Immigration from the Levantine Region to Brazil began in the late 19th century. The Ottoman Empire had collapsed, resulting in uncertain political and economic futures for the citizens of Lebanon and Syria. Between 1885 and 1933, over 130,000 Lebanese immigrants arrived in Brazil through the Port of Santos.
Today, over 7 million Brazilians claim Lebanese descent. This number is greater than the population of Lebanon itself, so it is no surprise that Lebanese culture is quite prevalent in many parts of Brazil. This is particularly true of Lebanese cuisine, which can be found readily in almost every city. Favorite Brazilian Lebanese dishes include hummus, tabbouleh, sfiha, and sweet halwas drizzled with honey.
Another favorite Lebanese dish in Brazil is kibbeh. Traditional kibbeh are a kind of croquette made by pounding a mixture of lamb, spices, fresh mint, and onions. The mixture is rolled together into a football shape and stuffed into a shell made from a blend of bulgur wheat and more minced lamb and spices.
Kibbeh in Brazil
Brazilian kibbeh are similar to the traditional Lebanese croquettes, but the meat of choice is typically beef instead of lamb. There is also a raw version known as kibbeh cru. This is often compared to a French steak tartare, but the presence of those Levantine spices make it quite unique.
Brazilian kibbeh may also be stuffed with various fillings, including requeijao (Brazilian cream cheese).
What is Bulgur?
The bulgur used to form the shell of the kibbeh is made from cracked whole kernels of wheat (usually durum wheat) that are then par boiled. This precooking method means that bulgur can be prepared much faster than other versions.
Bulgur is a very popular whole grain in the Middle East, where it has been used in various recipes for thousands of years. Tabbouleh salad, for example, incorporates bulgur wheat, tomatoes, onions, fresh mint, and a tangy lemon dressing.
What Is a Good Bulgur Substitute?
If you do not have or do not want to use bulgur, many recipes use wheat couscous instead. Plain white rice, farro, or barley can also be used.
Gluten free bulgur substitutes include quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, and millet.
For kibbeh, the grain most similar in flavor is barley. However, barley will take much longer to cook, since it has not been parboiled. For a gluten-free substitute for kibbeh, we recommend millet. Again, you may need to adjust the cooking time to ensure it is tender.
Do I Have to Use Mince Meat in Brazilian Kibbeh?
No, you can use a vegan alternative, like chickpeas, to form your shell and filling. You may need to experiment with the quantities to form a good binding, or you can just try this delicious recipe with chickpeas, dates, walnuts, and red onions.
What is Kibbeh Spice Made Out Of?
Kibbehs are spiced with a special blend known as kamouneh. This is a mixture unique to the Levantine region of the Middle East and lends an earthy flavor to any recipe. It centers around cumin (kamouneh), which is enhanced with various dried herbs and berries.
If you cannot find pre-made kamouneh or kibbeh spice, try the following recipe:
Homemade Kamouneh for Brazilian Kibbeh
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground marjoram
1 tsp dried mint
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp allspice
2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cayenne (or more for additional heat)
Brazilian Kibbeh Recipe
For the shell
2.5 cups bulgur wheat (fine ground)
1 pound lean ground beef
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon kamouneh spice
Pinch of salt
For the Filling
1 pound lean ground beef
½ yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon kamouneh spice
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
Extra virgin olive oil
Vegetable oil for frying
Watch the video for a method to stuff and re-seal your kibbeh shells:
- Soak your bulgur in cold water for fifteen minutes, then strain.
- Add the bulgur, 1 pound of lean ground beef, the roughly chopped onion, and one tablespoon kamouneh to a food processor*. Pulse until a thick, smooth paste forms.
- Place the paste in the refrigerator.
- Cook the filling. Heat a skillet on medium heat and add in a drizzle of olive oil. Add in your diced onions and cook until softened and translucent (2-3 minutes).
- Now add in your beef and one tablespoon of kibbeh spice. Cook until evenly browned.
- Just before the meat is done, add in the garlic and cook until it is fragrant and the meat has finished browning. Be careful not to burn the garlic!
- Allow your filling to cool for ten minutes or so.
- Retrieve your kibbeh dough from the fridge.
- Next to the kibbeh bowl, have your filling and a small bowl of water nearby. You will need to continually wet your hands to avoid the dough becoming too sticky.
- Wet your hands in the water and scoop about two tablespoons of the shell dough out. Roll the dough into an oval shape.
- Press a hollow in the middle of your dough ball with your hands or the back of a spoon.
- Put a small amount of filling in the hollow you have made. Seal the dough back around the meat filling and roll again to make it smooth.
- Continue this process until you have used up all your dough and filling.
- Freeze the raw kibbeh for thirty minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium high with enough oil to submerge the kibbeh (a deep fry). If you have a heat thermometer, heat the oil to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
- Retrieve your frozen kibbeh and fry them in batches until they are golden brown. Let them strain on paper towels and serve immediately with tzatziki, a drizzle of tahini, or greek yogurt thinned with a little lemon juice and olive oil.
*If you do not have a food processor, you can achieve a similar effect with a blender. Or, if you want to go the traditional route, you can use a large mortar and pestle to beat the bulgur and meat together until they make a fine paste. In Lebanon, this mortar and pestle is known as a jeren. Jeren are made from solid rock and can weigh over 100 pounds!
More Recipes Like This:
- Brazilian Beignets With Cinnamon Sugar (Bolhinos de Chuva)
- Easy Yuca Fries (Aipim Frito)
- Pão de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)