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Sorting Out the Many Varieties of Kibbeh

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Q. What ingredients in what amounts to make kibbeh?

A. You ask as if it makes itself. It doesn't. You also ask as if there's only one. There aren't. Paula Wolfert, in The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean (Canada, UK), identifies 50 varieties of kibbeh, including raw, fried, vegetarian, grilled, poached & steamed, baked, and even ones based on leftovers. Because there is such variety, and because the Mediterranean is such a big place, she only provides 11 kibbeh recipes in her lovely book.

At its root, kibbeh is an oblong meatball of lamb and moistened bulgur, stuffed with cooked meat, vegetables, spices, and nuts. It can also be made with rice, semolina, or matzo meal instead of bulgur, and with fish, spinach, red lentils, pumpkins, potatoes, veal, beef, rabbit, turkey, and other ingredients. Wolfert says kibbeh is not an "overrated meatball, but one of the most interesting forms of ground meat cookery." Indeed, she says, the Middle East is the only part of the world where the meatball is "truly exalted" — when it's well made, that is.

At the risk of shortchanging you on the breadth of kibbeh recipes, here are two: Baby-Sized Kibbehs Stuffed with Braised Lamb Shank, Tomatoes & Onions, by Wolfert and Stuffed Kibbeh, from Mezze: Delicious Middle Eastern, Turkish and Greek Recipes, by Rosamond Man.

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