Vegetarian kibbeh

Kibbeh is a carnivore's dream and one of my favourite Middle Eastern treats. It's a paste made up of ground lamb, bulgar wheat, onions and spices and then shaped in whatever form is preferred. Claudia Roden elevated it to mystical heights in her 1960s Book of Middle Eastern Food: "The daily life of (Syrian and Lebanese) people revolves around its preparation, a dramatic ritual. The pounding of the meat and wheat in a stone or metal mortar with a heavy metal pestle is a sound that awakens one in the morning and lulls one to sleep in the afternoon". I'm not sure whir of my food processor is quite so alluring, but I can live with that.

Kibbeh was one of my Mum's favourite family dishes and it made regular appearances at our dinner table. There are a few variations, but hers were both Syrian: Kibbeh bi Saneeyeh (baked kibbeh) and kibbeh balls. The baked version was layered with pine nuts and minced beef, drizzled with butter and oil and baked. The kibbeh balls were hollowed out, filled with the minced beef filling and then pressed shut. Ridiculously good.

There's a great recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem book for open kibbeh, where the lamb mix is baked on a bulgar wheat base, then covered in a tahini sauce and baked again. The result is a rich, nutty delight.

But all this recent playing about with heavenly kibbeh got me thinking about a version for my veggie friends. So I toyed with the Ottolenghi version to see if I could create something as tasty without the meat. This is the result.

Original lamb plus my alternative veggie version of  Ottolenghi's  open kibbeh

Original lamb plus my alternative veggie version of Ottolenghi's open kibbeh

The substitutions are pretty straightforward. The lamb is replaced with lentils, carrots and mushrooms, all wrapped in the same spices: allspice, cinnamon and ground coriander. I also added a dollop of pomegranate molasses for depth of flavour. The base uses quinoa instead of bulgar wheat to provide some protein and nutty goodness.

Here's the recipe:

Vegetarian open kibbeh 

125g quinoa, cooked according to instructions

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 green chilli, finely chopped

120g lentils, cooked in vegetable stock according to instructions

2 medium carrots, finely chopped

125g mushrooms, finely chopped

60g pine nuts

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

Handful of chopped parsley

2-3 tbsp self-raising flour

50g light tahini paste 

2 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp sumac

Salt & black pepper

Preheat oven to 200°/180° fan/gas mark 6. Line a loose bottomed cake tin with greaseproof paper. In two small saucepans, cook the quinoa and lentils according to instructions.

Heat 4 tbsp of olive or rapeseed oil in a large frying pan. Sauté the garlic, onion and chilli until soft. Remove everything from the pan, then add the carrots and mushrooms and cook until tender. Return the onion mixture to the pan and add the cooked lentils, spices, coriander, half of the pine nuts and parsley, pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper. Warm through for another couple of minutes then set aside.

Strain the quinoa to remove any excess moisture. Add the flour, 1 tbsp olive oil, salt & pepper and mix together well. The mixture needs to hold together easily, so add more flour if required. Push firmly into the base of the tin so that it is as compact and level as possible. Spread the vegetable mixture evenly on top and push it firmly down. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the veg is just starting to brown.

Meanwhile whisk together the tahini paste with the lemon juice, 50ml water and a pinch of salt. The end result should be a custard like consistency - thick but pourable. I often find I need a lot more water than expected to achieve this.

Remove the kibbeh from the oven, spread the tahini sauce on top, sprinkle with the rest of the pine nuts and parsley and pop it back in the oven for 10 minutes until the pine nuts and tahini are just starting to turn golden.

Leave to cool to room temperature. Serve with sumac and a swirl of olive oil, sliced like cake.

Now I'm hungry. Next time: my mum's kibbeh recipes for meat fans.