for 1 hour. After 1 hour, drain it in a fine mesh strainer, and purée it in a food processor until it's somewhat smooth.
Add the salt, farina, and about half of the water to the food processor, and blend to combine. Gradually add the rest of the water with the food processor running, until it forms a smooth, slightly sticky, pliable dough. You might not use all the water—I usually hold back about 1 or 2 tablespoons.
1 medium onion, finely minced (about 1 1/2 cups finely minced)
Salt to taste (I use 1 teaspoon total)
1 pound ground chuck
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup finely minced parsley, plus more for garnish (or your favorite herb for garnish)
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat for 2 minutes, and add the minced onions and salt to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, just until they soften and shrink down a little.
Remove the onions to a medium bowl to cool, increase the heat to high, and wait 1 minute. Add 1/2 teaspoon oil, swirl to coat, and add the ground chuck and salt to taste. Cook, stirring every few minutes and breaking everything up into very small pieces. The meat is done once any liquid has evaporated and it's browned nicely (about 5 to 8 minutes).
Once the meat is done, turn off the heat, stir in the pepper, and count to 10. Then add the 2 tablespoons of water, and immediately start scraping up the bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir until the water evaporates, and add the meat to the bowl with the onions, Let everything cool for a little while, and then add the parsley.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. While you're waiting on the water, begin shaping the kibbeh.
Lightly wet your hands while handling the dough to keep it from sticking. Take a ping-pong-sized ball of dough, wet your dominant index finger, and mold the ball around your finger. Wiggle your finger around to widen the opening. Once it's open enough and the dough is thin enough (about 1/8 inch), fill it with a heaping tablespoon of filling, and then crimp the opening shut (watch the video to see an example of how to shape them, but feel free to use whatever method is easy for you).
Drop about 5 to 10 kibbeh into boiling water and let them cook for about 5 to 8 minutes, until they start floating to the top of the pot.