The great Kubba experiment

kubba in process

I loooove kubba, at least, the way my mother-in-law made it, Iraqi-style with an incredible thin shell and flavorful and juicy meat stuffing. She was a fantastic cook, someone who (along with a good friend in college) instilled my foodie tendencies and gave me the base for my cooking fervor. They say that in the Middle East, you can judge a cook by his/her (more likely her) kubba, just as in Korea you judge a cook by his/her (more likely her) kimchi.

By Middle Eastern standards then, I am a horrible cook, because I have never made a decent kubba. I’ve made some great tasting filling, but my kubba or kibbe or kibbeh or kobeba, once constructed, has a dry, thick shell that overwhelms any juicy meat stuffing. I guess that’s an improvement from my first kubba attempt–I couldn’t even get the filling around the meat, I just had lumps of disaster.

And yet, every few years, I try to make kubba on my own. Each time, the results are a little closer to the real thing, though I’ve never been able to replicate my mother-in-law’s kubba (some day, some day). The traditional recipe calls for a bulgur cracked wheat based shell, but I am beginning to think that that is not what she used (the cream of wheat below is for a different kind of kubba, the kind that goes into stews).

ingredients for kubba

The ingredients are above–spices, pine nuts, parsley, an onion, ground beef…and bulgur for the shell (the cream of wheat again, is for a different kind of kubba, described later on below).

This website that I and my friends share with you–one of the purposes of it is to serve as an archive for my own recipes. And these days, I’m trying to compile family recipes, and in this case, re-create a family recipe.

Visually, the kubba were a success. And they do beat kubba I’ve had in some restaurants.


But my husband and I, we’re still dreaming of his mother’s kubba. Next time, I’ll work on making a thinner shell, and maybe using something other than bulgur for the shell base. He and I are now in agreement that his mother did not use bulgur for the shell. Maybe matzo? Who knows. We’ll keep experimenting. It’s how I ended up making many of her other dishes, guessing secret ingredients and other components until the dishes tasted just like hers.

Still, there’s something you can do with leftover kubba filling–it’s easy and not as complicated as making kubba, but it’s just as delicious. And if all your kubba fails, you will still be left with something savory and delicious to eat, something I call “kubba meat omelettes” that my mother-in-law also used to make. And I think it might actually be an authentic dish, though I can’t verify that.  It is also called “Uk.”

kubba filling

Eat it in a pita with some hot sauce (sriracha, or sambal oelek…or just some hummus), or eat them on their own. It’s a good reward, successful kubba or no. They’re great for brunch, served room temperature or cold. In sum, they’re versatile and yummy.

And they’re good for my cooking self-esteem. For, of all else fails, at least there are these tasty omelettes to fall back on. I wonder, sometimes, if these came about from the failed kubba of other cooks.

But onward to other kinds of kubba!

There are several different kinds of kubba–in addition to the kubba above, there is kubba made with semolina, cooked in a stew like dumplings.

kubba for the kubba bamia

The above kubba look different, yes, because the shell is made of semolina (or cream of wheat). The stuffing is also different–less spicy than the kubba above, and void of pine nuts.

The cream of wheat kubba is not to be fried…they’re included as dumplings in a stew…

Cooked in an okra stew, the “kubba bamia” is wonderful…

kubba bamia

The stew by itself is great–a favorite in our household, but with kubba the stew takes on an extra flair.

Recipes follow after the jump…

Stuffed Fried Kubba
(adapted from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food)

for the shell:
1/2 cup fine cracked wheat (bulgur)
1 small onion, quartered
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cardamom

for the meat filling or hashwa
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons oil
1/4 ground beef
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp allspice (or to taste)
1/2 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (or to taste)
a bunch of parsley, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Vegetable oil for frying

For the shell: soak the cracked wheat in cold salted water for 1o minutes, then wash in a colander under cold running water and drain. Squeeze excess water out.

Puree the onion to a paste in the food processor, then add the meat, salt and pepper and spices and process to a soft paste.

Add the bulgur to the meat and process until it is a doughlike paste (if you’re doubling this recipe you’ll have to process it in two batches). Leave it to cool, covered in teh fridge.

For the filling: fry the onion in the oil till soft. Add the meat and cook, stirring and crushing it with a fork, until it starts to cook. Season with salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, and stir in the pine nuts and parsley.

To shape and stuff the kubba: keep wetting your hands with cold wate.r Take a lump of kubba paste the size of a small egg. Hold it in your hand and make a hole in the middle with the forefinger of your right. Enlarge the hole and shape the kubba into a hollow, tapered oval with thin walls (less than 1/4 inch thick) by rotating your finger in quick clockwise movements, pressing the sides on the palm of your hand while at the same time opening and closing your cupped hand. Patch any holes with a wet finger.

Fill each shell with about 1 tablespoon of filling. Wet the open rim and pinch it closed, tapering the ends.

Leave the kubba covered in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. Deep fry in 375F oil. Drain on paper towels and serve.


Uk, aka “Kubba Omelette”

Make the filling as above…

For the filling: fry the onion in the oil till soft. Add the meat and cook, stirring and crushing it with a fork, until it starts to cook. Season with salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, and stir in the pine nuts and parsley.

Add about 2 eggs to the mixture and mix lightly under the meat is blended with the eggs. Heat a frying pan with vegetable oil and fry on one side…then flip. I like to make the omelettes small–about 1-2 rounded tablespoons each.

9 responses to “The great Kubba experiment

  1. Oh, wow! Thanks for posting this. I’m part Arab and always wanted to learn how to make Kubbah.

    Thanks again!

  2. You used the wrong kind of bulgur, the kind of bulgur used in kibbe/kubbe is very fine grain bulgur, the bulgur you have pictured is very coarse bulgur. Go to a Middle Eastern market and ask for the finest bulgur.

  3. harmonie22: good luck! and you’re welcome. 🙂

    Mercedes: thank you for the advice–I tried grinding the bulgur you see above with a mortar and pestle before adding it to the recipe, but didn’t get it down very fine at all. I had a feeling the bulgur was still too coarse, and I’m glad to know I can get fine bulgur at a Middle Eastern market!

  4. Hello! I loved reading your post and will definitely try kubba in bamia next time I make it. I have a baby blog where I just posted step-by-step kubba technique and I’d love you to drop by! By the way, my mother-in-law is Iraqi from Musul and everyone in their family uses basmati rice or cream of rice (vs cream of wheat) for the shell. Best wishes and happy eating!

  5. Wow–thank you, Beth. My father-in-law joked that now that I’ve been able to make potato kubba, the next step is to make rice kubba. You are totally just in time. 🙂

  6. OK since we’re pitching our blog recipes for kubbah, may I suggest my link to baked kibbeh (kibbeh, kubbah – it’s a regional accent difference, Arabs know it’s all the same)

    The recipe is actually Claudia Roden’s from – wait for it – The Book of Jewish Food.

    However I do suggest in my comments that you can substitute beef and/or ground turkey – I have tasted all variations.

    I grew up eating fried (meat) kibbeh at my Lebanese aunties’ tables but my own dad always prepared it baked. He had an ulcer and couldn’t eat fried foods. So although fried is delicious and wonderful, I have a real fondness for baked kibbeh. It’s also easier to construct and less hassle to cook (no grease spatters).

    However the potato kubbah looks excellent and I doubt it would be nearly as yummy if you baked it. Baked it would be more like Middle Eastern shepherd’s pie. (Hey, that’s not a bad idea)

  7. PS somewhere I saw a recipe for pumpkin kibbeh/kubba. Wouldnt’ that be yummy? If you want it I will look for it in my cookbook collection.

  8. Glad to hear it C(h)ristine, and thanks for stopping by! And now I need to learn these other kinds…bulghar & potato…rice is all I’ve done thus far b/c that’s my inlaws habit. Love your blog…it’s beautiful, homey, and I can tell how much you adore food. Cheers!

  9. Leila: I think the pumpkin kibbeh was featured on Mercedes’ site! It sure looks delicious! And yes–the baked kibbeh sounds wonderful, I saw it in Claudia Roden’s book and I’ve seen recipes for it on the internet as well. It certainly is MUCh easier to make it in a baking dish as a layered “casserole” than forming the fried balls! I think you could also attempt to bake the balls, but not to the same effect.

    bethkan: thanks! Potato kubba is our family favorite.

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