As a kid i was very fortunate to be exposed to food from many different cultures and i especially remember the family link to Iraq. Historically, despite being neighbours, Iran and Iraq havent always had the best relations (10 years of fighting beginning in the 80's) but we never really hated each other... and now that the rest of the world seems to have pigeon-holed the entire Middle East as terrorists, our unity has become tighter than ever! My Grandmas sister married an Iraqi over 65 years ago and she always did copious amounts of cooking at home, which was the complete opposite to my own Grandmother. I loved sitting in my Aunt's kitchen, watching her cook for the family (she had 5 children, who in turn had many more children) and the it was always a full house with people waiting to be fed at any time of the day!
Remembering the times spent sitting in her kitchen, perched like a hungry munchkin on a kitchen chair, I was just a little girl aged around 5 or 6 years old. A lot of the food she used to make, initially looked incredibly foreign to me. Exotic and strange dishes like Mussels stuffed with garlic butter and breadcrumbs as well as regular family favourites of Spaghetti Bolognese and of course lots of wonderful Persian dishes cooked to perfection. I loved her cooking, it was on a whole different level than that served at my own home. I remember every couple of weeks, a whole day would be devoted to making very certain special little dishes, which i later found out were Iraqi specialities. Some dishes stood out for me more than other... such as spicy "Shammi" kebabs, which from what i recall were little patties made with pureed chick peas, lamb mince which was blended together and dotted with tiny pieces of feta cheese, with an overall lethal kick of chilli. So delicious i cant even begin to tell you.
But for me, nothing reminds me more of my Great Aunts house than Iraqi Kibbeh. They are so good, i found myself having to turn to petty crime in order to feed my habit. As a kid, i used to sneak into the kitchen, after my Aunt has just cooked a fresh batch and used to gorge as many as i could stuff into my greedy little mouth, without getting busted by my Aunt! To anger my Aunt was a HUGE mistake! She never raised her voice, but just shot you a look that made you freeze on the spot from fear! So i really didnt want to tick her off by getting caught red-handed skimming Kibbeh off her laboriously accumulated pile. But man oh man, i was never one to be able to resist temptation and Kibbeh to this day is one of my absolute favourite Middle Eastern treats!
Many different countries in the Middle East have their own version of Kibbeh... But essentially they are all rounded little dumplings, almost egg shaped, but each corner ending in a pointy finish. The casings vary as do the stuffings, for example the most common Kibbeh found here will be the Lebanese version which is cracked bulgar wheat, mixed with lamb mince and the inside contains a mixure of more fried lamb mince with parsley and pine nuts, all delicately spiced with cinnamon and other such exotica. These, however, are my least favourite ones to be perfectly honest with them, as they lack the fabulous qualities i so very much adore of the Iraqi "Kibbeh Halab" version.
Crispy, crunchy, perfectly formed golden ocre-coloured little balls of perfection! The outer case made with delicately moulded cooked rice (sometimes tinted with saffron) shaped and then generously stuffed with a simple meaty filling. Pure heaven for yours truly and much lighter than their Lebanese counterparts! Literally every single time i make them, despite them needing to be deep fried at volcanic temperatures... as soon as they come out of the oil, a quick drain on kitchen towel and within seconds i inhale the whole lot as if they were never there. First one, then another, then suddenly the whole pile are gone.... Just like when i was a kid. They are insanely good and i still havent learn the knack of controlling myself.
I will be perfectly honest with you and admit that i am still very scared of attempting to make them, as i have always had a firm belief that some recipes should be left to the experts. However, should you wish to make these, you will need to search high and low for an accurate recipe, because Google has only managed to afford me the recipe of the more commonly known Lebanese bulgar wheat kibbeh... Alternatively you could head to your local Arabic supermarket and ask them if they have Kibbeh Halab (Iraqi rice kibbeh). This is exactly what i do when im craving them. You will find them in the freezer section and they simply need to be deep fried straight from frozen and thats all there is to do, except enjoy them!
To help you in your quest, here are the two places i buy these fabulous little treats from:
Green Valley Market - 36 Upper Berkeley Street, London, W1H 5QF / Tel: 020 7402 7385
~ OR ~
Archie Food Store - 14 Moscow Road, London W2 4BT / Tel: 020 7229 2275