Lebanese Shish Barak

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This Lebanese Shish Barak recipe is a favorite! Get my step-by-step instructions to make little tortellini-style dumplings in a deeply savory, saucy yogurt soup.

Meat-filled dumplings in yogurt soup for shish barak with pine nuts
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Shish Barak is one of the many wonderful Lebanese dishes that uses a yogurt, or laban, soup as its base: koosa in yogurt and kibbeh in yogurt are traditional favorites. They’re so creamy and use that complex flavor of Lebanese yogurt, or laban, to great advantage. Homemade yogurt is wonderful in these; here is how to make yogurt yourself.

For Shish Barak, little meat-filled tortellini are cooked in yogurt soup, seasoned with mint, garlic, and pine nuts. This recipe is often requested, and that is how I learned about Shish Barak! Neither side of my parents’ families made this dish, so how exciting it is for me to discover what a favorite it is among so many Lebanese.

I first tasted Shish Barak when cousin Geri brought a pot over for our lunch for one of our cousin baking days (oh yes we do!). It wasn’t that long ago . . . . She said she had leftover househ, the delectable ground lamb or beef and onion dish served atop kibbeh nayyeh. It’s also called “hushweh,” which can be a generic term for filling or stuffing. The leftovers inspired her to use them up in something excellent, the Shish Barak dumplings.

From my first delicious taste, I dove in on researching the many MANY recipes published for Shish Barak. Though I have developed recipes for the yogurt soup/broth/sauce, I tweak that some here. I am having so much fun making the little tortellini for this dish! I loved making lots of pasta in culinary school, especially filled pasta, so this is taking me right into that satisfying territory. But don’t fret: making the tortellini is not at all difficult. Read on to get step-by-step instructions and lots of tips.

Tortellini for shish barak cooking in yogurt soup

What is Shish Barak?

Shish Barak is simply meat-filled tortellini, or small dumpling, cooked in yogurt soup. The meat is seasoned simply with cinnamon, allspice, or 7 Spice and cooked with onion. The dough for the tortellini is so basic: flour + salt + water. No yeast. The yogurt soup or sauce is also very simple, though there are some special tips to keep in mind whenever yogurt is cooked.

Some recipes for shish barak call for certain variations. The tortellini can be baked in advance. The exterior of the pasta is not quite as soft in this case, but the look of the baked tortellini is lovely.

The filling for shish barak can be cooked in advance, as in my recipe, or used raw. If the filling is raw in the tortellini, it will cook through when poached in the yogurt or if the tortellini is baked. I prefer to cook the meat first so I’m certain it’s totally cooked through. Also, because the yogurt soup is not heated to a boil, I like to know the meat is fully cooked first. Often filling is studded with toasted pine nuts. I reserve these for garnishing the soup because this way they retain their texture and without them, the little tortellini are easier to shape.

The yogurt soup for shish barak sometimes calls for rice, egg yolk, or egg white. These are all stabilizers for the yogurt as well as thickeners. Some recipes call for lots of water, making a much thinner style than my recipe here. The thicker, saucier yogurt in my recipe both looks beautiful and is a delicious way to eat shish barak!

Ingredients to make Shish Barak

For the tortellini:

All-Purpose Flour

Salt

Water

Ground beef or lamb, lean. While many recipes call for coarse ground meat, standard ground meat is much easier. Ultimately we want small pieces of cooked meat to easily fill and shape the small tortellini.

Yellow Onion

Cinnamon, allspice or 7 Spice


For the yogurt soup:

Plain whole milk yogurt or laban (leban)

Cornstarch

Water

Salt

Garlic

Lemon Juice

Dried and fresh mint

Olive Oil

Toasted Pine Nuts

Dough ball on the counterfor shish barak

How to make Shish Barak

  1. Make the dough.

    Mix the flour, salt, and water to form a soft dough. Work into a ball and allow this to rest, covered, while making the filling.

  2. Make the filling.

    Cook diced yellow onion in a little olive oil to translucent. Add the ground beef or lamb, season with salt and cinnamon, allspice, or 7 Spice. Cook until no pink remains, breaking up the meat into fine pieces, which makes it easier to fill the small tortellini.

  3. Roll and cut the dough.

    Roll the dough thin, about 1/8-inch thick. Cut 2-inch circles using a round cutter, a glass, or jar top. Cut the circles very close together to use as much dough as possible. Pull up the scraps, knead, and set that aside, covered, to roll again for a second round.

    Dough rolled and cut with a round cutter

  4. Fill and shape the dough circles.

    Turn the cut circle over so the more moist side faces up. This will allow the seams to stick together better when closed. Place just a tiny bit of meat filling, less than a teaspoon, in the center of the circle. Fold the dough over top of the filling in half, like an empanada or calzone, and press the edges of the dough together. Be sure that the filling stays in place as you bring the dough edges together. Lift the dough pouch and bring the ends together and seal. It helps to use your finger as a “post”: bring the ends around the finger and seal. Repeat with all of the dough. There may be some filling leftover. Place the finished tortellini on a parchment-lined sheet pan.

  5. Make the yogurt soup.

    Mix the cornstarch and water in a small bowl. In a medium saucepan or soup pot, whisk the yogurt, cornstarch mixture, salt, lemon juice, and minced garlic. Stirring constantly, warm the yogurt over medium-low heat. Gently add the tortellini, which are somewhat delicate, to the yogurt mixture. Keep the tortellini as separate as possible so they don’t stick together. Gently stir the mixture to warm through, without boiling, about 10 minutes.

Dough filled with meat for shish barak
Dough folded over for shish barak
Dough wrapped around a finger to shape shish barak
Tortellini meat-filled dumpling for shish barak

Questions, Substitutions, and Tips

Cooking yogurt can be tricky! Yogurt likes to curdle when heated, which is why we stabilize it with the cornstarch. The key is to keep the yogurt moving and to keep the heat at medium low. The process takes longer at this temperature than on high heat, but we’re protecting the yogurt.

It’s best to use plain whole milk yogurt. Lower fat yogurt will work, but it won’t have the same texture or flavor. Greek yogurt or labneh that isn’t too thick can work as well, but it is best to loosen those with about a cup of water to the 4 cups of yogurt called for in the recipe.

What if my yogurt breaks? There are no good fixes in this situation, because the tortellini is in the yogurt and it’s delicate. The broken yogurt can be masked somewhat by adding more yogurt and very gently warm the mixture.

Can I use ground chicken or plant-based protein? Sure! Follow the same steps as for cooking the ground beef or lamb.

Does prepared tortellini work here? The flavor of the homemade tortellini is an important part of what makes shish barak taste soooo gooood. That said, purchased fresh tortellini can be cooked in the yogurt soup. If using dry purchased tortellini, cook the tortellini before adding it to the yogurt.

How can I make this in advance? The tortellini do very well made ahead and frozen. Freeze them on a sheet pan, then place the frozen tortellini in a freezer bag or airtight container. To cook from frozen, spread the tortellini on a sheet pan to thaw, then add them to the yogurt soup to cook through.

More Recipes Like This To Try

Koosa in Yogurt Sauce

Kibbeh in Yogurt Sauce, Kibbeh bi Laban

Homemade Yogurt (Laban) Recipe

Meat-filled dumplings in yogurt soup for shish barak with pine nuts
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4.80 from 5 votes

Lebanese Shish Barak

This Lebanese Shish Barak recipe is a favorite! My step-by-step instructions make it easy. Be sure to read my post for lots of tips for success!
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Servings: 6

Ingredients 

For the dough:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water

For the filling:

  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound ground lean beef or lamb
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, allspice, or 7 Spice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the yogurt soup:

For finishing:

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Instructions 

Make the dough:

  • Mix the flour, salt, and water to form a soft dough. Work into a ball and allowthis to rest, covered, while making the filling.
    Dough ball on the counterfor shish barak

Make the filling:

  • Cook diced yellow onion in a little olive oil to translucent. Add the ground beef or lamb, season with salt and cinnamon, allspice, or 7 Spice. Cook until no pink remains, breaking up the meat into fine pieces, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Roll and cut the dough.

  • Roll the dough thin, about 1/8-inch thick. Cut 2-inch circles using a round cutter,a glass, or jar top. Cut the circles very close together to use as much dough as possible. Pull up the scraps, knead, and set that aside, covered, to roll again for a second round.
    Dough rolled and cut with a round cutter

Fill and shape the tortellini.

  • Turn the cut circle over so the more moist side faces up. This will allow the seams to stick together better when closed. Place just a tiny bit of meat filling, less than a teaspoon, in the center of the circle.
    Dough filled with meat for shish barak
  • Fold the dough over top of the filling in half, like a tiny empanada or calzone, and press the edges of the dough together. Be sure that the filling stays in place as you bring the dough edges together.
    Dough folded over for shish barak
  • Lift the dough pouch and bring the ends together and press to seal. It helps to use your finger as a “post”: bring the ends around the finger and press to seal. Repeat with all of the dough. There may be some filling leftover. Place the finished tortellini on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
    Dough wrapped around a finger to shape shish barak

Make the yogurt soup.

  • Mix the cornstarch and water in a small bowl.
  • In a medium saucepan or soup pot, whisk the yogurt, cornstarch mixture, salt, lemon juice, and minced garlic. Stirring constantly, warm the yogurt over medium-low heat.
  • Gently add the tortellini, which are somewhat delicate, to the yogurt mixture. Keep the tortellini as separate as possible so they don’t stick together. Gently stir the mixture to warm through, without boiling, about 10 minutes.
    Tortellini for shish barak cooking in yogurt soup
  • Gently spoon the tortellini into individual serving dishes. Spoon some yogurt soup over and around them. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, dried crushed mint, fresh mint, and pine nuts. Serve immediately.

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Author: Maureen Abood
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 6
Like this recipe? Leave a comment below!
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9 Comments

  1. madelin says:

    So glad I found this website! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!!
    I have been wanting to make this dish that my grandma used to make for us for the longest time. However, I recall her yogurt sauce had rice in it. How would I adapt this recipe so I can include the rice in the sauce? How much rice would I need to add?

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Absolutely you can add rice to the sauce, that gives it nice body. You can add 1 cup cooked rice to the finished cooked yogurt sauce, just stir in when you add the dumplings.

    2. Laurece Chahine says:

      Hi there. I love Maureen’s recipes and my family also never made shishbarak growing up, but I’ve been wanting to try it!!
      My mother in law tells me people ladle the shishbark over cooked Lebanese rice (with the vermicelli). For the kibbe bil laban, we stir in 1/2 cup plain cooked long grain or uncle ben’s directly to the yogurt sauce.

      1. Maureen Abood says:

        Laurece I am intrigued about the rice here and with the kibbeh bil laban. Great way to add body. Thank you!

  2. Lisa says:

    Maureen

    I have made this plenty of times the way my family does but a very very long time ago.
    This is so delicious and I like the toasted pine nuts, I was going to make baked kibbi and I never made it so I toasted them for the soup.
    But I can’t remember if you can freeze this
    I was thinking no because of yogurt but I can’t remember.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Lisa so delicious! You could freeze the dumplings (individually on a sheet pan, then in a bag so they don’t stick together) but best to make the yogurt sauce fresh.

  3. Rose says:

    Maureen—Thank you for this recipe. I remember my Sito making this but never have seen a recipe.
    There was another dish that was frequently made for Lent by various family members and wondering if you have a recipe for it. Maakroun bi Toum (not sure of the spelling) which was homemade gnocchi-like noodles in a garlic, oil and lemon juice sauce. It has a very strong garlic taste because of the number of cloves used. Delicious, addicting but you’ll have garlic lingering in your mouth, on your breath and pouring out of your pores. Don’t go to church after eating this. I remember a family member telling the story of ring in church and people looking at her wondering what that smell was. It may have even been the next day.

  4. Gigi Tahan says:

    Yeah! Thank you for posting a shish barak recipe. I’ve never tried it with lemon or mint so I’ll have to try that. We use cilantro in our shish barak and lots of garlic. Also, I always have trouble with the dough so last Thanksgiving we opted to buy pres-sliced frozen empanada dough. It looks like provolone cheese. We took a 1/2 cup measuring up to measure the hat (broneet). We fill the hats and bake from frozen. It was delicious too. Always nice to have a back up if dough does not turn out. Sahtein!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Thanks Gigi! I see that many recipes call for cilantro and lots of garlic, which is also very delicious. I like your tip about the empanada dough. I wonder if wonton wrappers would work too (a little more readily available). Does your family blend the sauce with water before cooking? Many do that and yet I found I liked a thicker saucier soup than what that yields.