My girlfriend Paula came to visit from Calgary and we cooked a feast together. Paula is of Lebanese heritage and she cooks instinctively, without recipes. The great thing is, a Lebanese feast can be prepared with foods produced in Saskatchewan. We needed very few ‘imported’ foods like lemons, olives and cheese. The most amazing dish was Kibbi Nayeh, raw ground lamb with crushed wheat.
Here’s the full menu:
Mezze (appetizers) each on individual plates: sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumber, warm fava beans, black olives, hummus, halloum cheese, plain Mediterranean yogurt and Kibbi Nayeh, with fresh homemade pita bread.
Main: grilled lamb kabobs, chicken baked with ta'ratoul (olive oil, garlic, salt and lemon juice), cooked Kibbi and a tomato salad.
Dessert: pears in honey and mint.
Start with the freshest (or fresh frozen) lamb. In Paula’s family, Kibbi Nayeh is made on the same day the lamb is slaughtered. We made it with organic Saskatchewan lamb (raised by the Richardson sisters) which was frozen shortly after slaughter.
1 shoulder of lamb, freshly ground (about 2 pounds)
4 green onions
Handful of fresh mint
Handful of fresh basil
2 tsp each salt and pepper
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp mace, cinnamon and cumin
1 cup cracked wheat (called ‘burghul’ in Lebanon)
Put the onions, mint and basil through the meat grinder, and mix into the ground lamb along with the spices. Cover the cracked wheat with water and let stand 10 minutes, until softened. Drain well. Mix the cracked wheat and the meat mixture, and knead as you would bread dough, adding a drop of water from time to time, until the mixture is smooth. Taste the mixture and add more spice to suite your taste. Paula says salt and pepper are the most important spices; the others should be evident but more subdued.
To serve, place the lamb mixture into a flat serving bowl. Using a finger, run three furrows the length of the lamb. Drizzle olive oil into the furrows. Garnish the dish with thin green onions and fresh mint. To eat, spoon the Kibbi Nayeh onto pita bread and top it with a green onion and a mint leaf.
For the cooked version of Kibbi – after kneading the mixture, press it into a square cake pan. Slice it into diamond shapes. Make a hole in the centre and pour on olive oil to cover the meat. Bake at 450F for 20-30 minutes. To serve, slice along the diamond-shaped marks and arrange on a warm plate, garnished with springs of mint.