21 January 2014

Kibbeh Arnabiya (Lebanese Meatballs in Tahini-Citrus Sauce)


If there is a theme for this blog after the arrival of my husband on the scene, it would be that he is quite the eater. "He seems to travel with his stomach," my uncle once observed. I know, I can't imagine why he would have married me? He's a gourmand and I love to cook. So you won't be surprised when the other day when we were walking to the vegetable stand, I was describing a classic winter dish from Beirut called kibbeh arnabiya, and I was saying how incredibly complicated and hard it was to make, and then Paul's eyes lit up and before I knew it we were in the butcher shop buying all the ingredients.  


Kibbeh arnabiya, a dish of meatballs in a tahini-citrus sauce, is always made in the winter time because it relies on a special bitter citrus that is only in season during the cold months. Though historically it was made with bitter Seville oranges (naranj), these days it is often made with a variety of both sweet and sour citrus fruits.

Like many classic dishes of Lebanese cuisine, kibbeh arnabiya is all about seasonality and using what you've preserved and saved for the winter. The citrus fruits would be harvested from the trees in your yard, and the tahini, beef, pine nuts, pomegranate molasses, and chickpeas are all things that would have been available in winter. I can't get bitter oranges locally, so I really like a heavy dose of grapefruit to bring bitterness and complexity to the sauce.


Paul, of course, suggested that we go all out for this version, and as a result this is an incredibly complicated dish as I've made it. I made the lamb stock from scratch, cooked the chickpeas from dried, harvested citrus from the yard, and made the kibbeh meatballs by hand. (Hey, there's not a lot going on in Algeria!) However you should know that it is very easy to make several shortcuts, described below, and have this on the table for a relatively easy (easier?) dinner. Homemade lamb stock is great, but the dish will still be good if you don't have it. There is something amazing about the tahini-citrus sauce that is warm and comforting and reminds me of really good gravy but without the heaviness.

You might read the recipe below and blanch at the length. I understand. But while I may jokingly (okay, fine, sometimes less jokingly) complain about both my husband's voracious appetite and some long hours in the kitchen, there are few things better than doing something you love and feeding those that you love food that they enjoy. Sahtein!

P.S. Housekeeping - Some of you told me that you use BlogLovin' to follow along with this blog, so I've added a link in the right-hand column there. You can also subscribe via email, and if there's anything else you want me to add to make it easier to follow along, just ask! Of course if you follow on Instagram, you already knew this post was coming :)


Kibbeh Arnabiya
(Kibbeh Arnabiyah, Kebbeh Arnabiyeh.) A traditional Lebanese cook would already have kibbeh in her freezer and spices at the ready, and would be able to very quickly whip up the sauce and add in the kibbeh. I am not a traditional Lebanese cook and thus have to start from scratch, but the end result was worth it. You want to use a deep pot (not the shallow one pictured ehre) because it makes it easier to puree the sauce. Adapted from Taste of Beirut and here and plenty of kibbeh experience of my own.

for the lamb stock:
1 kilo (2 lbs) of chopped lamb shoulder or 2 lamb shanks
3 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon peppercorns,  1/2 an onion, chopped
water to cover

for the kibbeh spice mix:
2 teaspoons allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
1 teaspoon salt

for the kibbeh shell:
1 lb (1/2 kilo) extra lean ground beef (or lamb or veal)
1 onion
2/3 cup fine bulgur
2 teaspoons spice mix
1/2 cup chopped parsley (optional, not traditional)
salt to taste
for the kibbeh stuffing:
shredded lamb from the lamb stock
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1/2 teaspoon spice mix

for the tahini sauce:
1 onion, diced
2 cups tahini
1 cup grapefruit juice
2/3 cup orange juice
the juice from 4 manadarins or clementines
the juice of 2 lemons
1 cup lamb stock

for serving:
1 cup cooked chickpeas
pomegranate molasses
chopped parsley

 1. Make the lamb stock: Place all the ingredients for the stock in a pot, with several pinches of salt and water to cover. Bring the mixture to a low simmer and simmer until the lamb is cooked through and falling off the bone, about 2-3 hours. Set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, mix together your spice mix and squeeze your citrus juices. Set aside.
3. For the kibbeh: Preheat oven to 350F. Soak the bulgur in hot water for 3 minutes and then drain it. Place the onion in a food processor with the 2 teaspoons of spice mix and pulse until the onion is finely ground. Add the meat and 1-2 teaspoons of salt and pulse the mixture in the food processor several times to bring it all together. Add the bulgur and pulse again to incorporate the bulgur. (You can also do this with your hands, kneading everything together.) Scoop your meat mixture into a bowl and transfer to the refrigerator to chill.
4. Meanwhile, back to the lamb: Strain the lamb stock and set aside in the refrigerator. Shred any of the lamb meat from the bones and place in a small bowl. Add the pine nts and seasoning to the shredded lamb meat and set aside.
5. Finish the kibbeh: Line two baking sheets with foil. Get a bowl of ice water ready. Take the chilled kibbeh meat from the fridge, dip your fingers into the ice water, and start to form the kibbeh into balls. Using your index finger, carve a hole into the kibbeh ball, rolling it around to create a thin outer wall of the kibbeh ball. Take a little bit of the lamb/pine-nut mixture and place it inside the kibbeh ball. Pinch the kibbeh ball closed, sealing the filling inside and forming it into a torpedo/football shape. Place the kibbeh on the baking sheet as you work.
6. Bake the kibbeh: Bake the kibbeh in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until just cooked. Set aside.
7. Make the sauce: In a large deep saucepan, heat a little olive oil in the pan. Cook the diced onion over medium heat until it is brown and caramelized, about 20 minutes. Stir the tahini into the pan and add the citrus juices. The mixture will immediately curdle, but just continue to stir over medium-low heat and it will come together. Once it has come back together, add in the lamb stock and season  with salt. Let the sauce simmer over low heat for just 2-3 minutes. Using an immersion blender puree the sauce to be smooth.
8. Finish the dish: Add in the kibbeh meatballs and the chickpeas to the sauce. Stir in 1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses to the sauce and taste for seasoning. Let kibbeh and chickpeas warm up in the sauce. When everything is warm and combined, ladle the dish into serving bowls. Garnish with some more pomegranate molasses and chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

Shortcuts: Skip making the lambstock. Make the kibbeh meatballs, but don't make the stuffing for them, just form them into regular (unstuffed) meatballs and bake them. Use purchased instead of fresh juice. Use 1 cup purchased beef stock instead of the lamb stock. You don't have to puree the sauce if you want a more rustic presentation (personally, I think the pureeing makes the dish better).

To reheat: This dish will thicken as it cools. To reheat, whisk in enough water to get the sauce to be liquid again. Add in some more lemon juice because the citrus flavor dissipates the longer the dish sits.


nzle said...

Oh my god I am so captivated by this recipe. If I make the whole deluxe version -- stock, fresh juice, and all -- and serve it at a dinner party, what are some traditional side dishes and salads, etc that one would serve with it?

Mercedes said...

Hi! Great question! You definitely want to serve this with a traditional Lebanese rice with vermicelli.


If I was having a dinner party I'd start out with a small mezze array (olives, pickles, baba ghanoush, tabboule, etc) followed by the rice and kibbe arnabiya as the main. For an easier menu, tabboule salad (or another herby salad) with the kibbe and the rice would be lovely. Or if green salad isn't your thing, maybe some roast beets on the side?

Hope that helps!

Plucky said...

Oh Mercedes, you forgot to suggest a dessert for the dinner party! Even though it's not Ramadan, might I suggest baklava muhalabiyya and/or some ma'amoul?



nzle said...

Oh awesome -- I'm Iranian and we make rice with vermicelli too but call it Reshteh Polo. I'm really excited to make this dinner party a reality!

Unknown said...

I just prepared a version of this (I made the kibbeh kofte) and took advantage of every shortcut. Everyone has loved it so far. Hubby's the last person who needs to give his seal of approval.

Thus far your blog has given me some really great dishes (fetteh is now a regular dish in various forms) and I have made the eggplant oop dish (and had my eggplant hating husband and brother in law eat it).

Thanks so much :)

Mercedes said...

Mehdee-- That's great, I'm glad you enjoyed the kibbeh! And fatten rocks.

Mercedes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dinazad said...

Sounds absolutely lovely! I do have access to bitter (Seville) oranges, so should I replace all the citrus by bitter oranges or just the grapefruit? I'm determined to try this!

Mercedes said...

Oh cool! You know, it's been years since I had bitter oranges (none in Algiers that I've seen), but I would substitute the bitter orange juice for the grapefruit juice and for the lemons (so a total of 1 1/4 cups bitter juice). Then keep in the regular orange juice.

Of course, now I want to test it with all bitter orange juice so I can have a better answer to your question! I was just reading in a book about medieval Islamic cuisine about how some people used to make arnabiya sauce with only pomegranate juice. Please let me know what version you try and how it works out!

Also, you can make candied bitter orange peels with the rinds!

Tibik said...

I have been revisiting this page multiple times since you published this. Any ideas for making the kibbeh kofte vegetarian? Love your blog.

Mercedes said...

Hi tibik - I guess you could make the kibbeh like a lentil kofte? I don't have a specific recipe, but I bet if you google "lentil kofte" or vegetarian kibbeh, there would be lots of ideas. Add lots of spices to ramp up the flavor.

Tibik said...

I made the citrus Tahini sauce today and served it with roasted cauliflower for our thanksgiving dinner. Yum!is all I can say. I hope you have been keeping well. Happy Thanksgiving.

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