All kibbeh dishes, those Middle Eastern dumplings made of minced meat filling stuffed in a thin grain shell, have one thing in common: They’re all labor intense. In The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York Claudia Roden says she does not believe the art of making kibbeh in all its varieties will survive, because of the long time it takes to roll and stuff and roll again and cook.
Kibbeh used to be even harder to make. Whether it was the bulgar and beef crust of the Syrian fried kibbah or the ground rice shell of the cooked Iraqi kubbeh, cooks had to pound the grains themselves using a mortar and pestle. Once the grains were smooth enough, cooks would start preparing the meat filling. Then they’d have to shape the kibbeh, stuff them, and then cook or fry the dumplings.
These days you can get finely ground bulgar in stores, or use electric appliances to grind your own. My grandmother, Rachel Aqrib, like other Iraqi Jews who moved to Israel, replaced the ground rice of the kubbeh shell with farina (or coarse semolina). The shells can (relatively) easily be made smooth and soft.
While my grandmother made her kubbeh stews almost every week of the year, I can only wish I had the time or patience to do so. She cooked them in okra and tomatoes, my favorite, in the summer, and with pumpkin or beets (my father’s favorite) during the rest of the year. And she would always serve the kubbeh on top of a delicate warm pile of rice cooked with noodles, the Middle Eastern staple. Kubbeh is one of those poor-man’s dishes, where a little expensive meat combined with a lot of the cheap labor of the home cook can do wonders. Half a pound of ground beef will feed a family of six, but who has that extra hour to make it these days?
Turns out there are still enough men and women, especially in Israel, who are still interested in the art or rolling kubbeh. Iraqi cooks in Israel have began hosting cooking demonstrations for those round delicacies and many restaurants, mainly in Jerusalem, serve kubbeh soups. Most restaurants, however, serve the Kurdish varieties of the dish. While my grandmother use to cook and serve the kubbeh more as a stew, the Kurdish versions are cooked in a real soup. And while the Iraqi kubbeh is very delicate and made of farina only, the Kurdish ones are prepared with either bulgar or a mix or bulgar and farina. That makes for a thicker, coarser shell that does not break as much and I assume that’s why it’s more popular in restaurants in Israel.
The kubbeh soup recipe keeps on evolving in our family. My grandmother switched from ground rice to semolina, and I added more vegetables into the soup, including the beet greens, for example. But it still holds the same basic recipe that dates back to the Assyrian kingdom.
I believe that every family should have its own stuffed-something dish, just as each family needs to have its own favorite cake. It can be your grandmother’s stuffed cabbage rolls or stuffed tomatoes, or you can adopt this kubbeh in beet dish. There’s nothing like these labor-intense dishes to show the love of the cook to her family. In fact, forget about chocolate, kubbeh in beet soup - is going to be my Valentine’s Day dinner for my family. I just wish it was as good as my grandmother used to make it.
Kubbeh (beef stuffed semolina patties) in beet stew
This kubbeh soup is an Iraqi version of the dish, using only farina for the shell. The soup is rich and tasty on its own. It can be served as a soup, or over rice.
This recipe uses beet greens. If they are unavailable, use 3 leaves of Swiss chard instead.
For the shell of the kubbeh we use farina or coarse semolina. Do not use semolina flour.
Citric acid powder is used to add sourness to dishes. Can substitute with lemon juice to taste.
Farina and citric acid are available at Middle Eastern and Kosher markets.
Serves 6, about 18 kubbeh
For the soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 medium sized beets, greens included
Leaves of 5 Italian parsley
1 tablespoon tomato paste
6 cups chicken stock
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon citric acid
1.5 teaspoons salt
For the kubbeh shell:
1 lb. farina or coarse semolina (not semolina flour)
14 oz. water
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
10 oz. ground beef
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 onion, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Start making the soup. In a large, preferably wide pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, celery and saute for 5 minutes. Peel, half and slice the beets and add them to the pot. Saute for 5 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.
2. Wash and chop the beet greens (or Swiss chard) and add to pot together with parsley and tomato paste. Stir and cook for another minute, then add chicken stock. Bring to boil, lower heat and bring to gentle simmer. Add garlic, sugar, citric acid and salt. leave to for another 20 minutes, while you prepare the kubbeh.
3. To make the shell dough mix all the ingredients to get a very wet mixture. Add more water if the dough seem too dry. Cover with towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
4. Mix the ingredients of the filling and form 1” balls of all the mixture, about 18 balls.
5. Taste the soup and adjust seasoning.
6. When you’re ready to start making the kubbeh, arrange the shell mixture and filling bowl next to the soup pot, fill another small bowl with water so you can wet your hands. Bring the heat to medium-high.
7. Wet your hands and spoon a 1.5” ball of dough into your palm. Flatten the dough in your hand (picture 1), then put a meatball over the dough (picture 2). Using your other hand, pinch the dough around the meatball to completely cover it (picture 3), roll the covered meatball in your hands to make sure it’s round and has no holes in it (you can close any hole in the dough by adding a little more dough from the bowl). Then gently drop the kubbeh into the soup. Wet your hands again and continue making the kubbeh. After every 6 kubbeh shake the pot to make sure they do not stick to the bottom. Add more kubbeh only after the soup is simmering again.
8. Once all the kubbeh are in the soup, lower the heat to low, cover the pot and continue cooking for another 20 minutes, shaking the pot from time to time to make sure the kubbeh do not stick. If you want the soup to be thinner, add a little boiling water. Turn off the heat and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.