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.


la cucaracha, la cucaracha said...

Bethany, I'm amazed with your recipes. I have to tell you that I love Arabic food. This Kubba Technique is wonderful, I have to try it myself. I have a lot of friends from Iraq and they never wanted to give their recipes up. Thank you so much for doing this. Do you know how to make Dolma? I think that is my favorite dish ever!!!!

la cucaracha, la cucaracha said...

Bethany this is Sarash! I forgot to say that! :)

Beth said...

Hi Sarash! You're so cute! Ok...I do make dolma, but the kind I make isn't the healthy one with rice and's more of a beefy gut buster with a sauce that makes my mouth water just thinking about. The problem is this: these recipes are all either posted with permission, or I've personalized them sufficiently to make them my own, yaknowhaddimean? To post the dolma recipe, I'll have to get permission from the author, because that's one I follow to the letter!

la cucaracha, la cucaracha said...

I will wait patiently until you post the dolma recipe.
I like the healthy one, the beefy one, all of them!!!! :)