Today, my husband’s improv group, the Renegade Saints, came over to our home in Geneva for their annual meeting and I made sure that there was plenty to eat. Since there were some vegetarians, I made a pot of Indian Dal, basmati rice, a salad, my healthy chocolate brownies and, as featured above and below, vegetarian kibbeh.
Kibbeh is a traditional Lebanese dish made of bulgur wheat (cracked wheat), minced onions, pine nuts, finely ground lean beef or lamb and Middle-Eastern spices. It is often described as “Lebanese meatloaf”. My husband John, who is half Lebanese by descent, loves kibbeh.
In the Middle East, vegetarian cooking is a growing trend and now there’s a wide range of vegetarian kibbeh recipes. After a few attempts, I came up with this vegetarian version and today, everyone in the group liked it a lot.
Vegetarian cooking is more than just opening a can of lentils or chopping vegetables. It’s about being creative and assembling or mixing different foods in different ways in order to obtain the right kind of nutrients without the meat products.
Sure, vegetarian cuisine can be time consuming, but when you have time, it’s an enjoyable and rewarding way to cook. With experience, it becomes easier and fun!
Below is the recipe. If you have vegetarian guests coming over and you want to serve something that’s delicious, nutritious and visually appealing, this is it. Bon appétit!
Serves: 14-16 kibbeh squares
Upper and lower crust
- 1 kg (2.2 lbs) whole butternut squash with skin – chopped in one-inch cubes which makes about 5 cups (840 grams) cubed squash without skin.
- Olive oil for roasting the squash
- ½ cup finely chopped white onion
- 1½ cups fine bulgur wheat – uncooked
- ¼ cup wholewheat flour
- 1 teaspoon (tsp) cumin- roasted seeds or powdered (option)
- A pinch of salt
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 3 tablespoons olive oil for frying/ sautéing
- 1 medium cooking onion, chopped fine
- 2 garlic buds, pressed and skins discarded
- 1 cup brown button mushrooms, diced (or diced zucchini with skin)
- 1 X 15 ounce (400 grams) can of chickpeas – strained and rinsed thoroughly in cold water (makes 1 ½ cups when strained)
- ½ cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp sumac
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp dry thyme
- 1 tablespoon (tbsp) fresh dill weed, chopped small
- 1 bunch of fresh flat parsley leaves, chopped
- 3-4 tbsps lemon juice, from one lemon
- 1/3 cup grated cheese – hard cheese like Gruyère or Parmesan (or smoked tofu for vegans)
- 4 handfuls of spinach leaves, washed, spun and roughly chopped or torn
- Salt and ground pepper, to taste
For the crust, preheat oven to 220°C/ 430°F . Put chopped squash cubes in a bowl and drizzle some olive oil, salt and pepper and mix well with clean hands until the cubes are evenly coated with oil. Pour and spread the cubes onto a baking tray and roast in preheated oven, turning the cubes from time to time, for 25-30 minutes. The cubes will shrink and turn golden and soft.
Note: While the squash is roasting, you can measure and prepare all your ingredients for the filling. I like to put my measured ingredients in small bowls ready to go so that I’m not running back and forth between the frying skillet and measuring cups.
When the squash is done, remove it and reduce your oven to 190°C / 375°F – this is to prepare your oven for baking the kibbeh dish later.
Pour the roasted squash cubes into a bowl and add the onions. Process this directly in the bowl with a handheld blender until smooth. While the squash mixture is still hot, immediately add the bulgur wheat. The hot squash will soften the wheat (so there’s no need to boil or cook it!). Add and mix by hand the flour, cumin, salt and olive oil. Knead the dough by hand a little. Let this sit for 20 minutes. It will expand.
On the stovetop, heat a small skillet (with no oil), add the pine nuts or walnuts and keep stirring on medium-high heat for 2 minutes or so, until the nuts are golden and fragrant. Put in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large deep skillet, heat up the olive oil and reduce heat to medium-high. Add the onions with the garlic; reduce heat and sauté for 5-8 minutes until onions are soft. Add the mushrooms and sauté again for another 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas and nuts with the sumac, cayenne pepper, thyme, dill and parsley and sauté again for 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and mix. Add the cheese (or tofu) and turn and mix until melted. Add the spinach and turn and mix. Put a lid on the pan and on low heat, let the spinach wilt and shrink while gently turning the ingredients from time to time. When the spinach has shrunk sufficiently, add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.
Putting it all together:
Oil and flour a 9X13X2 inch (23X33X5 cm) rectangular pan (or a pan similar to this). With clean hands, knead the crust dough and form a large ball. Normally, the dough handles very well, but if you find it’s too dry, add a bit of water or too moist, add a bit of flour. Also, it handles better with cool wet hands, so from time to time, rinse your hands with cool water.
Divide the dough ball in 2 parts with a knife. Use half of the dough to make the lower crust. The best way, I find, is to put small balls of dough, here and there in the bottom of the pan and pat and spread these firmly until you have a uniform layer. It should measure about ¼ inch thick. Add the stuffing with a slotted spoon and spread this evenly on top of the dough, pressing the filling down so that it is tight and firm. Add the top crust on top of the filling, again by putting small balls of dough throughout – pressing, patting and spreading them until you have a solid and even top crust. Don’t forget to cool your hands with water in the process.
When done, brush the top crust with olive oil. Bake in preheated oven (190°C / 375°F ) for 25-30 minutes until the sides turn golden. Let stand on a rack for 15 minutes before slicing.
I find that this kibbeh dish is even better the next day. When cooled, store the kibbeh pan in fridge covered with aluminium foil. It slices beautifully when it’s cold and you can reheat it in oven on a low heat (150°C / 300 °F) or just zap some portions in a microwave. On a hot summer day, this kibbeh is delicious cold. That is how the Renegate Saints ate it today! It also freezes well. Enjoy!