I’ve got Lebanese food on the mind, because I spent the weekend preparing it for my fellow parishioners at St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral. We have a party, Kibba Sahara, on what we call meat-fast Sunday. Orthodox Christians fast from meat and dairy during Lent, so we gather to eat ridiculous amounts of meat before we fast, and we end the fast with a huge feast together.
Naturally, you want to know what was on the menu of this ridiculous meat feast we had Sunday night. There was kibbanea (raw ground sirloin with soaked finely cracked wheat, dried marjoram, cinnamon, salt and pepper), hushwa (coarsely ground chuck cooked with onion, cinnamon, lemon, salt and pepper), pita bread (because that’s how we eat our kibbanea – with either rendered butter or olive oil on top, using the pita as a vehicle), chicken shawarma (spiced chicken wrapped in pita with either tahini sauce or garlic sauce and some tomato, parsley, onion garnish), meat pies and salata (Lebanese salad – think fattoush without the zaatar and pita chips). Oh, and for dessert, baklava, of course.
Now that your mouth is watering, let’s talk about a few of these items. Kibbanea is raw meat. We’ve been eating it for years, but no, I won’t give you a recipe for it. I don’t want to be responsible for someone buying packaged ground beef at the store, trying to make it and getting sick. There’s literally one butcher in town – Andre, at the “Gucci” Dillons (Central and Rock Road) – that properly grinds kibbanea meat and the hushwa meat. Because the kibbanea is being consumed raw, it must be ground before any other meat in the morning when the grinder is clean. You have to place an order at least a day ahead of time for it. We Lebanese ladies are very grateful for Andre. Years ago, everyone bought it at Bayouth’s on West Douglas. I remember going there with my grandma when I was a young girl. Because you have to plan ahead, it’s a bit of a production to make kibbanea, or maybe that’s the extra drama we Lebanese ladies like to add. And in fairness, in the old days, the ladies ground the meat themselves. So that takes quite a bit of time.
The hushwa for kibbanea is different than the hushwa we cook for other things like grape leaves, cabbage rolls or just make plain to eat. This hushwa has just the meat, onion and spices. The kind for stuffing things and for other dishes has rice. I’m sharing the meat and rice hushwa recipe with you this week. My mom has said for years that it’s great kid food. I make it for my friend’s kids, and I grew up eating it a lot. It’s one of my absolute favorite comfort foods. If you’re not well-versed in Lebanese food, it’s a good gateway food to try. At first, eating cinnamon as a savory spice instead of sweet in desserts can be an adjustment. My husband, Randy, had to get used to it, but he’s had years to adjust and loves Lebanese food. He even eats kibbanea with gusto.
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The recipe I’m sharing is actually my cousin Cyndi’s. She shows up Christmas day with leg of lamb and hushwa. It’s one of my favorite things to eat that day, and there are seven other entrees. If you’re not fond of lamb, you can skip right over that and just make hushwa. A perfectly good quick, Lebanese dinner is hushwa, salata, pita (to scoop it up, because who needs forks?) and some leban (Lebanese homemade yogurt).
Salata is my favorite salad ever – even above fattoush, although that’s a close second. Salata is very fresh-tasting, with crispy lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes and the deliciously tart dressing. We eat it all the time at home because it’s so tasty and quick to make. You can even make a big batch of the dressing and keep it in the fridge. You just have to let the dressing come to room temperature so the oil isn’t hard, stir or shake it up and drizzle it over your salad. If you don’t have time or the desire to squeeze fresh lemons, purchase Italian Volcano organic lemon juice. I first fell in love with it when we had Fresh Market. It’s 40 lemons in one bottle, which, any way you look at it, is an incredible value. The Lebanese ladies used to all swear by the frozen Minute Maid lemon juice, but I’ve convinced several to switch, and they agree it’s better. The flavor is a close second to fresh.
Oh and my “Lebanese” dog, named Habibi (which is Arabic for “my beloved”), gives my hushwa two paws up. Yes, I’m that crazy lady who cooks for her dog.
A few notes.
I really like the organic ground beef at Costco. You can get three 1.33-pound packages for $19.99. It’s a great price and I like how it’s packaged, because it’s in three vacuum-sealed, easy-to-peel packages.
I also use the Vietnamese cinnamon from Costco. It has a deeper cinnamon scent and flavor than regular cinnamon. You can purchase it at any store. Costco just sells it in a large quantity, and I use it a lot.
I get my chicken stock at Costco, too. It’s six containers for $11.99, and it’s organic. That’s half the price most stores charge for the organic, at least.
Purchase Italian Volcano organic lemon juice in a two-pack at Costco for roughly $8.
Lamb with Hushwa
1 leg of lamb, boneless or bone-in
4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
Kosher salt and pepper
3 pounds ground sirloin
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons pepper
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup rendered butter
3 cups long-grain white rice
6 cups chicken or beef broth
Pine nuts, toasted, for garnish
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a roasting pan, put the leg of lamb, rub with garlic, sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper, and put the lid on it. Put the lamb in the oven for one hour at 350 degrees.
Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and add 1 cup of water to the bottom of the roasting pan (to make more stock). Let it cook an additional two hours (for a total of three hours cooking time). Let cool, and cut into chunks.
Melt the rendered butter in a roasting pan, add the ground sirloin and spices and cook on medium-high heat, until the meat browns. Lower heat to medium-low and let the meat cook a little longer, until very tender. Add rice and broth/stock, and bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Stir often. Let it cook for about 20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
To serve, arrange huswa on a platter and line with lamb chunks around the edges. Top with pine nuts and pomegranate seeds, if desired.
Salata (Lebanese Salad)
1 head Romaine lettuce
1 head iceberg lettuce
3 tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 cucumbers, sliced
4 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/3 cup fresh mint or 1 tablespoon dried mint
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons dried mint, crushed
Mix dressing ingredients and set aside. Chop lettuce and add other ingredients. Toss lightly with dressing and serve.