Kubbeh: not to be confused with kibbeh, despite being a variation of the same word for a variation on the same thing. Like kibbeh, these are made from ground meat in a chiefly bulgur shell, but they hail from the northern regions of Iraq rather than Syria, and instead of deep frying, they’re treated to a simmer in broth, making them more dumpling than mezze. In Israel, the word “kubbeh” is applied indiscriminately to both the fried and simmered variety (in Arabic, pronunciation differences between dialects leads to the discrepancy in names for the same thing), but for the sake of clarity, I’m calling these Kurdish-style dumplings “kubbeh” and the fried and raw versions predominant in the Levant “kibbeh.”
Anyway. Kubbeh are a specialty of the Jews of Kurdistan, who once formed large percentages of the population of now-infamous cities like Mosul and Arbil before immigrating to Israel en masse along with the rest of the Iraqi Jewish population in the 1940s and 1950s. My old hood in Jerusalem, centered around the Machane Yehuda market, was heavily Kurdish, home to a Kurdish-Jewish community organization that never seemed open, and dozens of restaurants, social clubs and backgammon parlors that never seemed closed. Several of the restaurants (most notably, Mordoch) specialize in kubbeh-based soups, ranging from the crimson marak kubbeh adom to the sour, green hamousta. So between Jerusalem’s Little Kurdistan and the frozen sections of Israeli supermarkets, kubbeh were never far off. But like edible hummus, Zohar Argov, responsible M16-bearing teenagers and the Divine Presence, we don’t have any here in the far reaches of Exile.
- 1 cup coarse bulgur (AKA #3 bulgur)
- 1 cup fine bulgur (AKA #1 bulgur)
- 1 cup semolina
- 1-2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- Olive oil for frying
- Roughly 2 pounds, or around 800-900 grams, ground beef
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed lightly and chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
A few notes on the ingredients:
BULGUR: That’s right, two kinds of bulgur. Here’s the size difference:
BEEF: Lean ground beef. 90/10, perhaps. Don’t be an idiot and get 95/5. That’s not meat. That’s seasoned Boca tofu crumbles. Get out of here and go back to sucking at the partially hydrogenated teat of Snackwell’s.
1) Mix the two types of bulgur together and add water to cover the bulgur by about an inch and a half. Let sit for 45 minutes, making sure that the bulgur remains covered by water the whole time.
2) Meanwhile, slowly fry the beef in olive oil on low heat. When the meat is very well-browned and dry, add the garlic and black pepper and continue cooking a few more minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.
3) Remove the bulgur to a strainer and squeeze it with your hand until all the excess moisture is pressed out.
4) Put the bulgur in a bowl and add the semolina and salt. Stir. Then add the flour and knead by hand until you get a nice stiff dough. It will look like this:
Put out a hand bowl of cold water and prepare to stand in one place for an hour or two. Maybe give yourself a little pep talk. You are a Kurdish grandmother. You are a Kurdish grandmother. You were born in a village outside of Mosul. You came to Israel in 1952. You went through a stint in a ma’abarah. You grew up in Rishon. You are disappointed in your no-goodnik son for waiting until he was thirty-five years old to give you grandchildren. You don’t particularly like the grandchildren, either.
Now, you are ready.
5) Wet your hands with the bowl of water. Your hands must be constantly moist throughout the kubbeh-making process, or the dough will crumble.
Take a piece of bulgur dough the size of a small egg, or a little smaller than a golf ball. Squeeze it (with your moist hands) into a roughly round shape.
Use your thumb to create a deep indentation in the ball, then use your thumb and (MOIST) fingertips to turn the ball into a bowl. Smooth over any large cracks in the dough that appear. You can paste a little extra dough onto particularly resilient cracks.
Fill the bowl with a tablespoon or so of your seasoned ground beef. Remember, you’ll never catch a man with thick-walled, filling-poor kubbeh.
Pinch it closed and smooth the surface so you have a perfect ball.
Now keep at it, savta. You’ll probably get 30-something kubbeh out of this. Just put them in a freezer bag and keep them frozen until you have a soup that can be aided and abetted by the presence of kubbeh (which is any soup, essentially). Drop them in frozen and let those bad boys simmer for twenty minutes.
“But Michael,” you say, “I want to know how to make an authentic Kurdish-Israeli kubbeh soup.”
Yeah, yeah. Shut the fuck up and meditate on the notion that good things come to those who wait…/b