Kibbeh Nayyeh - Gastro Obscura
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Meats & Animal Products

Kibbeh Nayyeh

This raw meat meze from Lebanon is as fresh as it gets.

On holidays in Lebanon, freshly-butchered meat traditionally means one thing: kibbeh nayyeh. Made of finely ground raw meat mixed with bulgar, onions, mint, and spices, then drizzled with olive oil, kibbeh nayyeh is a quintessential festive food.

While there’s a difference of opinion over whether beef, lamb, or goat makes the tastiest, most tender kibbeh nayyeh, cooks agree that the meat needs to be as lean and high quality as possible, without fat or gristle. Traditionally, cooks would pound the fresh meat in a mortar and pestle until it became a fine paste—a method some claim yields the smoothest results—but today’s cooks often use a meat grinder. To prepare the dish, they mix together the bulgar, onions, and spices with the meat paste and other ingredients to taste (some swear by walnuts), then knead the mixture until totally combined. Some cooks add ice cubes to keep the mixture moist and fresh as it’s worked.

The finished paste is served spread on a plate, drizzled with olive oil, garnished with mint, and eaten with pita, onions, radishes, and other vegetables and flatbreads. The dish has a creamy texture and a meaty yet delicate taste, with freshness from the onion and mint.

If you’re interested in making your own kibbeh nayyeh, experienced chefs advise choosing a very high-quality cut of meat from a reputable butcher, and either making sure the butcher grinds the meat with clean blades first thing in the morning, or grinding the meat yourself. Whatever you do, don’t make kibbeh from store-bought ground beef, since it’s possibly cross-contaminated. You can also find kibbeh nayyeh in restaurants across Lebanon, and in Lebanese restaurants abroad.

Need to Know

While Lebanese people have been enjoying kibbeh nayyeh for generations, the United States Department of Agriculture issued a warning advising diners to think twice before consuming raw meat following a 2013 salmonella outbreak associated with the dish. As with all issues of food quality, it’s best to try kibbeh nayyeh at establishments with a good reputation for food safety (and deliciousness) among local lovers of the dish.

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Contributed by
Reina Gattuso Reina Gattuso
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