Friday, April 9, 2004
Middle Eastern kubbe is a holiday favorite
By SARAH FRITSCHNER
“The epitome of honest country cooking, (kibbeh) satisfies deep down as few
other foods can. Preparing and eating this perennial favorite is not only a
hallowed tradition; it is a universal addiction!”
– Sonia Uvezian
“Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen.”
(University of Texas, 1999)
Kubbe’s mixture has been called “the masterpiece of the Middle Eastern
table.” The beef is made many different ways.
Photo by PAM SPAULDING,
When A.J. Thomas’ father moved to Louisville from Lebanon, he brought with
him a deep marble mortar of sorts, what would be called a jurn in Lebanon.
It was the traditional tool for pounding lamb or beef into a paste with
finely grated onion, salt, pepper and cinnamon. The meat was mixed with
bulgur – cracked wheat that had been cooked and dried – after it was soaked
in ice water.
The mixture has been called “the masterpiece of the Middle Eastern table,”
says Paula Wolfert in her book, “The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean”
(Harper Collins, 1994). It is referred to as kibbeh, kibbee, kubbe, kubba,
kofte, koupas and keufteh, depending on where you come from – Cyprus to
Armenia – and how your original language has been Americanized.
Thomas pronounces it kubbe (kuh-bee) and grew up in Louisville eating it as
the main course of Sunday dinner.
For these Sunday meals, the mixture wasn’t cooked. In those pre-E. coli
0157:H7 days, people of Eastern Mediterranean descent ate raw beef and lamb
Many still do, says Thomas, co-owner of A. Thomas Food Service, who goes to
great pains to make a kubbe-friendly beef available to those who want to eat
raw kubbe, French steak tartare, Sicilian insalata di carne cruda or who
just enjoy a hamburger cooked rare.
Though Thomas says, “we can’t say that it’s safe to eat raw,” the beef they
use for kubbe has been ground with special precautions (the federal
government recommends cooking all ground meat to the well-done stage).
At Thomas’ business, the beef round is trimmed of its surface meat, which is
discarded, exposing the inner, sterile part of the muscle. This beef is the
first ground in the morning, on equipment that was cleaned and disinfected
the night before. All the processing is done in a refrigerated room, and
completed by the same trained personnel who started the process. Then it is
vacuum-packed and chilled and sold only to people who have ordered it so
there are no leftovers.
Many local Lebanese of his generation rarely serve raw kubbe for Sunday
dinner these days, according to Thomas, but “a lot of people will buy this
meat for holidays.” He sells a lot during the winter holidays – Thanksgiving
and Christmas – and today, many people will pick up orders to serve at
Easter dinner at the Thomases’ will be pot luck and involve “probably just
the family,” says Thomas, “40 or 50 people.” Kubbe will be a side dish,
along with traditional Lebanese stuffed squash, lima beans and rice. Then,
he says, they’ll set up grills outside and cook ribs and leg of lamb.
Kubbe is made hundreds of different ways, and it is often cooked. Wolfert
has 50 variations in her cookbook (all cooked), and Uvezian includes an
entire chapter in both her Eastern Mediterranean book and “The Cuisine of
Armenia” (Harper & Row, 1974).
Thomas’ family makes it one way. To every 1 pound of kubbe meat, which is
seasoned with finely minced onion, salt, pepper and cinnamon, his mother
adds 1 cup of bulgur that has been soaked in ice water and squeezed dry.
Traditionally, the meat would have been pounded in the jurn, but now the
family uses finely ground beef.
“It’s all a timing thing with kubbe. It’s the last thing you mix before you
eat,” says Thomas.
For more information on specially processed beef, call A. Thomas Food
Service at 253-2000.
Is there a food or cooking ingredient you love? Tell us! Write: Sarah
Fritschner, The Courier-Journal, P.O. Box 740031, Louisville, KY 40201-7431.
Or e-mail [email protected]
Online: Ask Sarah a question at courier-journal.com/sarah