Sunday, April 12, 2009

butternut squash kibbeh with spiced feta

Kibbeh (or kibbe or kubbeh) is notorious shapeshifter (much like its name). Levantine cuisine includes over a hundred variations of these dumpling-like creations: fried, steamed, baked, boiled—even raw. The only constant is finely ground bulgur wheat, which serves as a binder for the meat or vegetable in question, the same way that flour/egg/cornstarch would otherwise.

Here the bulgur is steamed with butternut squash, doused in brown butter, and baked in tiny round molds. The result is something of a monolith in miniature, the soft grain yielding to a steaming center of spiced feta cheese. Think arancini, but more delicate.
We ended up making these in two sizes—one, in espresso cups (which we served as hors d'oeuvres on the accompanying espresso plates)—the other in cappuccino cups. Aesthetically, I preferred the former, but I suspect the results would be delicious even if you used a sand castle mold. (Wait, that's genius?) And the softball-sized versions made for very tasty leftovers the next night.

Butternut Squash Kibbeh With Spiced Feta
Adapted from "Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean," by Ana Sortun

Serves 8

3 pounds butternut squash
Salt and ground black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely c
1 large green pepper, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons baharat
1 1/2 cups fine bulgur
1/2 pound feta (preferably French), drained and crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground sumac
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo chilies
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and bake, flesh side down, on a cookie sheet until tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly, scrape out the flesh, then purée in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Simmer the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until nut brown, about 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and sauté the onion and pepper until tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Stir in the paprika and 1 teaspoon of baharat, followed by 2 cups of the squash. Bring to a simmer. Stir in the bulgur and remove from the heat. Cover tightly for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in the brown butter.

4. Stir together the feta, the remaining baharat, sumac, chilies and parsley, making the mixture as creamy as possible. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Fill eight 1/2-cup ramekins each with a scant 1/2 cup of the bulgur mixture. With your fingers, compress the bulgur to form a large well in the center of each (the bulgur will creep up the sides). Fill each well with 2 heaping teaspoons of feta and use the displaced bulgur to seal in the cheese. Set the ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake until hot, about 15 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the inside of the ramekins, unmold the kibbeh and serve immediately.


  1. These look spectacular, stroop. I am going to make them for Dan for the next dinner party I have. What type of feta did you use? (i.e., milkd french veta, vs. stronger variety)

  2. M picked up some French goat milk feta from Murray's...