We tend to think of kibbeh dishes as having to do strictly with meat, but there is a tremendous Lebanese tradition of vegetarian kibbeh. While tomato kibbeh is at its finest at the height of tomato season, it tastes wonderful even with winter tomatoes. Serve the kibbeh with fattoush or a romaine salad, labneh, pita bread, and olives.
1 1/2 cups / 285 g fine bulgur (#1 grade)
5 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 sprigs fresh mint
1 medium-size sweet onion, coarsely chopped
2 large, ripe tomatoes (1 pound)
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded, cored, and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Few grinds of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons crushed dried mint (see note at bottom)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup / 120 mL extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
Place the bulgur in a medium mixing bowl. In a food processor, pulse the parsley and mint until they are finely chopped, but not pureed. Add the onion and continue pulsing until it is also finely chopped, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the herb-onion mixture into the mixing bowl with the bulgur.
Halve the tomatoes through the stem end and use your fingers to pull out the seeds. Discard the seeds and coarsely chop the tomato. Add the tomatoes and red bell pepper to the processor. Pulse a few times, until they are finely chopped but not liquid, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Scrape this mixture into the mixing bowl.
Knead together the bulgur, herb-onion mixture, and tomato mixture, seasoning with salt, pepper, cinnamon, cayenne, crushed dried mint, lemon juice, and olive oil. Let the kibbeh rest for about 1 hour at room temperature, so that the bulgur will soak up the juices and soften. Taste the kibbeh and adjust the seasonings.
Serve the kibbeh by spreading it to about 1/2-inch / 1.5 cm thickness on a platter. Using the tip of an overturned spoon or the tines of a fork, decoratively score the top of the kibbeh by making ridges all over. Chill until you’re ready to serve the kibbeh, and then drizzle generously with more olive oil, and serve.
Nana (Dried Mint)
Makes about 1 cup whole leaves / 3 grams dried mint
Mint, or nana (pronounced NAH-nuh), is the hallmark herb of Lebanese recipes, ubiquitously imparting its fresh, bright flavor. Dried mint is often used together with fresh mint in Lebanese recipes for deeper mint flavor. It’s simple to make yourself, and the crisp, dried leaves keep for months in an airtight container (I use a jar and leave it out on the counter). Always crush dried mint leaves between your palms right when you’re ready to use it. The resulting bright and dark green mint dust is a go-to finishing touch, especially with salads and laban or labneh dishes. Note that the fresh mint must be just-plucked from its stem and bone dry before you begin, so that it will crisp up more readily in the drying process. When measuring, note that 1/4 cup of whole dried leaves results in about a teaspoon of crushed dried mint.
1 large bunch fresh mint sprigs
If possible, do not rinse the mint; just shake it off to clean it, so that it is as dry as possible. Pluck the leaves from their stems.
Dry the mint swiftly in the microwave, which yields the greenest dried mint. Working in batches, place the leaves in a single layer on a microwavable china plate lined with a paper towel, or on a paper plate. Dry the mint in 30-second intervals (about three, depending on your machine) until the leaves are curled and starting to dry, but still bright green (there may be some dark spots). The leaves will crisp up further once they have cooled and dried for about 1 hour.
Alternatively, dry the mint in the oven by warming the oven just barely for a minute at its lowest temperature, and then turn the oven off (any more heat than this, and the mint will turn too brown). Place the leaves in a single layer on a sheet pan and leave them in the oven to dry overnight, or for about 12 hours.
Store the mint in an airtight jar in the pantry for several months. It will lose its flavor over time, so it is most vibrant in the month after it is made.
Reprinted with permission from Rose Water & Orange Blossoms © 2015 by Maureen Abood, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
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