I have been looking forward to today for weeks if not months. I had patted myself on the back for getting an early start, for thinking ahead, for not waiting until the last minute and being forced to scramble, as I have on October 20ths of years past. And then, on Monday, Squish came down with a fever. He was hot and lethargic all of Tuesday. Micah stayed home from work on Wednesday so I could go to the grocery store, do the laundry, and Manchild could go to his swimming lesson. I feel as though I’ve been breathlessly running around doing nothing all week. And then last night as Micah and I were getting ready for bed, the clock ticked past midnight, the date changed from the 19th to the 20th and Micah welcomed the new day with a quiet, “Happy Birthday to me!” It was only then that I realized I’d done it again.
It was his birthday and I had nothing to show for it. Not a gift — we will go out together next week to get that. Not a cake — I made that while he was a work today, and he managed to blow out the candles and swallow a bite or two before running off to a meeting. Not even breakfast in bed — he got up with the boys and gave them breakfast while I slept for another hour. But let us not dwell any longer on my failings as a wife/birthday party planner. Instead, let us dwell on the things I may be succeeding at.
Like making dinner. And instead of talking about the difficulties of dinner, like how I tried to chop onions while simultaneously listening to a podcast, answering the incessant questions of a certain 4-year-old, and encourage a toddler to toddle into the other room, away from the hot oil, let us focus instead on the results: kibbeh. Something different, something tasty, something relatively simple. This was a suggestion from my friend Debbie, who was by my side as we soldiered our way through grad school and whose cooking/baking suggestions I will always take simply because she’s a pastry chef and I trust her judgment on food implicitly. She saw “bulgar wheat” on the list of things I got from someone else’s pantry and suggested kibbeh. I had never heard of it before, had no idea what it was, but immediately went in search of recipes. (It’s a Lebanese dish, fyi.)
The result, as mentioned, was quite satisfying. Ground meat (beef or lamb) in a bulgar wheat/meat shell, deep-fried to a deep brown. Unless you are like me and mess up the frying-oil and have to pan-fry them instead if you are to possibly get them on the table before your husband has to leave for a meeting. And although I didn’t make breakfast in bed, or have a super-special surprise gift to open, or dinner on the table when he got home from work, at least Micah was spared the typical protests by one of his children about how he “doesn’t like it” and “isn’t going to eat it” because said child gobbled the kibbeh up without so much as asking what it was. Go figure.
Lebanese Kibbeh with Garlic Yogurt
I looked at a bunch of different recipes as I figured out how to do this. Some of them were very different from each other — some had pinenuts in the filling, some were not filled at all, some were baked, others were fried. I think this means that there a lot of ways to do this correctly and so my adaptation is just as valid as anyone else’s. Maybe.
2/3 cup bulgar wheat, soaked in cold water for an hour or so, then drained in through a fine mesh sieve (Put the bulgar in a medium bowl, add enough water to cover it by at least an inch, and let it sit.)
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef or lamb
2 onions, one finely chopped, one coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 T. oil, plus more for frying (I used olive oil, but I did not deep fry my kibbeh, I pan-fried it)
Place the tablespoon of oil in a large skillet and heat over medium high heat. Add the finely chopped onion and cook until transluscent, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 pound of the ground meat and cook, breaking up the meat into the smallest pieces you can get as it cooks. Add the allspice and cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Once the meat has cooked through, turn off the heat. This spiced ground meat is the filling.
For the shell, place the soaked, drained bulgar wheat in a food processor and process for a minute or two until it resembles a dough. Add the chopped onion and the remaining pound of ground meat through the feed tube and continue processing for another minute. Add salt and pepper to taste and mix well. (I realize you probably aren’t going to actually taste it because it is raw meat — just use your best judgment, 1/4-1/2 tsp. is probably about the correct range.)
Heat oil in deep skillet to 350 if you are deep frying. If you want to pan-fry, heat skillet with a tablespoon or two of oil over medium-high. Fill a smallish bowl with water (you will use this to wet your hands and prevent the meat from sticking to them as you shape the shell). Take an egg-sized portion of the shell “dough” and flatten it, using your wet hands, into a 3-inch round. Spoon some of the filling into the center of the round, then fold over and seal the edges. Place in the hot skillet and cook, turning after 2-3 minutes until both sides are brown and crispy. Serve with garlic yogurt sauce.
Garlic Yogurt Sauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed,
dash of salt
Mix ingredients in a small bowl.