Citizens, the Emir of Eminence, the Sultan of Spice – YOUR TFD! – has been moved on this very day to share with you a recipe of unparalleled savor, a delicacy emanating like a shining beacon of flavor from the land between the two rivers: Iraq!
This particular recipe falls into the kibbeh category, i.e. a thin shell made from some form of grain or rice and stuffed with seasoned meat. It has a fascinating history that only further highlights the great culinary legacy of Iraq, as elucidated with superb scholarship from this excerpted article at nawalcooking.blogspot.com:
This is an Iraqi specialty, a delicacy usually reserved for festive treats and elegant presentations.
Although the name kubbat Halab might link it to the Syrian city of Aleppo (TFD NOTE: Aleppo in Arabic is Halab), to my knowledge, no other Arab country prepares it as we do.
I once made it for friends from Aleppo, and they said they have never seen anything like it before. (TFD NOTE: This is especially impressive as Aleppo is said to have 17 variations on Kubba!)
The beginnings of today’s art of making the stuffed foods of kubba, of which this Iraq specialty is just one kind, can be traced back to the Baghdadi medieval kitchens where cooks experimented with this sort of complex cooking technique, with great success.
We know this from some of the recipes included in al-Baghdadi’s cookbook كتاب الطبيخ written in Baghdad in 1226.
Also included in al-Baghdadi’s cookbook was Naranjiyya (i.e. looking like naranj ‘orange’). Meatballs were made as large as oranges, and then they were coated with egg-yolk and dipped into the stew-liquid several times until they acquired the color orange.
This brings us to the now ubiquitous Sicilian arancini (singular arancino, from ‘arancia’ Italian for ‘little orange’), which are large stuffed balls of cooked rice, breaded and deep fried until they are golden brown, so that they look like oranges.
It is quite likely that the medieval Arab Naranjiyya might have been the inspiration behind this Sicilian specialty.
Actually, I have seen it repeatedly mentioned that it was invented in the tenth-century during the time of the Arab rule, and that it was similar to foods based on recipes known in the Middle East during the Middle Ages (see for instance, Arancine, by Francesca Lombardo).
Indeed, this might well have been the case as cultivation of rice, saffron and citrus fruits, among many other plants, was initiated by the Arabs when they ruled the southern parts of Spain and Italy. However, I have yet to find medieval recipes or more specific references to this kind of stuffed food.
While this recipe on the surface does indeed resemble arancini, the spicing is FAR more intricate, as is the filling. You can be assured that any guest who partakes of this Iraq-based dish will fall in love with it, but to make it at its best, certain procedures must be followed.
To make this recipe, you will need to include some of the classic spice blend from Iraq known as baharat – my unmatched recipe for it is noted in the recipe. I fully endorse the use of jasmine rice suggested by Nawal and have adapted it into my recipe and my recipe is in fact closely based on hers.
I also strongly recommend adding not just turmeric into the cooked rice for color, but also ground chicken bouillon cube, as it also adds both umami flavor and an even brighter sunny hue to the dish as well.
Citizens, this is indeed a delicious recipe straight from the gastronomic heart of Iraq that I hope you will find worthy of gracing your table in the very near future! 🙂 Try serving it with some Amba mango sauce, another culinary treasure from Iraq!
- 1 ½ pounds ground lamb
- 2 Tbsp. oil
- 2 medium onions (about 9 oz), finely chopped
- 1 tsp. Kosher salt
- 2 ½ Tbsp. Hirshon baharat mix (reserve extra in a spice jar for future recipes!) made from:
- 2 ½ Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ Tbsp. freshly ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp. freshly ground coriander
- 1 Tbsp. freshly ground allspice
- ½ Tbsp. cinnamon
- 2 ½ tsp. freshly ground cardamom
- 1 tsp. freshly ground cloves
- 1 ½ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp. cayenne
- 1 tsp. paprika (it’s not traditional, but I like smoked Spanish paprika – use regular paprika to go old-school)
- ½ tsp. ginger
- 1 ½ tsp. turmeric
- 2 tsp. crumbled dried rose petals, optional but strongly recommended
- Cayenne, salt and pepper
- ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- ¼ cup slivered and toasted almond pieces
- ¼ cup chopped golden raisins
- For the rice shell:
- 2 cups (1 pound) Jasmine rice, washed, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes, then drained
- 10 cups water
- 2 tsp. Kosher salt
- ¼ tsp. turmeric or saffron (TFD prefers saffron)
- 1 tsp. ground-up chicken bouillon cube
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- Oil for frying (such as canola)
- Heat oil in a big skillet and cook ground lamb, stirring occasionally, and breaking down any lumps with the back of a spoon. When moisture almost evaporates, add onion and stir until transparent, 10 to 15 minutes, total. Add the rest of the ingredients in the last five minutes of cooking, and fold gently. Set aside to cool off.
- Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. Add the drained rice along with salt, saffron or turmeric, ground chicken bouillon and cinnamon. Give the pot a good stir, and bring it back to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and let the rice boil gently in the partially covered pot, gently stirring twice or thrice. The rice grains should be cooked in about 15 minutes. Start testing after the first 10 minutes of cooking. Take a few grains and eat them, they should be cooked but still intact, not chewy, and not mushy. Do not let rice overcook.
- Strain rice in a metal colander. Put the colander with the rice back into the pot and cover it with the lid, and set it aside until it is cool enough to handle.
- Transfer rice to a big bowl. Sprinkle cornstarch on rice and knead with slightly moistened hands until mixture is combined into dough.
- Have a bowl of cold water nearby. Handling with slightly moistened hands, take a small amount of dough, size of a small lemon, and shape it like an American football.
- Hold the ball of dough in one hand and hollow it with the thumb of the other hand until you get an elongated oval shell about ¼ in. thick and 3 in. long, it does not have to be perfect. Fill and close the opening, and roll it gently between the palms to make it look like an egg with two pointed ends. Moisten your fingers whenever dough feels sticky. Put the finished ones on a big tray in one layer.
- Fry the filled kubba in 1-inch deep hot oil, turning once, until golden all around, about 7 minutes per batch. Put the fried pieces in a large colander lined with white paper towels, and let them cool off a little before serving. Alternatively, you may spread the paper towels on a rack and put the fried kubbas in one layer to cool off. This way you prevent the kubba from getting soggy.
- Serve with lots of salad and bread, or make into sandwiches with slices of salad vegetables, and pickles. Pickled mango (‘amba) with diced tomato is especially good with this dish.
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