Saturday, January 26, 2008

Kubba, Unadorned

This is a large recipe which can either serve 12 hungry people or be frozen for later use.

Outer shell
6 cups basmati rice
2 pounds 93% lean ground beef
2 Tbsp. water
2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Soak rice overnight, then drain. In a food processor, grind rice until it is the consistency of coarse sand. Continue to blend while adding ground beef, 1/2 cup at a time, until it is well mixed and starts to stick together. Add salt and pepper, then adjust to taste.

Divide and shape the shell into into 60 or more balls of equal size.

1 pound 80% lean ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped (volume by cup)
1 teaspoon 7-spice powder*
1/2 -1 teaspoon salt

Hollow out the balls of shell, creating pockets for the filling. Tuck a teaspoon of filling into each shell and close smoothly. Drop into boiling sauce of your choice and cook until kubba rise to the top, then at least 5 minutes more. Avoid over-boiling kubba so they don't break apart in the sauce.

Soak Rice 2 Drain soaked rice edit Kubba Shell Food Processor Kubba Shell and Filling Kubba with filling Kubba.hand28 Kubba.hand29 Kubba.hand30 Kubba.hand31 Kubba.hand.tray.edit


*Purchase in Middle Eastern markets. Can be substituted for a mixture of cumin, allspice and cloves.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kubba Yachni

Kubba Yachni Final Product

In the litany of kubba varieties, this one is our absolute, hands-down favorite. It's also known as kubba hummus, since chick peas are the defining ingredient. The sauce is a rich but light-colored lamb broth with tender, delicious chick peas, seasoned simply with onion, salt, and pepper. Mama showed me how to do this in April of '06 when we visited my in-laws in the Middle East. Since then, I've interviewed her, Aunty Seta and Aunt Suad at length about what goes in and what stays out, then gone out on a limb and experimented on my own. So far, according to the Scientist, this version is closest to the way it's supposed to be. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly, I can never be sure) around here, we prefer traditionalism to fusion. Go figure. Anyhow, let's get cooking!

Kubba Yachni
1 cup dry chick peas
9 cups water
1 lb. lamb shoulder with bone, fat trimmed
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt or more to taste
1 medium onion, quartered
1 tsp onion powder

12-16 prepared kibbe (recipe here)

Soak the chick peas overnight. Drain, then place in a large stock pot with fresh clear water, lamb and onion. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour or so.

Add salt and pepper and simmer another 10 minutes. Taste broth and adjust seasonings.

Return to a full boil, drop in the kibbe (about 12 at a time), and cook on high until they rise to the top of the pot, usually about 10-20 minutes, depending on their size. Boil for at least 5 more minutes, until the kibbe are fully cooked.

Accompany with a green salad and raw white onions. Serves 3-4.

Good cooks'll tell ya
Add salt to beans (chick peas and the like) after they're completely cooked. Otherwise, they just won't soften, even after hours of boiling. I think it has something to do with osmosis. Ask a biologist. Hmmm...speaking of biologists, I think I'll call my sister Grover (not her real name)!

P.S. If you prefer a leaner broth, make the sauce the day before and refrigerate it overnight. Before boiling the kubba, skim off the fat and re-trim the lamb.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Contest, continued.

Hi people! Thank you all so much for contributing your funny, interesting, erudite, and just plain clever entries. I had so much fun reading them that I think I will have contests all the time. Some of the entries were so funny I laughed until it was probably medicinal, so thanks. Really! But I found that while I enjoyed reading all your entries, I liked so many of them that I couldn't decide which one to pick. So, um, will you help some more? Just vote for your favorite title at the polling place on the left. Anyone can vote, just do it!

And by the way, if your entry appears in the poll, you will receive a runner-up prize for sure, and maybe the super-cool grand prize!

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Is that you, Homer?

Daube final product

After tasting my last pot roast, my Main Squeeze said, with a faraway look in his enormous brown eyes, "You know, you could learn daube...the flavor is different, but the consistency is the same." Such an insight couldn't go unheeded, and my in-laws were coming for the holidays, so I had my mission. But first I had to learn how to spell it. This recipe is Iraqi, and as Mama pointed out..."nobody makes this but Iraqis!" but the spelling of the word is French. I investigated to make sure I didn't call a pie a cake, and since a "daube" by definition is a stew made of red meat, I'm pretty sure I got it right. However, unlike this recipe, the French ones added veggies and the like to the pot.

A few tactical notes before beginning: One of my favorite places to get fresh, good quality leg of lamb is at a small local meat market, often located inside Middle Eastern grocery stores. The butcher will reserve a leg of lamb for me if I call ahead, and will trim much of the excess fat (a time consuming process) while I wait. The bummer is that you have to pay for the pre-trimmed weight, so shop around to get a good value. Beef is much more economical, but I'm still searching for a good way to get a lean piece of beef that will hold up to the long cooking time and that includes bone and marrow. Suggestions?

Add salt after the daube has boiled for an hour, which will enable it to tenderize properly. Add the tomato paste when there is about an hour before serving. I think adding the tomato paste towards the end helps keep the tomato flavor intact.

Iraqi Daube

4-5 lbs. leg of lamb with bone, cut by the butcher into 2-pound hunks, or 4-5 lbs. beef pot roast
2 bay leaves
1 tsp whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp cardamon seeds
1/4 tsp whole pepper corns
1 whole head of garlic, peeled
1 4 oz. can tomato paste
salt to taste

Roll call: Lamb, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cardamon, black peppercorns, whole allspice, cloves, a head of garlic, salt, and tomato paste (Tomato Paste was absent on picture day)

Wash and trim excess fat and silver membrane from the leg of lamb.

With a long, thin, sharp knife, gouge a deep hole into the meat for each garlic clove you'll later insert. Arrange pieces of lamb in dutch oven. Shown here is a pressure cooker, but we didn't pressurize this recipe. I suspect this would be a great crock pot recipe, and will post and update after trying.

Fill the pot with water to within 1 1/2 inches of the top of the meat. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove pot from heat, discard water, set the lamb aside, and scrub the scum out of the pot. Mama chooses to do this, despite some people's assertions that it weakens the flavor of the lamb. I initially was on the side of NOT throwing out the first boil, but after tasting the final product, decided the flavor was plenty fantastic, and there indeed was less meat scum to deal with.

Meanwhile, peel 9-10 garlic cloves.

After discarding the water, return the meat to the pot and push the garlic down into the knife holes made previously. Widen the holes if necessary.

Put the spices and the rest of the garlic into the pot, cover, boil hard for about 1 hour, then add salt.

Simmer for another hour.

Add tomato paste and simmer 1-2 more hours until you're ready to eat.

Serve hot over basmati rice with salad. Note: when eating Iraqi daube, there's nothing wrong with partaking of the delicate juiciness of marrow and cartilage, that is, if you're lucky enough to get your hands on a piece of the bone!

Serves 6-7.

True confession: when it came time to eat the daube, we dove in like little piggies before taking any photos. So the photo you see at the top is from my second try.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Daube is coming...

...and it's good! If you like pot roast and Middle Eastern flavors, you'll love this daube. Come again in a few days, and in the meantime, if you've any inclination, jump into the contest below. Cheers!

Sunday, January 6, 2008


This blog needs a better name than what it currently has, don't you think? To the person who comes up with a name that captures the essence of what's going on around here, in 3 words or less, there's a prize in it for you, and you'll probably like it. It's somewhere between shoelaces and a Ferrari in value. WOO HOO! This is my first contest ever, and it's success is totally dependent upon the good graces of my friends and family, so I'm sublimely confident that the new title will be worlds better than the old one. I've been hatching the idea for this blog for a couple of years, so I'm excited to see where it will go...take me or leave me, I'll be here, doing my thing.

How to enter
Comment on this post. Restrictions: 3 words or less, and family friendly. Simple, huh?

This contest will close on Sunday, January 13, 2008, at 6:00 pm eastern time, so think, and imagine, and post your entries here! And thanks in advance!

Check back next week to see if you won (and remember, you've gotta be in it to win it) and I'll get your contact info so I can send you (yes, maybe you!) your very cool prize.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Kubba Technique 101

kubba final product

You asked for it, and here it is, a step-by-step visual demonstration of how to get the filling into the kibbe, a question at least as haunting as how they get the white stuff into the Twinkies. The major difference is that you WANT to eat the kubba, and if you can make it, relatives will line up inside your kitchen and down the hall, your husband will either dissolve into a melty puddle of affection and tenderness, or walk about 6 inches taller from sheer pride in his woman, and you, habipti, can rest easy knowing you're ensuring the continuation of good culinary traditions from generation to generation. And I do believe that's worth something.

Before beginning, credits: my sweet mother-in-law (commonly known as Mama) is the model and source of most of the factual information given here. I've also talked with and been influenced by Aunty Seta and Aunt Suad on the subject of kubba. Last Christmas (2006) I ate kibbe in at least 4 different households and formed some of my own opinions as well. That was a lot, and I mean A LOT, of fun. This is Iraqi comfort food at its best, and I love love love it.

Shall we begin?

Outer shell
  • 3 cups basmati rice (I like Royal)
  • A scant pound 90% or leaner ground beef
  • Salt to taste, beginning with 1/2 teaspoon per cup rice and 1 teaspoon per pound beef.
  • Pepper to taste.
  • A pound or more 80-85% lean ground beef
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Optional: diced onion, 7 spice powder or a combination of cumin, allspice and ground cloves. Start with 1/4 -1/2 tsp. each, then taste and adjust.

Soak rice overnight to achieve the proper consistency.

Drain the rice.

Transfer soaked rice to a food processor. Note to Self: I want a new food processor for Christmas next year. Essence of electrical burning is not my idea of a pleasin' kitchen aroma.

Add salt and pepper. It's important to do this often as you add more ingredients, to ensure a proper balance between rice, meat, salt, and spice.

Run the food processor until the rice becomes somewhat granular.

While still running the food processor, start adding beef, a handful at a time. For the shell, we have used lean ground beef. Why lean? It's preferable to more fatty varieties because it helps ensure that the shell holds its shape while it's being boiled. Fat acts more as a tenderizer/lubricant than a glue here. You need a little, but too much in the outer shell raises the chances of the kibbe disintegrating while they boil. After all this work, you're going to be sad (and maybe mad) if things fall apart. Since food should make you happy, be picky about your beef.

Handful by handful, keep adding ground beef, keeping an eye on the coloring. You want a nice pink (not red) mix.

The goal is to have a thick, sticky but workable mixture, so add a little water if it seems like it's dry and grainy vs. sticky.

You're done when the color is like this. I've given quantity guidelines in the ingredients here, but next time I make kubba I'll carefully measure so I can make a more exact recommendation on the proportion of rice to meat, for those of us who like things to be precise and measured.

For the filling, use 80-85% lean beef. A fattier grade of ground beef is needed for the filling because it should have a marked contrast in color, flavor, and texture from the shell. In the words of my father-in-law, the filling should be "fluffy." In a beefy sort of way.

When making kubba khaesi (sweet kubba), simply season with salt and pepper. If I'm making kubba yahqni (chick pea) or kubba hamuth (sour) I like to add the onion and spices, because I think it deepens the overall taste in a nice way. Some cooks like to stick with salt and pepper (and sometimes onion) and allow the sauce to season the kibbe, but I like my flavors intense, so I spice everything up. Being demonstrated here is the kubba recipe for use with kubba khaesi (sweet kubba), so it is seasoned only with salt and pepper. For the other varieties of kubba (hamuth, yachni) I typically add diced onion and either 7 spice powder or some combination of cumin, allspice, and cloves.

This shows the contrast in color between the shell and the filling.

Before starting, line a tray with plastic wrap to receive the kubba. Arrange the tray, filling, shell, and a bowl of ice water all within arm's reach.

Have a bowl of ice water nearby to wet your hands if they get too sticky to work with, which they invariably do.

Note on the question of size: smaller kubba is considered more refined than larger kubba. Larger kubba takes less time to make since all things being equal there are fewer to make and require less precision. Larger kubba take longer to cook than small ones, for obvious reasons. The cook gets to evaluate her or his kubba needs and proceed accordingly.

Now let's get started! Pinch off a lump of shell mixture about the size of a walnut. Roll it into a ball.

With your thumb or finger, poke a hole in the ball and then pinch the sides until you've transformed your ball into a bowl (remember ceramics class?).

Now pinch a glob of filling and deposit it into your nice little bowl. The blob of meat should be almost (but not quite) as big as the original shell glob, ensuring that there will be enough filling to flavor the kubba without making it impossible to close the shell around the filling.

Now fold the sides of the shell over to encapsulate the filling. This may take some practice, but believe me, you'll get the hang of it if you stick with it (get it? stick? 'cause it's...never mind.)

Get all those edges folded over the top and smooth them down a little.

Next, between your hands, gently press the little ball until it's somewhat on the flat side...think flying saucer.

Now you're done! And isn't it cute. Now just repeat this about a hundred times. HA! No it. And think of what a domestic diva you're becoming. And about how happy that man of yours is gonna be when he sinks his teeth into one of these. And about how you only have to do this a couple of times a year if you play your cards right, because these babies freeze like a charm. You don't even have to defrost them before plopping them into the sauce when cooking time rolls around.

Layer the kibbe on plastic wrap (I haven't tried parchment paper, but I wonder if that would work, considering these are going in the freezer?), being sure they aren't touching. Since they're kinda flat anyhow, don't worry about laying them on top of each other. No harm done if they get a little flatter.

When all the outer shell is gone, you're done! Finito! Hallas! Now if you have a sauce prepared, plop however many kubba you want into the pot and boil until they float to the top. Cooking time varies depending on the size of your kubba, but when they rise to the top, try's probably done. Meanwhile, put the rest into the freezer. Once they've hardened, transfer them into a dated ziplock bag and pull them out as needed.

CONGRATULATIONS! You've accomplished something good today. The subject of sauces I'll save for another post, but these little gems are the foundation for a variety of beloved traditional Iraqi meals.