Kebbeh, considered one of the national dishes of Lebanon, is an old and representative dish of all Near Eastern countries. Food heritage expert Zeinab Jeambey takes us on a journey this time to discover the regional adaptations of kebbeh in villages across Lebanon.
Gubibate, a dish made with cracked wheat and meat, is one of the many delicacies that once adorned the table of the King of Assyria in 9th century BC; the ancestor of what is now known as kebbeh.
Kebbeh’s main and constant ingredient is bulgur, cracked parboiled wheat. The most common type of kebbeh is made by kneading finely minced meat with bulgur and shaping it into balls or patties, with or without meat stuffing.
In Lebanon, one of the most famous meat kebbeh is Kebbeh Zghirtawiyyeh (from the village of Zgharta, North of Lebanon), a meat kebbeh that is shaped in a glass bowl to obtain an oval-shaped kebbeh, stuffed with minced sheep fat and baked over charcoal.
Kebbeh comes in many shapes and forms, be it balls or patties, and can be mixed with many different ingredients that give the kebbeh dish its descriptive name.
From tomato kebbeh to frakeh – the aromas of South Lebanon
Both tomato kebbeh and frakeh are based on kammouneh, an aromatic green looking bulgur, obtained by mixing fine bulgur in a food processor with basil, marjoram, mint leaves, parsley, dried rose buds, orange rind, black pepper seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon and dried hot chilies. Kammouneh is widely known in the South of Lebanon.
Tomato kibbeh, also known as tomato kammouneh, consists of kammouneh kneaded with diced raw tomatoes and dished out on a plate with a generous drizzle of olive oil.
Frakeh, another southern delicacy, is made of very finely ground raw meat mixed with kammouneh, formed into oval shaped balls and offered as an appetizer before meals.
*Order tomato kebbeh at Salim el Ashkar guesthouse and Table d’Hôte (03 354558, Khraybet el Shouf) and frakeh at Restaurant Abu Naim (01 750480, Hamra street, Beirut)
From kebbeh summakiyeh to boiled pumpkin kebbeh – the colors of the Bekaa Valley
Kebbeh summakiyeh, prepared the northern Bekaa way, is made of flour and bulgur wheat kneaded to form a dough. It is then formed into balls, stuffed with potatoes, onions and spices, and boiled in sumac water. Earthy colors are reflected in the dish as white kebbeh balls turn pink upon boiling with purple sumac water.
In the West Bekaa, although pumpkin kebbeh (kebbit lakteen) is known as a vegetarian dish prepared during lent before Easter, it can also be stuffed with labneh and kawarma, and boiled in a light keshek soup. For many Lebanese, the light orange balls of kebbeh floating in a milky soup, is the ultimate comfort food for a cold fall or winter day.
*Try kibbeh summakiyeh at the women’s coop in Hermel, led by Khadijeh Chahine (71 579547) and pumpkin kebbeh boiled in kishk at Lina Haddad’s Table d’Hôte (70 671399, Khirbet Qanafar)
From kebbeh arnabiyyeh to kibbet samak: the flavors of the coast
Ingredients found along Lebanon’s coastal areas, namely fish and citrus fruits, make up kebbeh arnabiyyeh and kibbet samak. Kebbeh arnabieh, also known as kebbeh bel tahini. Meat kebbeh balls are cooked in a sauce made by mixing tahini (sesame paste) with up to seven citrus juices, including different types of orange, tangerine, mandarin and lemon. The resulting dish is nothing less than majestic, combining both earthy and citrusy flavors that marry perfectly with kebbeh balls.
Equally succulent is kebbet samak or fish kebbeh, a delicate dish, but definitely worth the cooking time. Well-refrigerated fish, preferably grouper, is de-skinned and deboned. Mixed with fine bulgur, coriander, orange rind and spices, the patty is either formed into balls or spread in a pan, stuffed with lots of stir-fried onions and nuts and then either baked or deep fried.
*Try kebbeh arnabiyeh at Socrate (01 846646, Sidani Street, Ras Beirut) and kebbet samak at Aal Baher restaurant (09 541116, Byblos) or at Al Fanar (07 741111, Tyre)
This article was published in Lebanon Traveler magazine