armenian sini kufteh (kibbeh bil sineya)

This is one of bob's favorite dishes frequently appearing at Isgouhi's table, plated with a generous helping of plain yogurt to contrast the flavors and enhance the sensory impact. It is a pan layered baked version of the football shaped meat-filled bulgur balls (dumplings?) called kibbeh in Arabic, common throughout the Middle East. Isghouhi serves the latter in her yogurt-mint soup, also a favorite and frequent dish in her kitchen, but it is more labor efficient to create this bulgur sensation in layers ("flat bombs" in Sark-speak) rather than individually crafted and filled and closed kibbeh balls, and more easily reproduced by amateurs like us in our own kitchen one day when we quit being lazy waiting for Isgouhi to serve us. Trying to coax the bulgur outer layer into a nearly closed shape, filling it with the bulgur meat mixture, and then finishing the closing up sculpting operation is really challenging, bob gave it the old college try once.

The dish is baked in a large round pan with a traditional diamond-shaped pattern inscribed on the surface, making it easy to cut along triangular lines. And it has to be one of the top reasons we would have trouble giving up meat for the good of the planet. Surprisingly it has taken many years to formalize this recipe here, but part of the reason is that Isgouhi pretty much follows the version found in a cookbook we gifted to many many people last century: Secrets of Cooking Armenian / Lebanese / Persian by Linda Chiridian, with some variations that are annotated on little yellow Post-Its in our copy. Look for "Ground Meat with Bulgur (Kibbeh)" joined to "Layered Meat with Bulgur (Kibbeh bil Sineya)" on pages 191–195, with "Raw Meat with Bulgur" (Kibbeh Naye) and "Stuffed Football (Kibbeh Meklee)" starting this section, labeled as Lebanese recipes by Linda hence the Arabic spelling. We still have to run through this together with our master chef in our own kitchen so that we can own this recipe. Watching but not doing does not cut it.

Isgouhi usually makes big quantities of the bulgar-meat paste and the ground beef filling and does both the stuffed footballs and layered version simultaneously, keeping the balls for a later meal. Since the cooked kibbeh filling has onion, she omits it from the bulgur-meat paste, but includes it as a finely chopped additive in the very tasty raw version called kibbeh nayeh. Raw meat? Yup, pretty good stuff if your meat comes from a trusted source.

ingredients

ground meat with bulgur (Kibbeh)
 1 1/2 to 2 c bulgur
1 medium onion, quartered
   (Isgouhi only includes onion when serving this raw, since filling has onion)
2 lbs lean lamb or beef (Isgouhi says lamb is too heavy, she uses top round beef), cut into 1 in cubes
2 t salt or to taste
1 t freshly ground pepper or to taste
1/2 t allspice
2 level T sweet red pepper paste for color (Isgouhi  modification)
1/4 c small ice chips (optional: we disregard this).
 
meat filling (Hashwe)
2 T safflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 lb lean ground lamb or beef
1/4 c pine nuts
    (apparently some Sarks have vetoed this, but used for garnishing in each parallelogram center of the cut design)
2 t allspice
1/4 t cinnamon or nutmeg (Isgouhi says cinnamon)
1 t cumin (optional)
1/4 t paprika (optional) (Isgouhi says Middle Eastern red pepper, if available)
2 T corn or safflower oil (Isgouhi uses light olive oil)
2 T butter (Isgouhi says it adds flavor)

instructions

  1. Filling.
    Prepare the meat filling by sauteeing the onion until transparent and then breaking up the meat into small pieces as it cooks with the pine nuts. (Igsouhi browns the meat first, then mixes in the onion to cook.) Then mix in the spices and set aside. Let cool (overnight works too, Isgouhi says it is better to do the day before assembly).
  2. Isgouhi says finely chop the onion rather than pureeing it with the meat for the bulgur-meat paste, but then she omits it if cooking the dish.
  3. Bulgur-meat paste.
    For the bulgur-meat paste, two pounds of meat is too much for usual food processors so do this in two steps.
  4. Wash the bulgur in a bowl, drain, and cover it with water. Set aside.
  5. Linda says food process the onion first, then remove half for the second batch of meat but remember Isgouhi omits the onion here.
  6. Food process half the meat with half the seasonings until pureed, then repeat with the extra onion. Then mix together the two globs of meat paste well. Divide into two halves.
  7. Drain the bulgur and press out excess liquid with the back of a spoon.
  8. Then in two steps thoroughly process half the meat with half the bulgur after sprinkling a few ice chips on top (Isgouhi omits this, but uses ice water for her hands when working the "dough"). Recombine the two halves. At this point it can be used for the balls, the flat version, the raw version with no filling, small meatballs for soup recipes, etc.
  9. Assembly and baking.
    Preheat oven to 450° F. Lightly grease an 11" round pan (Isghouhi always makes enough for a 14" or 15" diameter pan, which requires scaling up the recipe, by a factor of 1.62 or 1.86 respectively).
  10. IFor the bottom half layer (half the paste), in small clumps flatten it on a plastic wrap covered plate (to be able to remove easily) and then press into the bottom of the pan, joining together the various pieces until a uniform layer is achieved. With hands dipped in the ice water, smooth out.
  11. Dump the meat filling onto the layer and spread out evenly with hands or a fork.
  12. Repeat the second paste layer with the remaining paste.
  13. Traditional scoring design.
    With a knife, score the top first into 6 equal wedges, cutting 3/4 of the way down. Then similarly divide each triangle into 4 or 5 strips parallel to each edge creating a diamond pattern. Isgouhi leaves a small 1/2 inch hole in the middle, just because she always does it that way. Combine the oil and butter and pour evenly over the top.
  14. Bake 10 minutes (butter melts), tilt the pan around to evenly distribute the oil-butter mixture.
  15. Reduce temperature to 350° F and bake 25 to 35 minutes. During the baking remove and tilt around to coat the surface with the oil (Isgouhi only does it once).
  16. Serve with plain yogurt on the side.

notes

  1. Spelling? Armenian sini kufteh (kufta, kufte, kofta) search. Kibbeh is Arabic, and Sineya has various spellings too with similar sounding out pronounciation.
  2. The stuffed football version is great in yogurt soup, but the "flat bombs" version also works in yogurt soup on the side if you break it up into the diamond shaped portions.
  3. Raw: kibbeh naye or nayeh [NPR].
  4. Vegan version of raw kibbeh nayeh by isgouhi using potato and flour instead of meat requires some modifications [4 c c bulgur, 1 c flour, 1.5 kg potato, 1.5 c oil, etc as in the meat version]. Meanwhile web hits for "raw potato kofte turkish recipe":  [1, 2].
  5. Vegan version of bulgur bombs using sweet potato instead of meat.
  6. Illustrations available, step by step: 2015, 2019, flat bombskaloor.
sinikufteh.htm: 4-may-2020 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]