September 12, 2005

Experimental Cooking: Lentil Kibbeh

Every once in a while, I like to make something that I've never even tasted, something completely outside my frame of culinary reference. This past weekend, it was vegetarian Lentil Kibbeh, based loosely on a recipe by Paula Wolfert, and filtered through The Hungry Tiger blog.

Redfox was clearly dealing with better lighting for her photo, and it probably helped that she chose yellow stoneware instead of black to show of her little heap of goodies, but the end product looks quite similar, I thought.

The sauce is a haphazard combination of Turkish cacik, Greek tzatziki, Indian raita, and Arabic labneh - yogurt with garlic, flat leaf parsley, dried mint, and salt. It is fairly tasty on its own, as a dip for the kibbeh, or drizzled over sfiha (little lamb pizzas). I knocked it together on the spur of the moment, but these kind of sauces / raitas are always pretty tasty.

The kibbeh themselves were quite interesting. Not difficult to make, but a little time consuming in that the lentils must be cooked, then stirred into bulgur wheat and left to stand for some time. Then, a mixture of sauteed onions and spices are added, stirred through, and finally, after a suitable resting period, the kibbeh are shaped into little ovals and baked for 15 minutes to firm up their exterior.

I wanted to use harissa for the chile paste, but couldn't secure any quickly (the corner shop that used to carry it no longer does, although the owner accorded me some strongly worded advice about purchasing only the tubes, not the tins), so I eventually ended up using sambal oelek, sieved to remove the seeds. Lacking fresh tarragon (which, honestly, seems like an odd choice for this dish) I subbed flat-leaf parsley, and plenty of it.

The mixture that I made was a little wetter than ideal, I think, or perhaps I didn't let enough water evaporate while I was cooking the lentils. At any rate, I finally decided on the quenelle method (a nifty sculpting of a triangular oval using two spoons) for shaping them, in the interests in keeping my hands from being completely encrusted with lentils. This worked very well, and after they were all shaped, and had a chance to dry a little, I pressed down the distinctive ridge that is the signature of the quenelle, and smoothed out any rough bits.

The verdict? I enjoyed them - especially after they had cooled a little, but I'm not entirely sure if I'll make them again. They could certainly be an interesting party snack - quite pleasing to the vegetarian contingent, as long as they're down with the spicy and moist - and I do confess that the leftovers lurking in the fridge have become a midnight snack these last couple of days. There was something along the lines of "slightly damp falafel" about them that made me wonder if I would like them better deep-fried - a fate not yet ruled out for the survivors in the fridge. Certainly, they're garlicky, spicy, and bite-sized, which are all good things. The jury's still out.


Jennifer said...

Now THESE sound good. I love Kibbeh and have never had a vegetarian form. I might just have to make these and surprise my husband (big kibbeh fan...of course he doesn't think anyone can make it as well as his mom!). I think deep-frying them (while cutting down the healthy factor a bit) would be good as well...a must try!

Rebecca said...

Could these be made with Green lentils? I have never cooked with lentils, but I bought some green lentils a while back and need to use them.

Dawna said...

Jennifer, please let me know what happens with your kibbeh! I've never had them before, so I don't really know how true to type these might be.

Becky, I did read another blogger's attempt at these using green or black lentils, and it was not successful. So, I would probably avoid it. If you want a nice green lentil salad recipe, check out my main site: Lentil Salad, two ways

Anonymous said...

I recently tried this, based off of hungry tiger's recipe. I also found them overly wet-- 20 minutes in the oven was nothing like enough to make the outsides brown or crispy.

I think either deep-frying is called for, or shaping them differently and much flatter.

Dawna said...

I think I'd like to try this recipe again, but definitely with less water, and possibly with quinoa flakes instead of bulgur wheat, to make them gluten-free.