This seasoned bulgur and lamb paste that is truly Labanon's national dish exists in dozens of forms. Most typically, it is served as part of the meze spread as kibbe nayyeh, a sort of Lebanese steak tartare of raw lamb, drizzled with olive oil. the same paste, layered with a meat-and-pine-nut filling and oven-baked becomes kibbe bi saniyeh (Kibbe in a tray), see Note. but the most spectacular presentationthe one that tests the skills of traditional cooksinvolves shaping the kibbe mixture into thin-walled torpedoes, stuffing them with the aforementioned filling and deep-frying them.
Every cook in Lebanon has a different way of making kibbe. Proportions of grain to meat vary from a fifty-fifty blend to one with a far greater amount of bulgur. Among the seasonings, allspice (which the Lebanese call sweet pepper) is always present, as are salt, pepper and, sometimes, cinnamon, cumin or even a little hot red chile.
Traditionally, the fat used for making kibbe, and the fat used throughout Lebanon, was either samna, a sort of clarified butter, or rendered fat from the tail of the Lebanese fat-tailed sheep.
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In a medium skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil over moderate heat. Add the pine nuts and cook, stirring constantly, until golden. Transfer the nuts to a plate.
Add the onions to the skillet and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned. Add the lamb and cook, stirring to break it up, until no trace of pink remains. Remove from the heat and stir in the toasted pine nuts and the allspice, cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the pomegranate molasses and 1/2 teaspoon of the sumac. Taste and add the remaining pomegranate molasses and sumac if desired.
In a food processor, pulse the onions until finely chopped; add the salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, cumin and cayenne and process until minced. Distribute the meat over the onions and pulse to mix. Transfer to a large bowl.
Put the bulgur in a large bowl and stir in enough water to cover. When the wheat dust and chaff rise to the surface, pour off the water. Rinse the bulgur 3 or 4 more times, until the water is clear. Cover the bulgur with fresh water and let it soak for 20 minutes. Drain the bulgur, squeeze it dry and add it to the lamb. Using wet hands, knead the kibbe as you would bread dough, wetting your hands frequently to prevent sticking. The texture of the kibbe should resemble light biscuit dough. Refrigerate until well chilled.
Moisten your hands and roll about 1/4 cup of the kibbe into a football shape. Using your index finger, poke a hole in 1 end of the football and gently work your finger into the kibbe until you have a 3-inch-long torpedo-shaped shell with 1/3-inch-thick walls. Cradling the kibbe in one hand so that the walls don't collapse, spoon about 1 tablespoon of the filling into the cavity. Pinch the end to seal, patting the kibbe into a 3-by-1 1/2-inch torpedo. Set the kibbe on a baking sheet lined with plastic. Repeat with the remaining kibbe and filling.
In a medium saucepan, heat 2 inches of oil to 350°. Fry the kibbe, 5 at a time, until browned, about 3 minutes. Drain on a rack lined with paper towels. Serve with the Eggplant-Yogurt Sauce.
The fried kibbe can be prepared ahead and reheated in a 400° oven for about 10 minutes, or until warmed through and crisp outside.
To make kibbe bi saniyeh, pat half of the kibbe mixture into a generously buttered 10-inch round cake pan in an even layer. Spread the lamb filling evenly on top and cover with the remaining kibbe mixture, pressing it into a smooth, even layer. Score a decorative pattern on the top and brush with 2 tablespoons butter melted in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes, then broil to brown the top. Let stand for 20 minutes before serving.
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