30 March 2012

Kibbeh meatballs in pitta bread

Jolly difficult thing to photograph!
I have found, in the last few years, that I really like most Middle Eastern food.  I love lamb - I suspect I'd probably like goat too, but haven't had the opportunity to try any yet - and the flavour combinations of sweet and savoury, plus fruit and meat, seem to be right up my street, too.

I'm not too familiar with this style of cooking yet though.  I'm getting more familiar with Indian, have been pretty familiar with Greek and Italian for some time and Mexican is increasingly featuring on our menu plans.  However, Middle Eastern cuisine is creeping into the menu plan quietly as my confidence grows with it.

Hence, when I saw the recipe for Middle Eastern Kibbeh (Lebanese meatballs) by Maggie Parnell on All Recipes UK, it struck a chord because a) it was a meatball dish and I seem to be tripping over meatball dishes every day, and b) it used all the spices that we were already familiar with.

The recipe for the meatball mixture I was happy enough with, but could see some potential problems with the salad ingredients as they were, so did a little bit of tweaking where that was concerned.

Now is it just me, or does anyone else find that the pitta bread you get from a Supermarket just isn't big enough to hold salad as well as meat?  It seems to me that as soon as you've got a little bit of shredded salad in there, you've no room to put your meatballs (or whatever).  I'm going to have to abandon Supermarket pittas and buy some from our local ethnic shop, I reckon.  Might have half a chance of being able to actually fill them instead of just using the bread as "grand garnish" which falls apart within seconds.

Anyway - that aside - I really liked these meatballs, but agree with hubby that the spicing could have been a lot more obvious in the overall flavour.  The allspice just disappeared, as did the chilli powder.  If a recipe is going to include spices, then I like to be able to taste them!

I really liked the combination of the Bulgar wheat with the lamb in the meatball - but found that the 175g of Bulgar wheat was way too much for the 500g of lamb mince.  Considering that the recipe stated to use 400g of mince, that amount of wheat would have been extraordinarily excessive.  As it was, a third of the Bulgar wheat went into the dogs' dinners (which they were happy about!), to prevent it flooding out the mince.

The original recipe recommended cooking the meatballs on skewers under the grill or on a griddle pan.  Now I could quite see what would happen if I used the griddle pan - we'd have bits of exploded meatball everywhere and no actual balls in sight.  I am always loath to use the grill pan on our cooker for things that are likely to take a long time to cook, as it really doesn't do my back any favours to have to keep bending down to it.  (It's at below worktop height, as opposed to one of those that are above worktop height, you see).  So after due consideration, I reckoned that if I baked the meatballs at around 180-200degC, they would char nicely on the edges and hold together perfectly - as indeed they did.

So, all these points have been reflected in the recipe below and I am quite sure that it will be all the better for it (if not exactly authentic).

The inclusion of some Tzatziki (cucumber yoghurt dip) with the recipe has served to remind me just how much I love that stuff.  It is so easy to make, too, that I shall have to devise some ways of using it along with lunch!  Perhaps a Bulgar wheat/griddled vegetable combo with Tzatziki - hmmn, that sounds ideal.


Ingredients :

100g Bulgar wheat
350ml hot lamb stock
500g lean minced lamb
1 red onion, grated
50g pine nuts, toasted and roughly chopped
3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
half a tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp chilli powder

To serve :
6 wholemeal pitta breads (if small - otherwise, sufficient to cope with the amount of meatballs)
shredded Little Gem or Iceberg lettuce
cherry tomatoes, sliced fine
mild red chilli pepper, chopped fine
Tzatziki (cucumber yoghurt dip).

Method :

1.  Put the Bulgar wheat into a saucepan and pour over the hot stock.  Cover and leave to stand for 15 minutes.

2.  Remove the lid from the pan and, if necessary, cook the wheat over a low heat to boil off any excess liquid - whilst rendering the grain still moist.  My Bulgar wheat was of the small gauge variety and didn't need this step.

3.  Tip out onto a plate, spread to even thickness and leave to cool.

4.  Once cool, tip the wheat into a bowl and add the lamb, onion, pine nuts, coriander and dry spices.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

5.  Then, using your hands, give the whole a good mix - or "squidge" - until every ingredient is evenly distributed.

6.  Divide the lamb mixture into golf-ball sized pieces and shape into balls.  Place each ball into a shallow sided non-stick baking tray.  (I found that the mixture made 18 meatballs which were divided three to a pitta bread).  If you're wanting it to go further, I'd suggest making the meatballs a little smaller.

7.  Bake the meatballs in a hot oven (200degC/400degF/Gas6) for some 35-40 minutes until slightly charred on the outside and very much cooked.  (I always break a meatball in half to check that the inside is cooked through).

8.  While the meatballs are cooking, you can get on with toasting the pitta bread and opening one side, ready to take the shredded salad.  You can also prepare the Tzatziki if you're making it yourself - or just take the lid off.  *chuckle*

9.  Once done, into each pitta bread place some shredded salad, a few slices of tomato and a sprinkling of chilli, then load up your meatballs and finally add a spoonful of Tzatziki.

10.  Serve with disposable napkins - because someone is bound to get it all down their front!



  1. I know what you mean about the pita bread. If you do have a Middle Eastern market in your area, you should definitely be able to find a good one. They're usually thinner, too, not as doughy as what you get in the supermarkets - that's probably all about preservatives. Although, looking back at your picture, it looks like you sliced yours open all the way around? You should just be able to take a slice off an edge and open it like a pocket. (LOVE Tzatziki!!)

    If you're still on a meatball kick, you can check out my page for two others (Porov Kufte and Izmir Kufte). One is kinda like a filled kibbeh, but you cook it in chicken broth. The other is in a red sauce and is great served with Pilaf.

    1. Thanks, Chris (and hello, by the way!), I'll check those out! No, I didn't split my pittas the whole way around - the dirty great meatballs meant that the pitta was having to do a good yawn in order to fit them in! LOL Believe it or not, the salad was under the meatballs and behind them, tucked into the pocket of the pitta. :)

  2. This looks wonderful. I have a very good Middle Eastern cookbook that you're very welcome to borrow!

  3. Oh that'd be lovely! I'm always in the market for a gander at a good cook book. :)


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