Fish vs Meat: The Kibbeh Turning Vegetarian!
Health-oriented? You got to love this Vegetarian Fish Kibbeh! Delicious, healthier and lighter than the original meat Kibbeh, a promise of real delight!
Fish Kibbeh is a delight of vegetarian meal that has the bonus of being fulfilling while light. It ensued as a healthier and lighter version of the original meat Kibbeh that our fine cuisine is well-known for. I believe that an overview on Kibbeh is in order here.
Our era of health-oriented vegetarian trend is not the reason that led our cuisine to alter some of our meat-based dishes. The reason is in our cultural history dating farther back in time.
It is common knowledge that Lebanese Christians engage devotedly in their Holy Lent season. That started at the onset of Christianity in our homeland with Saint Peter establishing his headquarter, and the first Papacy, in our coastal city of Byblos.
The 40 days of Lent required a totally vegan nutrition, except for the fish, which was, and still is, considered symbolic of Jesus-Christ.
The Lebanese cuisine adapted, and, with time, brought about several good and nutritious vegetarian dishes from their meat-based meals. The Kibbeh was one of them. It wasn’t but in recent times that the vegan Lent has become vegetarian, and diary products were reinstated during Lent.
Lebanon Cultural Kibbeh
The Kibbeh goes as far back in time as the history of our villages. Back then, the meat had to be pounded, smashed, grounded, and smoothed for an hour, or so, in a huge mortar with the aid of a heavy pestle. It wasn’t long ago that the procedure persisted still.
I still remember the Sundays of my summers in the Northern Mountains of Lebanon. The sound of the pestle pounding in the mortar seemed to come out from every house, early morning. Walking through the alleys, you could see the villager, woman or man, on a low chair, bent over that huge stone mortar, and pounding the meat relentlessly. The result was a creamy rosy meat that was then mix with Burghul, seasoned with various spices, and consumed Tartar style with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh mint leaves and warm bread.
Sundays in the Northern Villages were the feast of the Kibbeh Tartar and the grilled Kibbeh Eqrass sided by Tabbouleh, Hummus and so on.
Kibbeh Eqrass is mostly known as from the Northern villages, reputable for turning the Kibbeh meat into thin hat-like shapes, stuffing and grilling them. The method of the mortar and pestle has waned gradually at the introduction of the electric mixer in the country, with some rarity still in remote villages. The Kibbeh Tartar though has not disappeared from our cuisine. It is still very much enjoyed on our tables and in our Mezza.
…And in a variety of recipes:
The cooked version is the most eaten in the homeland, and the most known worldwide.
That same basic meat-and-burghul is cooked in various ways:
- Kibbeh bil Sayniyeh; baked in two layers with a delicious stuffing in between,
- Kibbeh Eqrass, Kibbeh bil Laban (formed in small oval-ball-like and cooked with warm yogurt,
- Fried Kibbeh balls for the Mezza, and so on.
Delightfully Achieved to Meet a Need
It was no coincidence that the Lebanese replaced the meat with fish to meet their Lent needs. From a frontier to the other, Lebanon borders the Mediterranean Sea with coastal cities and towns.
Fishing was a main source of food. Substituting the meat with fish, while keeping to the rich fulfilling recipe of the Kibbeh, ensued naturally. Some amendments to the original recipe were applied to fit the change of the main component.
Hence, our Lebanese kitchen achieved, not only one Vegetarian version of the original meat Kibbeh, but two based on fish and one based on local pumpkin. These versions are not similar though; not in recipes nor in cooking method.
For instance, the Pumpkin Kibbeh is stuffed with a precooked mixture of spinach, chick peas and walnut. It is shaped in medium oval-ball-like, and fried.
Fish Kibbeh is made of two lawyers of smashed potatoes spread in a baking pan. In between, we place the stuffing of a precooked mixture of cilantro, garlic, onions and lemon juice. The pan goes in the oven to bake. The Kibbeh is then cut into equal rectangular pieces, and served with a green salad on the side.
Today, I am very happy to provide you with the easiest recipe of this delicious dish. I am sure you will love it like we all do in the homeland and abroad!
Fish Vegetarian Kibbeh with walnuts
- 500 gr Fish Filet fresh or frozen
- Vegetable Oil to cook
For The Stuffing
- 2 Kg Potatoes poached and minced
- 1 Onion (medium) sliced
- 1/2 Bouquet Fresh Cilantro washed and chopped
- 4 Cloves Garlic (small) mashed
- 2 tbsps Croutons crashed
- 4 tbsps Lemon Juice
- 2 tbsps Walnuts chopped roughly
- 1 tbsp Salt
- Black Pepper to season
- White Pepper to season
- Lettuce Hearts
Preparing the Cilantro Mixture
In a pan, over medium-high heat, pour the 2 tbsp of oil and mix in the chopped cilantro and mashed garlic. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the cilantro wilted. Put aside.
Preparing the Fish:
Season both sides of the fish pieces with some salt and white pepper. Place them in a non-stick oiled pan in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes.
Flip them gently, and bake for another 10 minutes.
Making the Fish Mixture
Preheated oil and fry the sliced onions until golden. Meanwhile, mix the cilantro mixture with lemon juice and walnuts. Season with salt, white pepper and black pepper.
Part the fish in smaller pieces. Add them with the above mixture on the frying onions. Mix very well, and cook on low heat for 5 minutes while stirring. Put aside to cool.
The Fish Kibbeh: Here we go!
Preheat your oven to 250°C ( approx. 482°F)
Divide the smashed potatoes in 2 parts. Lay one part in a non-stick, oiled baking pan, covering all the surface.
Spread over the fish stuffing, and top it with the 2nd part of the potatoes. Tap on for a uniform and smooth layer.
Add a layer of smashed croutons all over the surface.
Place the pan of Kibbeh in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Switch the heat to the upper top and bake for 5 more minutes to golden the surface.
Serving: Hot or Warm
Serve the Kibbeh from the oven to the table and cut when serving on the plates.
NOTE: You may also cut it in 8 equal rectangles and place them on a serving plate.
Decorating the Plate (Optional)
1- While the Kibbeh is baking, I cut a medium-size tomato into a flower-shape, and prepare some lettuce hearts for the decoration.
2- When the Kibbeh pieces are placed on the serving plate, I gather some of the smallest lettuce hearts around the tomato, and place the set on the center between the pieces of Kibbeh.
3- I then add some lettuce hearts on both sides of the plate.
Lettuce hearts could be substituted with similar greenery of your choice. Be elegantly creative!