Growing up in Metro Detroit, I took for granted that I was living next to a national resource: Dearborn, Michigan, which boasts one of the largest Arab populations outside of the Middle East. It was only when I moved out to New York that I realized not all cities — not even what many consider the greatest food city in the world — are home to a plethora of Middle Eastern restaurants like Dearborn is, all lined up, one after the other, like a virtual Vegas buffet of Middle Eastern dining options. Perhaps I also took for granted the fact that kibbeh — a popular Lebanese dish — was a staple when we ate out; I’m surprise to find it on virtually zero menus here in NYC. Growing up, I remember it well: a baked dish made with lamb and cracked wheat and pine nuts. I thought it was delicious, and equally so when I occasionally ordered a vegetarian version (what it consisted of, I have no idea), or — eek — the infamous raw stuff: a blend of raw ground meat, cracked wheat and spices.
With Thanksgiving looming last week, I was eager to find a main dish that would make me wonder why turkey was ever the preferred option. I thought about a lentil loaf, and tested a few recipes for that. Never a meatloaf lover in the first place, I keep thinking there must be a better option, which is when I considered revamping my lentil loaf into a lentil something else. And that’s when my years of kibbeh experience came into play (as I consider kibbeh to be a meatloaf of sorts), and how I ended up having a kibbeh Thanksgiving.
Not to worry: turkey was not totally forgotten this holiday season. I “adopted” a rescued (formerly slaughter-bound) turkey named Jordan through Farm Sanctuary. His favorite foods are carrots and kale (some kind of a health nut, this Jordan) and he’s “youthful and kind.” It’s funny. This time last year I was researching brining techniques, brainstroming recipes for turkey leftovers and sneaking bites of the dark meat as my dad did the carving. This year, I’m saving turkeys from becoming food. What a difference a year makes, indeed!
Luckily, this lentil kibbeh is not nearly as seasonal as most Thanksgiving fare. It’s a versatile dish that can be enjoyed any time of year, and in many ways. While Gennaro enjoyed some wrapped in a whole wheat flatbread, I had mine with salad and some tahini dressing. And while this version is baked in croquettes (a popular traditional kibbeh preparation), the “batter” can also be spread into a square baking dish and baked into a casserole for an additional ten or so minutes, then cut into squares. If you’ve never had kibbeh before , think a moist, tomato-ey version of baked falafel.
Red Lentil Kibbeh:
Note: 2 hours of inactive prep time
Yield: 30-35 croquettes
I used Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Farina hot cereal in this recipe to mimic the traditional cracked wheat. I imagine — for those without allergies or intolerances to gluten or wheat — that a dry cream of wheat would also work here, though I’m not entirely sure (it’s been so long since I’ve had the stuff!) I also used a no salt added tomato paste here, though if you can’t find any, reduce the salt to 1 teaspoon instead of 1 1/2. I think this kibbeh is best drizzled with tahini dressing.
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for spraying or drizzling
2 1/2 cups diced onion (about 1 large onion)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry red lentils, rinsed and picked over
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup dry Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Farina
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/3 cup no salt added tomato paste (if using regular tomato paste, reduce salt)
1. Saute onions over medium-high heat in olive oil until they begin to soften and become transluscent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute another minute. Set aside.
2. To a medium-sized pot, add red lentils and water. Bring to a rolling boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for five minutes. Add brown rice farina and stir to combine. Turn off heat.
3. Stir onions and garlic into the lentil mixture. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine, lightly mashing lentils with the back of your spoon. Set aside to cool. When cooled, refrigerate mixture for 2 hours.
4. Preheat oven to 400. Remove mixture from refrigerator and begin to scoop out using 2 large soup spoons. Use spoons to shape kibbeh into oval-shaped croquettes. Lay croquettes onto a pre-greased flat baking sheet. Spray or drizzle tops of kibbeh with olive oil (I used olive oil spray to get an even coating). Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes (check for browning after about 20 minutes), or until bottom of kibbeh is browned and tops are crisp. Enjoy hot and crisp, at room temperature or refrigerated.