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Lebanon slow food snail trails by Lebanon Traveler Magazine Issue 6 March - June 2013

Author, photographer, food consultant and TV host, Barbara Abdeni Massaad follows the Kebbeh trail:

Kebbeh is considered one of our most cherished dishes. We are all accustomed to eating kebbeh in all its forms- vegetarian varieties included for those who can't eat meat or abstain from eating it during certain periods of the year. But what is Kebbeh? Kebbeh is simply seasoned ground meat or mashed vegetables mixed together with burghul. That's all!

What most of us probably don't know is that kebbeh is produced and cooked differently across the country. From the north to the south of Lebanon, there is a whole range of regional varieties. Its diversity is derived from local traditions in a given region, especially the availability of certain ingredients on hand. Kebbeh is served raw, boiled, baked, grilled or fried.

In the north of Lebanon, goats herd on high mountains therefore raw kebbeh is made mostly with goat meat. In Zghorta, they pride themselves on their kebbeh. Who hasn't heard of the kebbeh Zghorteweh? This kebbeh, stuffed with animal fat, garlic and dry mint, is usually cooked on a barbecue. Alternatively, a mixture of sautéed onion and minced meat is used as stuffing. Fresh raw meat, which has been cooled, is also made with tender loving care by pounding it in a huge mortar with a large pestle. It takes a lot of strength to pound the meat and most women who do this exercise develop muscles in their arms.

On the coast in Tripoli, where fish is abundant, kebbeh is made with ground fish instead of meat, mixed with burghul. White pepper is added to the mix with the salt. The mixture, which is almost dough-like, is made into oval balls or spread to cover the bottom of a round baking tray. It's stuffing is vegetarian and in the case of the tray, another layer of kebbeh is used as a cover. The quality and freshness of the fish is important to ensure good results.

Kebbeh balls are used in cooking and make up an important ingredient in local soups and stews. Kebbeh drenched in yogurt (laban) is a family favorite eaten throughout the country. This recipe may have been derived from the Bekaa Valley where cow milk is abundant. A piece of awarma, a meat preserve made of lamb conserved in fat, is also added to the yogurt in the Chouf to make the dish heartier. In the high mountains, goat milk is used instead, giving the stew a pungent, tangier taste. The benefit of cooking with goat milk is that it doesn't curdle. Therefore adding an egg and / or cornstarch to the yogurt is not necessary.

Another way to serve kebbeh balls is in a sauce made with tahini diluted in citrus juice, made mostly of bitter Seville oranges. This may be served with chunks of slow-cooked meat, beef or lamb. In the Kesserwan, kebbeh balls are served in a kishk soup. Kishk is yogurt with burghul that has been fermented for a few days then dried in the sun and finally ground into a fine powder. Awarma is added too for peasants who need extra strength.

In the South of Lebanon, mostly in Sidon, kebbeh balls are stuffed with butter mixed with walnuts and hot red pepper paste. This type of stuffing is also found typically in Syria and the red pepper paste that is used is also imported from there. We call it ''shattah''. Variations of red pepper paste exist ranging from mild to spicy hot. Cooks tend to agree on a milder paste. In Nabatieh, raw kebbeh is pounded on a marble slab called ''blata'' and mixed with a special local spice called ''Kamouneh''. It is made mostly of cumin and a mixture of fresh and dried herbs. Dried rose petals (Jurri) are also added to the spice. This type of kebbeh is called ''Frakeh''.

It is worthwhile to take a journey to discover the richness of one of our most important national dishes, kebbeh. You will find similarities in different regions, but mostly you will enjoy its diversity whether in the use of ingredients, method of preparation or, finally, in the way it is cooked. Happy trails!

Kebbeh variations

Kebbet Rass: Kebbeh shells empty or stuffed with sautéed meat (beef, lamb or goat), onion, and roasted pine nuts with local spices. Shells are eaten deep-fried as an appetizer or become a main ingredient of traditional dishes.

Kebbet Saniyeh: Kebbeh baked in flat round trays in the oven. Two layers of meat mixed with burghul with stuffing in between. Stuffing is made of sautéed meat, onion, roasted pine nuts and local spices.

Kebbet Sajiyeh: Large round stuffed shells grilled on a barbecue.

Raw Kebbeh: Kebbeh made with raw minced meat with burghul served fresh.

Fish Kebbeh: Kebbeh made with fish.

Vegetarian Kebbeh: Kebbeh shells made with mashed pumpkin, potato, rice or chickpeas instead of meat

And recently chicken kebbeh balls have made their way into the numerous varieties!

Where to eat
Beirut - Tawlet +961 1 448129
Chouf - Salim Achkar Guesthouse +961 3 354558
Bekaa - Casino Mhanna +961 8 800634
North - Ras El Nabeh restaurant +961 6 590118
South - Abdel Wahab +961 7 751966



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