To get a real taste of traditional Lebanese food you simply must try kebbeh. Not only is it our national dish, it has been a part of our cultural cuisine for thousands of years and it is absolutely delicious.
Also known as kibbeh, kubbeh or even kobeba, kebbeh has been described as everything from a type of meatball to dumplings to Middle Eastern pâté and there are more than 14 different varieties. It essentially consists of finely ground meat, onion and burghul (cracked wheat). While beef, lamb, goat or even camel has been used, in Lebanon, lamb is the traditional choice and spices vary widely from family to family.
People have been eating kebbeh for thousands of years throughout the Levant, which is an area that comprises modern day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Many believe kebbeh was first eaten in the Syrian city of Aleppo, though nowadays almost every culture in the Middle East has their own version of kebbeh.
Kebbeh can be made in many ways but the basics remain the same. You need fresh ground meat, fine burghul, white onions and a mix of sweet and savoury spices, such as cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper.
First the burghul is soaked and drained and the onions are pureed. Both are then added to the ground meat and kneaded together with a little ice water along with your spices. From here there are many different ways to proceed, including the following;
Raw – Traditionally Kebbeh is eaten raw, which is known as kebbeh nayyeh, but to prevent contamination it is vital that your meat is fresh, ground on clean blades and served immediately. If you want to try kebbeh nayyeh it is wise to have it prepared for you by someone who knows what they are doing.
Cooked – The most popular way to cook kebbeh is to form little balls from your meat/burghul/onion mixture, poke a hole in each one then stuff them with fried ground meat, onions, pine nuts and spices. The balls are then sealed and fried in oil. You can also make hamburger-like patties out of kebbeh, you can encase it in dough to make a pie; you can steam it, bake it or fry it. When it comes to cooking kebbeh the only limit is your imagination.
Vegetarian – Believe it or not, there are even vegetarian versions on kebbeh and they are extremely tasty. The trick is to simply replace the meat with a hearty vegetable that will hold its shape, such as potato or pumpkin.
Kebbeh is often served at parties and celebrations as part of a classic meze spread – this involves small plates of many different foods being served at the same time. Cooked kebbeh is served with fresh hommus or a yoghurt sauce that contains garlic and mint. Kebbeh nayyeh, on the other hand, is usually garnished with fresh mint and eaten with pita.