Salads, Sandwiches

Lebanese Lamb Kufta Kebabs and Tabbouleh Salad

Lebanese Lamb Kafta Kebabs and Tabbouleh Salad1 (2)

I grew up with a Lebanese Mother who loved to cook.  Her Lebanese feast ranks #1 on my “If I was stranded on a deserted island with one meal, what meal would it be?” list. So, with that in mind, go grab plenty of parsley and lamb and let’s get crackin’ on a few key components of that “#1 – stranded on an deserted island” meal.

(Side note: I just got an idea for a silly/cool drawing. Me on an empty tropical beach. A giant Lebanese feast sitting on a beach towel in front of me. Me smiling.)

I’ve tried many different tabbouleh recipes. Here’s my favorite, (meaning it’s obviously the best).  This refreshing parsley salad is made with bulgur wheat, fresh mint, tomatoes, cucumbers, and scallions. It’s dressed with a lemony vinaigrette. I prefer my tabbouleh salad heavier on the parsley and lighter on the mint.

Tabbouleh SaladTabbouleh Salad1Tabbouleh Salad2

For those unfamiliar, kufta refers to kebabs made with ground meat rather than cubed. In this dish, I’m showcasing the traditional Lebanese kufta recipe that my family makes at home. Extremely easy to prepare, it makes one hell of crowd pleasing dinner staple. I make it quite often. I prefer to stuff my kufta in a warm pita along with homemade tabbouleh salad, hummus or tzatziki (or both), red onion, kalamata olives, and feta cheese. I guess I also prefer to occasionally imagine myself eating this on a tiny tropical island.

Lebanese Lamb Kafta Kebabs and Tabbouleh Salad2Lebanese Lamb Kafta Kebabs and Tabbouleh Salad1 (2)Lebanese Lamb Kafta Kebabs and Tabbouleh Salad3

LAMB KUFTA KEBABS:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground lamb (or ground beef or chicken)
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced (I use a garlic press)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, sometimes I also add fresh mint if I have on hand
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (leave out if you do not like spice)
  • 25 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes

Directions:

Mix the lamb, garlic, salt, pepper, onion, parsley, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, and cayenne pepper in a bowl until combined. Be mindful not to over mix. Form the mixture into 25 balls. Form each ball around the tip of a skewer, flattening into a 2 -3 inch tube.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours.

Preheat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan to medium heat, and lightly oil grate/pan. Cook the skewers 6-8 minutes rotating when necessary.

Serve in a pita (or on a bed of rice pilaf). Serve with tzatziki sauce and/or hummus, red onion, kalamata olives, feta cheese and tabbouleh salad (recipe below).

TABBOULEH SALAD

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (I use a garlic press)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups flat-leaf parsley (2-3 bunches), finely chopped -remove stems and pulse in a food processor
  • 3 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 3-4 tomatoes on the vine, seeds removed and diced
  • 2 small cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed and diced
  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS:

Combine water and bulgur in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir, reduce to simmer, and cover for 12 minutes (OR according to package directions).  If any water remains, drain. Transfer bulgur to a large bowl and let cool for 30 minutes.

Combine lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk until well blended. Add parsley, mint, tomatoes, cucumber, and scallions to the bulgur wheat. Add the dressing and toss.

Note:  Sometimes I add 1 cup of chickpeas to the salad to bulk up the protein.  Tabbouleh is best served the same day it is made.

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Main Course Recipes

Lamb Shanks with Parmesan Polenta and Mushrooms

Lamb Shanks with Parmesan Polenta and Mushrooms

Time to talk lamb shanks?  Why, yes. Yes it is.

From the lower section of the leg, lamb shanks are a full-flavored cut of meat.  They do, however, require a bit of love and attention to bring out their full potential.  These shanks are first browned in veg oil.  This gives them color while enhancing their rich flavor.  Then, the’re slowly braised in a flavorful and aromatic liquid.  This braising method breaks down the connective tissue and … (culinary cliche alert) …  yields fall-off-the-bone tenderness.
Lamb Shanks with Parmesan Polenta and Mushrooms
Now, let’s talk about the hot tub for the shanks.  Or, the “baaaa-th tub.” (I couldn’t resist).  All feeble-minded lamb jokes aside, I’m referring to the braising liquid.
Onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and tomato paste are caramelized in the drippings from the browning process.  They’re then combined with red wine, chopped tomatoes, beef stock, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves.  THEN … brought to a boil.  The shanks are returned to the pot (tub) and placed into the oven. Three hours later, it’s feast time.  I paired these lamb shanks with dreamy Parmesan polenta and mushrooms.  Glamorous!
Lamb Shanks with Parmesan Polenta and Mushrooms
Make plenty, as leftovers can be transformed into another meal that shines.  Shred left over lamb , combine with leftover sauce, and serve over pappradelle noodles with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.
Leftovers
Ingredients:
  • 2 1.5lb lamb shanks
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6oz can tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 14.5oz can chopped tomatoes in juice, I prefer low sodium
  • 2 cups low sodium beef stock
  • 1 cup water (or more if needed)
  • 15-20 sprigs fresh thyme, bundled together with butchers twine
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Directions:

  1. Allow lamb shanks to come to room temperature for 30 minutes. Trim off any excess fat, cut an inch off the end to expose the bone marrow, and season liberally with salt and pepper.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. Heat large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil and sear lamb shanks on all sides until nicely browned.  Remove lamb shanks and set aside.
  4. Drain excess fat from the dutch oven, leaving about 1/2 tbsp.  Drop heat to medium and add carrot, celery, and onion. Cook for 15 minutes until vegetables are nicely caramelized.  Add a pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper to season.  Add garlic and cook for 2 additional minutes.
  5. Add tomato paste and stir into vegetables to coat. Cook, stirring often, for 8-10 minutes to caramelize and develop the tomato flavor.  This is an important step. Don’t skimp on caramelizing the tomato paste as it adds a lovely depth of flavor to the dish.
  6. Add red wine and scrape down any brown bits that have developed on the bottom and sides of the pot.  Add chopped tomatoes, beef stock, and water.  Stir well and increase heat to medium-high to bring to a low boil.  Add thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves. Stir well.  Return lamb shanks to the pot.  If the liquid level does not come to the top of the lamb shanks, add additional water.  Season with a pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  (Note, if you did not use low sodium stock no need to season with salt, the stock will contain enough salt to season the dish.)
  7. Place lid on dutch oven and put in the preheated oven and cook for 2 1/2 hours, basting and rotating lamb shanks 2-3 times throughout the cooking process.  Remove lid and cook an additional 30 minutes to concentrate the cooking liquid.
  8. At this point, start your parmesan polenta and mushrooms.
  9. Remove lamb shanks to a serving platter and tent with foil to keep warm.  Place the dutch oven on the stove-top over low heat. Remove thyme bundle and bay leaves, and skim off any grease that has gathered on the surface (I removed about 3 tbsp).
  10. Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper if necessary.  Add 1/4 cup fresh parsley.
  11. Spoon about 2 cups of sauce over lamb shanks and serve with parmesan polenta and mushrooms.
  12. You can serve the lamb shanks 2 ways – remove excess fat from the shanks, discard, and serve chunks of lamb mixed with the sauce (like a ragu). OR -serve each person an entire lamb shank to pick at themselves.  Both ways are equally as good 🙂  ALWAYS serve with parmesan polenta and mushrooms.
  13. Top plated dish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.

Servings: 2-4

Note: If you are serving a crowd, there will be enough sauce for 4-6 lamb shanks – no need to double the sauce if you cook additional lamb shanks.  Just make sure your dutch oven is large enough, or cook in 2 pots.

Leftovers: Shred left over lamb shanks, combine with leftover sauce, and serve over pappradelle noodles with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.

Leftovers

Main Course Recipes

Lebanese Meat Stuffed Grape Leaves

Lebanese Meat Stuffed Grape Leaves

 

Grandma never measured anything out.  Mom learned from Grandma.

The best family recipes aren’t documented.  There’s no written recipe to reference when daring to recreate those most nostalgic childhood meals.  A little bit of this, a little bit of that…and somehow it always turned out perfect.  As is the case with my mom’s stuffed grape leaves…until now.

My mom knows the grape leaves are seasoned just right by giving the filling a little taste.  Yep, she tastes the raw meat.  She doesn’t actually swallow the meat.  Like tasting a fine wine in Napa Valley, she puts the meat mixture on her tongue, tastes for seasoning, then adjusts.  This isn’t something I would have a problem with (tasting the raw meat).  I trust our butcher and always buy organic.  But, unlike Mom, I do not possess a sommelier-esque palate so as to be able to just taste when the seasoning is perfect.  More cinnamon? More allspice?  More salt?!?! Ah!

So Mom and I devised a plan to finally figure out a written recipe.

Lebanese Meat Stuffed Grape LeavesLebanese Meat Stuffed Grape LeavesLebanese Meat Stuffed Grape Leaves

 

At first glance, this recipe looks complicated.  Don’t let that complicated appearance get you flustered.  It really is simple once you get rolling.  Invite friends and family to help with the process. It’s more fun to do this as a group, and it gets everyone more connected to the delicious meal they’re about to consume.  Pour some wine and make a fun afternoon out of it.

This is one unwritten family legend that was begging to be uncovered.  Thanks for letting the secret out, Mom!

Lebanese Meat Stuffed Grape LeavesLebanese Meat Stuffed Grape Leaves

 

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs ground lamb
  • 3 1/2 cups long grain white rice (I prefer Uncle Ben’s Original), uncooked
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper, finely ground
  • 16-oz jar California grape leaves (I prefer Orlando), you will need approximately 60 for rolling and 20 for lining your double boiler
  • 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • Equipment: You will need a large stockpot with a pasta or steamer insert and lid.  I use this one.

Directions:

Remove grape leaves from their jar and drain in a colander.  Rinse well with running water and drain again.  With a paring knife, remove the stem from the base of 60 grape leaves.  There is a small stem at the base (about 1/4 inch) that needs to be trimmed.  Set aside the 60 trimmed and cleaned grape leaves while you prepare the filling.

Combine lamb, rice, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.  Mix until well combined.  I find using my hands to mix the ingredients works best.  Reserve filling.

Prepare your stockpot.  Add 2 inches of water in your stockpot, place pasta insert or steamer insert into your pot.  Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the insert.  If it does, reduce the amount of water.  Line the insert (both bottom and sides) with grape leaves, ensuring all holes are covered.  Note: Do not use the grape leaves you trimmed the stems from for this, use the additional grape leaves you have leftover.  Use 10-15 grape leaves for the lining.

You are now ready to start filling and rolling the grape leaves.  Working with one grape leaf at a time, place grape leaf on your work surface stem side up.  Place 1-2 tbsp of meat mixture (1 tbsp for small grape leaves) near stem.  Fold in the sides and roll grape leaf starting from the stem and moving away from you.  Repeat with the additional grape leaves until all of the meat mixture is used.  If you run out of the 60 cleaned and trimmed grape leaves, prepare more as needed.

Line rolled grape leaves in the prepared pasta insert or steamer insert.  Alternate direction leaves are pointed with each layer until you’ve used all of your rolled grape leaves.  Top your rolled grape leaves with crushed tomatoes, and add another layer of the leftover grape leaves on top (just as you did for lining the insert) to make a seal, you will use 6-8 leaves.

Put the lid on the stockpot, turn heat to high and bring water to a boil.  Once water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and steam for 2-3 hours or until grape leaves are cooked through.  (Note: I always check to see if they are cooked through at the 2 hour mark.  The last thing you would want to do is overcook them.)  The grape leaves will be done when the meat is cooked through and the rice is fully cooked.

Note:  Throughout the cooking process, be sure to check the boiling water.  You want to make sure the water is steadily boiling and that the water level is just right.  It should not touch the bottom of the insert, or drop too low and boil away.  If the water is touching the bottom of the insert, remove some water.  If the water level drops too much, add more.

Serve with pita bread, and traditional Lebanese mezza dishes (hummus, olives, fattoush, tabbouleh) and plain yogurt.

Yields: Approximately 60 stuffed grape leaves.  Recipe can easily be halved.