the hungry tiger
"Then why don't you eat something?" she asked.
"It's no use," said the Tiger sadly. "I've tried that, but I always get hungry again."


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May 24, 2005
Lentil snacks

There is a book by Diana Wynne Jones, The Dark Lord of Derkholm, in which a character makes what her family refers to as "godlike snacks". I find this a haunting description. Godlike snacks! What could be more enticing? I have yet to make anything that goes quite that far, but I do not think the gods would scorn these lentil treats, especially if they were very hungry.

Kibbeh (or kibbe, or kufta, or köfte, or a number of other variations) is canonically a sort of meatball that transcends meatball-hood. The most classic version is made with ground lamb that has been mixed with moistened bulgur, wrapped around a filling of cooked meat and seasonings. But it can be made with fish or beef or veal or spinach or potatoes or lentils or any number of other things in place of the lamb; or with other grains in place of the bulgur. Stuffing, too, is optional. The classic shape approximates a football, but spheres and ovals are fine, too. In tray köfte the ingredients are spread in layers in a pan, the tamale pie of the kibbeh world. Kibbeh can be baked or fried, doused with sauce or dry, served hot or cold.

Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean lists fifty varieties. One is a vegetarian version that I have been cooking, with a few small changes, every week. They are delicious cold, straight out of the fridge, which I understand is their native habitat as well, and they're easy to form, being mere ovals with no filling. We snack on them happily with before-dinner drinks or to take the edge off in the late morning, early afternoon, or before bed.

Two notes on ingredients: I've cut down the amount of water called for in the original recipe because the variety of red lentils we've been buying seem to cook extra quickly, which means that less of the water has a chance to cook off or be absorbed, making the final mixture too wet. You can add more water as necessary while your lentils cook, so why not start on the conservative side and add as needed? Second, we weren't able to find fine-grain bulgur, so I bought ordinary coarseish bulgur and give it a quick whirl in the second coffee grinder I keep for spices. This same technique will come up when I talk about the stuffed grape leaves I've been making of late.

1. Put 1 cup hulled red lentils (red dal) in a saucepan with 2 1/2 cups of salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat and skim off the foam that collects on the surface. Turn the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are yellow and very mushy, 20-30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, put 1/2 cup of fine-grain bulgur (see above) in a sizeable bowl.

3. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons of tomato paste (I like to buy the kind that comes in a metal tube) and the same amount of hot red pepper paste (there is a Hungarian brand of "paprika mix" in a jar that I've been using). Turn the heat back up to high and bring this mixture to a boil. Once it's boiling, turn off the heat and pour it over the bulgar. Stir well and set aside for half an hour.

4. Meanwhile, chop one large onion quite fine and saute it in two tablespoons of olive oil. When it begins to get golden brown, add two minced cloves of garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Cook about two minutes more.

5. Once the bulgur and lentils have sat for their full half hour, add the contents of the skillet, oil and all. Mix very well, kneading everything together. Add 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh tarragon, a pinch of dried red pepper, and a little lemon juice. Mix again and adjust for salt.

6. Preheat the oven to 350. Use wet hands to pick up what Paula Wolfert calls "plum-size pieces fo the mixture". She seems to have in mind the very small plums sometimes called sugar plums or prune plums. Think something about 3/4 the size of a golf ball. Shape each piece into an oval and arrange these on a baking sheet, preferably one lined with parchment. You only need to leave a tiny bit of space between them. Better cooks than I would make smoother, more beautiful, and more consistant ovals, but mine still taste just fine.

7. Bake for 10-15 minutes. They shouldn't get brown, just form a bit of a firmer crust. Let them cool on the sheet, then transfer to a plate. Make sure they are completely cool, then cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

I think these would be excellent with a yogurt sauce of the type made with just yogurt, garlic, and salt. But we never get quite to the point of testing this theory, as we wind up eating them all out of hand.

Posted by redfox at May 24, 2005 02:32 PM (recipes) | Comments (16)


I would think that "godlike snacks" means that the snacks are like god rather than beloved by the gods, so I reckon she was referring to transubstantiated communion wafers.

Or perhaps some deistic version of animal crackers. I understand these are quite popular on long car rides in pagan cultures, though the children are apt to fight over who gets to eat Cthulhu.

The kibbeh sound heavenly. I think I might be tempted to substitute sesame oil for olive oil, or perhaps go half and half.

Posted by anapestic at May 24, 2005 03:22 PM

Yum, those look so good. I look forward to making them. If you don't mind, I do believe I will leave out the tarragon - one of the few herbs that I just do not like. :)

By the way, I love that long cooked green bean recipe, seeing the picture makes me want to whip up a batch. But since I have to go to work, the green beans and the lentil snacks will have to wait.

Posted by Samantha at May 25, 2005 08:16 AM

I hope you enjoy them! If you leave out the tarragon, you might want to sub in some flat-leaf parsley instead.

Posted by redfox at May 25, 2005 09:01 AM

I tried the recipe, and I liked the kibbeh. I had to make a few substitutions. I did substitute a tablespoon of sesame oil for half of the olive oil, and I couldn't really taste it in the finished product. Also, instead of using fresh tarragon, I used about a quarter cup of cooked spinach. And in place of the 1.5 teaspoons of hot red pepper paste, I used a teaspoon of ground chipotle pepper and half a teaspoon of paprika. I left out the pinch of dried red pepper because it was spicy enough when I tasted the final mixture. I didn't have any fresh lemons, so I used the juice of a lime.

I think I made mine too large, but that just meant I had to cook them longer, though it could also be that my oven is not as hot as it claims to be. The recipe made twenty-four pieces for me. I think I would have enjoyed them more if I'd made about thirty. But they were still very tasty, and they seem like they must be so good for you. Hardly any fat and tons of fiber.

The recipe is also very forgiving in terms of attention. I had just brought the lentils to a boil when I was asked to go out for a walk, so I turned them off and skimmed them, and when I came home, they were just right. Also, between steps four and five, I had to put my daughter to bed and tell her a story, and that was fine, too. Actually, when I went to adjust the seasoning before making the little footballs, I felt like I could have happily eaten it without baking, but it is nice to have a bunch of two-bite-sized kibbeh in the refrigerator. Or what's left of a bunch, anyway.

Posted by anapestic at May 25, 2005 11:35 PM

Can't wait to attempt these. My son just looked at the picture and said, "Hey, those look like portable lentil soup!"

Posted by christina at May 26, 2005 04:06 PM

Anapestic: I'm glad they came out well -- I think this is (perhaps unsurprisingly) quite a forgiving recipe.

I've been thinking about the possibility of modifying it to make a vegetarian notmeat loaf, because I've been craving something in the family of meatloaf sandwiches. What do you think?

I should note, by the way, that when I take the kibbeh out of the oven, they are still a little too soft to stack; they firm up that last little bit as they cool. The original recipe doesn't call for baking at all, but I really like the results of doing it, and I fear they'd be far too sticky to stack if I didn't.

Posted by redfox at May 27, 2005 09:19 AM

I think the kibbeh would make great sandwiches, but my guess is that if you made it into a notmeatloaf, you'd have a devil of a time slicing it, even after it had been thoroughly refrigerated. But if you formed it into something resembling hamburger patties for baking, then you would have something that would work well for sandwiches, no? Of course, if you baked it in a loaf pan or souffle pan or whatever, you could always just scoop some out and spread it on the bread, as it were pate, which is really not so far from meatloaf. Either way, the sandwiches would be very nice, I think.

I was thinking that I'd make another batch this weekend and make sandwiches of a different sort: a layer of kibbeh, a layer of some leftover red peppers and portobellos I have, and another layer of kibbeh. I think it would be impossible to eat that and not feel virtuous.

Posted by anapestic at May 27, 2005 11:47 AM

The whole idea of the kibbeh sandwich, in whatever form, is really just very enticing.

Here's what I was thinking of, loaf-wise: to up the amount of bulgar, or possibly, meatloaf-style, add breadcrumbs or oatmeal, and also to add an egg or two for binding. The patties or pate options might be the way to go, though.

Posted by redfox at May 27, 2005 12:05 PM

I am not sure about the addition of oatmeal or eggs, though the latter would firm the mixture up, for sure. One of the miraculous things about this stuff is that it's so wonderfully moist with so little oil. If you put egg in it, you'll have to cook it longer to get it all done and firm, and it seems like it would end up more dry, even with the extra fat from the egg yolk. But it's probably worth a try.

On the other hand, I wondered whether you couldn't just mash one or two of the individual kibbeh into something flatter for a sandwich, and, even though I'm sitting here in my office, I took one out of my lunch cooler and proceeded to mash it down into something flatter and longer and wider, and I think that it looks like it will work just fine, though I would perhaps not do it again in front of my co-workers without any utensils or bread or dijon mustard around because then it doesn't look like you're making a sandwich; it just looks like you're playing with your food. I ate the evidence, though, so no harm, no foul.

Posted by anapestic at May 27, 2005 12:53 PM

When I read your comment that you were looking for a loaf recipe I tought I would pass along this link. I've made this load a couple of times and it is SO good -

I've just found your site - you have some wonderful recipes here!

Posted by Wendy at May 29, 2005 06:08 PM

These are good. I think anapestic's idea of mashing a couple of them flat for a sandwich would work. I've had very nice falafel sandwiches made with squashed falafel.

I made these for a picnic the day before yesterday and they were very popular. I used parsley instead of tarragon. For those wanting to use metric measurements, it's 100g of bulgar wheat and just shy of 200g of lentils.

Posted by Kake at May 30, 2005 06:51 PM

I am very glad you've been trying these and enjoying them. We go through a lot at my house -- I'm making another batch right now. Nice to hear people are having good results with substitutions, though I really must advocate trying it with the tarragon. It's a lovely combination.

Posted by redfox at May 30, 2005 07:18 PM

I made the lentil kibbeh last night, and they are delicious. Even 'raw' they were tasty. I didn't have any hot pepper paste, so I used Aleppo pepper which worked perfectly. I think my mixture was a bit wet, but I baked them a bit longer to dry them out a tad more. Thanks for the great recipe, I know I'll be making more soon. (Can't wait to have them for dinner tonight... I might make a batch of your long cooked green beans too).

Have a nice day!

Posted by Samantha at June 2, 2005 10:40 AM

wow! that looks amazing, i cannot wait to try it at home.

Posted by Alvin Narsey at June 27, 2005 11:11 PM

The latest instalment of these - last night I made them with ground coriander and fresh coriander (cilantro) and served them in wheat tortillas (closest we had to large flat pittas) with chopped tomato, sliced red onion, shredded lettuce, pickled chillies, chilli sauce, and garlic sauce (garlic pureed with olive oil and lemon juice and salt to a yoghurt-like consistency). V good.

Posted by Kake at June 29, 2005 07:39 PM

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