Nov 292008

Kubbeh/קובה למרק/كبّ/Kubeh/Kube/Kubbe

Ranks of Kubbeh

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.

Until now.



  • 2 cups fine bulgur (AKA #1 bulgur) or medium bulgur (AKA #2 bulgur)
  • 2 cups semolina
  • 1-2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt


  • Olive oil for frying
  • Roughly 1 pound, or around 400-500 grams, ground beef (or lamb)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed lightly and chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Both shell and filling can be easily doubled or tripled or whatevered.

A few notes on the ingredients:

BULGUR: I used to call for two kinds of bulgur in this recipe, but I now view that as the typical extravagance of a wasted youth. Also I find the kubbeh hold together better with a 1:1 bulgur to semolina ratio, rather than the previous 2:1. Fine bulgur makes for more “refined” kubbeh; larger bulgur will result in a bit of a more al dente character.

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

  16 Responses to “Le Cordon Jew: Kubbeh for Soup”

  1. Did you ever figure what went wrong with the kibbe we tried to make? Even though it was delicious…

  2. I wasn’t really paying attention to the kibbeh-making process that night. But if I had to guess, I would assume it was mostly due to you being the worst wife ever.

  3. This is amazing — my husband used to eat at Mordoch every Friday and has been dying for me to make him some hamousta here in NY. any chance you have a soup recipe for hamousta to share?

  4. Writing recipes is an art. You’re an artist.

  5. Just had my first bowl of kubbeh soup at machaneh yehuda and had to find out how to make this myself. I’ll have to stop laughing from your description first, though, before I get started. Thanks!

  6. F*ing brilliant. I could have used this recipe for the past 5 years in San Francisco. Folks there heard me rhapsodize about the magical powers of kubbeh soup, especially for lunch on Friday after a game of ultimate in Gan Sacher and before shopping for Shabbos at Machane Yehuda. Mordoch was always AMAZING, though I’ve also enjoyed HaFinjan (also on Agripas). Just moved back to Israel (Be’er Sheva), but I haven’t found a kubbeh soup dealer yet. This recipe may yet come in handy.

  7. Oh, I used to hit up HaFinjan too (I lived around the corner from Mordoch on HaEshkol, right above Rachmo). Good masbacha. A pretty shitty place to live, but great food in every direction. And cats. A lot of cats.

    Still, if you are in Be’ersheva, I can’t imagine you would have much trouble finding kubbeh soup. I mean, it’s…Be’ersheva. If not in Be’ersheva, then where? At least you’ll be able to find frozen kubbeh in the supermarket (ahh, Israel). But then again, it’s always fun to be your own Kurdish grandmother.

  8. Someone had made this soup for me once many years ago and i fell in love.Now i am attempting to make it myself, I cant find semolina anywhere. Is there something else i can use or can i just leave it out?

  9. I made the soup for Shabbos dinner this past week. Still haven’t found a kubbeh soup dealer in Be’er Sheva. Only about half of the people I ask even know what it is. Sad. I used the frozen kubbeh, but they were not up to the standard of the soup. I forgot to get the chard, so I left that out. I put in some kishuim, which got nice and soft and tasty. I also added a little mint (saw it in some other recipes and thought it complemented the sweet/sour tomato/beet flavor. Not perfect, but it have me hope for the future.

  10. I’ve been living in Tel Aviv for the last three years and have been lucky enough to live just down the street from what is called the “Kubbeh Bar”.
    I’m sadly leaving Israel again and didn’t know what I would do when one of my favorite dishes would no longer be available in grocery stores and just a few blocks away. Thank you for posting this, now I have no reason to worry!

  11. Funniest recipe I ever read

  12. Thanks 4 the recipe……asked for the recipe and got it from an iraqi cousin of my boyfriend…….I hope my boyfriend doesn’t drop dead from my marak adom…… time I will give your recipe a try! You have a way about how you give instructions that makes me feel @home……thanks again.I will be telling all my israeli friends about you!

  13. Can you make this with only Semolina ? I think my mom only uses semolina.

  14. I don’t know, probably.

  15. Thanks for this recipe! I also have been singing my odes to kubbeh soup, since is one of the foods I miss the most. I’ll give your recipe a shot and let you know how it goes. And I also would love a recipe for hamusta!
    Not only your recipe but the way you wrote it gives a little taste of Israel,


  16. My MIL only uses Semolina, with a bit of salt and white pepper, olive oil and cold water. She lets it sit in the fride for 20min. I haven’t tried the bulgar in the soup method, I’ve only had the bulgar wheat in the fried version which makes it more course.
    I have never tried the red soup, heard about it, but never tried it. I’m intrigued to try it, but seems like so much work and effort, and if my family doesn’t like it I’d have a whole pot of soup left.

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