Lebanese Baked Kibbeh
Sep 22, 2011, Updated Oct 12, 2023
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Baked Kibbeh is a Lebanese tradition and a favorite way to make kibbeh. This savory dish fills the kitchen with an unforgettably delicious aroma while it’s baking. We eat kibbeh raw (kibbeh nayeh) the first day it’s made, then make baked kibbeh the next day.
Few dishes make my family happier than Lebanese kibbeh. We always make kibbeh when the whole big clan comes together, so it always feels like such celebration food. My mother made kibbeh for special occasions too, always at Christmas, Easter, and homecomings of her five children. My husband Dan’s family does not celebrate anything without kibbeh, in the style of his mother Louise who included kibbeh on the table with about six other main dishes and a million other sides, dips, and more. Kibbeh is often part of mezze, served among many small plates at Middle Eastern restaurants, and kibbeh is centerpiece feast food!
Table of Contents
What is kibbeh?
Kibbeh, the national dish of Lebanon, is a dish of ultra-lean ground lamb or beef, bulgur, onion purée, and spices. Baked kibbeh is casserole-style with layers, with a cooked mixture of onions, ground lamb or beef, spices, and pine nuts as a filling. The variations of kibbeh are many, including vegetarian kibbehs, as well as kibbeh shaped into balls (stuffed) and fried.
Types of Kibbeh
There are many deletable versions of kibbeh, from meat-based to vegetarian, all of them traditional Lebanese recipes. Here’s a run-down:
Baked kibbeh, Kibbeh bil sanieh is stuffed kibbeh in a baking sheet or other baking dish.
Raw kibbeh Kibbeh nayyeh, is like steak tartare, but with finer ground meat.
Kibbeh labanieh is kibbeh balls with warmed yogurt sauce (Lebanese laban).
Arras kibbeh is kibbeh in a football shape, are fried (and sometimes, grilled).
Patties, with no filling, fried in hot oil, make the simplest version of cooked kibbeh, and so very delicious.
What do you eat with kibbeh?
Kibbeh is delicious as a main course. Serve kibbeh with pita bread (try making homemade pita bread), Yogurt Cucumber Salad (the Lebanese version of a tzatziki sauce, similar flavors), and a crisp green salad such as Fattoush salad. Kibbeh is part of the mezze, or small plates, enjoyed with a wide array of dips such as hummus and baba gannouj, and salads such as tabbouleh.
Ingredients for Baked Kibbeh
Ingredients for the kibbeh:
Fine Bulgur. Also known as #1 bulgur, fine bulgur does not need to be cooked; simply soften in water.
Lamb or beef, finely ground. Use leg of lamb or beef eye of round. Both lean beef and ground lamb are great options for kibbeh meat. Ask a butcher to grind the meat twice for you, first removing all fat and gristle.
Salt and pepper.
Sweet onion. Puree the onion in a food processor so it becomes a ‘binder’ for the mixture of ground meat.
Ice water. Have a bowl of it close by to make sure you have damp hands while you knead. Keep wet hands by dipping into the water bowl as you go. Take care not to do it too many times, or the kibbeh will get mushy if you use more than just a little water.
Spices. There are many ways to season kibbeh, with 7 Spice (baharat) or your own blend. I use my mother’s seasoning: cinnamon. My husband Dan’s family uses cinnamon and a hit of cayenne pepper. You can also include allspice.
Fresh mint, as a garnish.
Ingredients for the filling (househ or hashweh):
Olive oil. Some for the recipe, and some to coat the pan.
Yellow onion, diced
Ground beef or lamb
Cinnamon, salt and pepper
Butter. A small dab of butter on each square or diamond of kibbeh before baking adds savory flavor, color, and moisture
How to make Baked Kibbeh
Make the kibbeh
Step 1. Rinse the bulgur in cold water, drain, and cover again with cold water. Soak for half an hour, or until the bulgur is soft.
Step 2. To grind the red meat, slice it into rectangles, about 4×2 inches in size. Season lightly with salt and pepper and freeze for 30 minutes. Grind the meat once on the fine/small holes on the grinder, or twice on the large holes. You can also ask a butcher to grind the meat for you, make sure they grind it three times on sterile blades!
Step 3. To combine the kibbeh meat, keep a small bowl of ice water nearby to keep hands wet and cold. In a large bowl, knead the meat with the pureed onion, and about half of the cracked wheat. If there is any visible water left in the bulgur from soaking, squeeze the bulgur before adding it to the kibbeh. Be careful not to add too much water or the kibbeh will become mushy instead of soft, no more than ¼ cup. Add the bulgur ½ cup at a time until fully incorporated. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne, and cinnamon.
Make the baked kibbeh filling:
Step 1. Place a large frying pan (or large skillet) over medium heat and warm the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions and half a teaspoon of salt, sauté until soft. Add the ground beef, season with cinnamon, another half teaspoon of salt, a few grinds of black pepper. Cook the meat mixture until browned, breaking up the meat with into small bits as it cooks.
Step 2. Finish with lemon juice and pine nuts, off the heat.
Layer in the pan:
Step 1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Step 2. Coat a 13x9x2-inch rectangular pan or 10- to 14-inch round baking pan lightly with oil. Set up a small bowl of ice water where you are working and use the water to coat your hands as you flatten and shape the kibbeh. Use half of the kibbeh to press a thin, flat, single layer covering the bottom of the baking dish.
Step 3. Spread the filling evenly over the layer of raw kibbeh.
Step 4. Make the top layer of kibbeh using about a cup of kibbeh at a time. Moisten your hands with cold water from the bowl, and flatten the kibbeh between the palms of your hands. Make thin disks this way, and lay them over the top of the filling in the pan, nestled directly next to each other. Smooth the seams with cold water, pressing in bits of kibbeh to any openings where needed.
Step 4. Use the tip of a sharp knife to score the top layer in squares (or the traditional diamond shapes) , cutting through to the center layer, but not all the way to the bottom of the dish.
Step 5. Place a dab of butter on each square—this adds a wonderful savory flavor and moisture to the kibbeh. Bake in the center of the oven for about 50 minutes, or until the kibbeh is deep golden brown on top. Place the kibbeh under the broiler if needed, for additional browning.
Tips for making Baked Kibbeh
- Broil the baked kibbeh to get a golden brown color on top.
- Brush the top with oil (olive oil or a neutral oil such as avocado) toward the end of baking to help with browning, and again before serving to make the kibbeh fresh and moist.
- Use wet hands to flatten the kibbeh in the pan, the top and bottom layers.
- Don’t make the kibbeh layers too thick. Aim for 1/2-inch thick layers top and bottom.
- Press the top layer of the kibbeh down with the palms of your hands to make it cohesive.
Variations for Baked Kibbeh
- For a gluten-free version, use quinoa instead of bulgur. Be sure to rinse and cook the quinoa as directed.
- There are spice blends specifically for kibbeh, called kamouneh. Use this, Lebanese 7 Spice, or your own combination of Middle Eastern spice flavors such as cinnamon and allspice. Dried mint is traditional too.
- Make this nut-free by leaving out the pine nuts. Or, also common in Lebanese cuisine, substitute the pine nuts with toasted slivered almonds.
Frequently Asked Questions
The meat versions of kibbe include ground beef or lamb. Many cooks grind their own meat for kibbeh because it must be free of any fat or gristle. A butcher can handle this labor intensive process for you!
Use quinoa instead of bulgur for a gluten-free version of baked kibbeh.
You can definitely bake half the kibbeh the first time using a smaller pan, store the rest in the freezer, and use at another time. You don’t always have to make the full recipe at once!
Kibbeh is mixture of lean meat, bulgur, onion, and spices, while kafta is a mix of meat with higher fat content to keep it moist, and a few different herbs and garlic! Both are core middle eastern cuisine dishes.
A drizzle of Pomegranate molasses is delicious on kibbeh, and fresh herb garnishes such as mint, fresh basil or parsley add color and freshness.
Kibbeh keeps very well in the freezer, be sure to use plastic wrap over it to protect the meat from freezer burn.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator and it will keep for up to five days. Reheat in the oven or microwave; refresh with oil on top.
Kibbeh made with meat contains protein and all kibbeh includes bulgur, which is a high-protein and high-fiber grain.
More kibbeh recipes to try
Lebanese Baked Kibbeh
For the kibbeh layers:
- 1 cup fine bulgur
- 1 pound leg of lamb or eye of round beef, trimmed entirely of all fat and gristle, and ground three times
- 1 medium sweet onion, puréed
- 1 tablespoon table salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the filling:
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more to coat the pan
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 pound ground beef from chuck
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut in small pieces
Make the kibbeh:
- Rinse the bulgur in cold water, drain, and cover to 1⁄2 inch with cold water. Soak for 1⁄2 hour, or until the bulgur is soft. If there is any visible water with the bulgur after soaking, squeeze it out of the bulgur before adding the bulgur to the kibbeh.
- Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 400°F.
- Set a small bowl nearby filled with ice water, to soften the kibbeh mix and to wet your hands while you work. In a large bowl, knead the meat with the pureed onion and about half of the soaked bulgur. Dip hands in the cold water as you knead, adding about 1⁄4 cup of the water in total; be careful not to add too much water to the kibbeh or it will become mushy rather than simply soft. Add the rest of the bulgur and mix until it’s fully incorporated. Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon and cayenne, "kneading" the kibbeh to mix evenly.
Make the filling:
- In a large sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the diced onion and a half teaspoon of salt and sauté until soft, stirring occasionally. Add the ground beef and season with cinnamon, another half teaspoon of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until browned, breaking up the meat with a metal spoon into small bits as it cooks. Squeeze the lemon juice over the meat mixture. Stir in the pine nuts and set aside to cool.
Assemble the kibbeh:
- Coat a 9x13x2 inch or 10- to 14-inch round baking dish with oil. Set up a small bowl of ice water where you are working and use the water to coat your hands as you flatten and shape the kibbeh. Use half of the kibbeh to form thin, a flat layer covering the bottom of the baking dish. Smooth the layer with cold water.
- Spread the stuffing evenly over the flat kibbeh layer. Using the remaining kibbeh meat, form another thin, flat layer over the stuffing and smooth with cold water. Do this with about 1/2 cup of kibbeh at a time, flattening and laying into the pan. Dip your fingers in the cold water to smooth over the seams and press the top layer gently into the filling layer.
- Using the tip of a sharp knife, score the top of the kibbeh in squares or a traditional diamond pattern, cutting through to the center layer but not all the way to the bottom of the dish.
- Place a dab of butter on each square or diamond—this adds a wonderful savory flavor and moisture to the kibbeh. Bake in the center of the oven for about 50 minutes, or until the kibbeh is deep golden brown on top. Place the kibbeh under the broiler for a few minutes to encourage a crusty deep golden top.
- Cool for about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.