Monday, October 08, 2012

Squeezing the Meat

My family is of Lebanese descent. You probably already know this because I have a gigantic unibrow that regenerates within hours of it having been shaved, distinctive to those of Middle Eastern descent.

The fun part of being Lebanese is that, when I was young, my grandma ("Gaga") would always have kibbeh (pronounced "kibbee"), grape leaves and hummus ready for us to eat. Kibbeh is like a Greek/Lebanese meat loaf; grape leaves are leaves from a grape vine wrapped around rice dressing mixed with magic; and hummus is a dip made from chick peas (or Garbanzo beans, if you want to be picky about it).

When I was a kid, I thought that was what everyone ate at their grandparents' house. Little did I know that my childhood was enchanted by delicious foods at every corner!

Betty is an honorary Lebanese: not only is she a Tanory, but she also makes a mean kibbeh and hummus. She learned most of these skillz from my mom.

Knowing that my mom is an expert teacher, when my Aunt Tena was in town from Minnesoooota a few weeks ago, she asked my mom if she could show her how to make kibbeh. I'm usually just the taste tester, but somehow I got roped into learning how to make it, too. So Tena and I decided to race to see who could make the best kibbeh the fastest.

It turned out to be pretty fun. This is me cooking. See how happy I am?

[Picture: I was happy enough just to eat it]

I can't list all the steps to making kibbeh, because my mom bought all the stuff, portioned everything out for us, and told me exactly what to do and when to do it. But Betty took pictures, so I'll give you the highlights.

First thing to know: kibbeh is made with wheat. And wheat, like rice, has to be soaked for a long time. Unlike rice, for kibbeh the wheat then must have the water squeezed out. If you forget to soak your wheat in water, don't worry: the wheat will soak up fluids when it gets into your stomach, at which point the wheat will expand (along with your stomach) and you'll either feel really bloated or your stomach will possibly explode, depending on the amount of kibbeh you've eaten. And if you're eating my kibbeh then you're hoping that I made it right. Good luck with that.

That's why step 1 to making kibbeh is: SQUEEZE THE WHEAT!

Here, I'll show you how:

[Picture: Squeeze the wheat!]

That is me literally scooping up handfuls of wheat that has been soaking in water, and then squeezing the bejeezus out of it. And that's my beautiful Aunt Tena in the background. I kicked her ass in wheat squeezing, by the way.

Step 2 is to then mix the wheat with meat. Your meat should be ground three times. And here's a tip: if you go to the deli and tell them that you want your meat ground three times and they tell you that they already grind their meat three times, you should loudly berate them for being lazy bastards and demand that they go back and grind it two more times. We're not making burger patties here, people. Lafayette has a few places that know what "kibbeh meat" means, because Lafayette is awesome. Facebook my mom for details.

[Picture: Lafayette knows how to squeeze its meat, if you know what I mean]

If squeezing meat between your hands sounds kinky, that's because it is. Adding damp wheat to it doesn't make it any less kinky, either. I think that's why kibbeh became so popular in the first place. Just look at how excited I'm getting while squeezing my meat?

[Picture: Squeeze the meat!]

I could barely keep up with all the squeezing. My hands and forearms started to tire out. But I pulled through at the end, and my meat got squeezed and mixed with wheat properly.

[Picture: Consider the meat squeezed!]

The next thing you do is find a big rectangular pan. I guess it could be any shape of pan, but my mom uses rectangular ones. Don't question my mom, she knows what she's doing. Partition your meat/wheat mixture into halves, and then spread one half thinly across the bottom of the pan. Have it go up the side as well.

Next, my mom scooped some other meat (possibly cooked? who knows) that was mixed with pine nuts and other stuff on top of the pan. She did this for both me and my Aunt Tena, although I tried to bump the spoon from her hand on more than one occasion. I take my cooking competitions seriously!

Next, make another layer of meat on top of what's already in your pan. My mom suggests making thin layers in your hand in small pieces and laying them out across the top of the pan. Here's a pic of mine about halfway through spackling the top of it with meat.

[Picture: Spackled with love! Uh, I mean...]

I'm getting indigestion just writing this. I'm also hungry for kibbeh now.

Once your meat is properly spackled, use a knife to cut diamond shapes across the top. Just start at one corner and cut your way down to the other corner, then repeat as necessary. This is what mine looked like when I was done:

[Picture: Diamonds are a girl's best friend]

The last thing to do, before you put it in the oven, is to melt as much butter as you can find and then pour it all over the kibbeh. Seriously, whatever butter you have in the house is probably not enough. Did I say that kibbeh was made with meat and wheat? It's really more like butter, with meat, wheat and a few pine nuts thrown in for good measure. Here's the final product (before it gets ovenized), and you can see the butter glistening in the background.

[Picture: Buttery kibbeh]

That's how you know this dish is good!

I unfortunately didn't take any pictures of the kibbeh after it came out of the oven. Sorry about that. I was too busy eating it. And even though both I and my Aunt Tena made kibbeh, we only cooked and ate mine that night. My kibbeh was delicious! But I think the fact that my parents kept my Aunt Tena's to themselves and ate it the next day means that they probably liked hers better. Therefore I declare my Aunt Tena the 2012 Annual Tanory Kibbeh Cook-off Winner.

Thanks to my mom for letting me help out with dinner, for getting everything ready for us, and for being such a great teacher. I had a blast! Thanks to Betty for documenting the whole thing. And thanks to Aunt Tena for being such a good sport while I made vulgar jokes about "handling my meat" the entire time we were cooking.

I'll get you next time, when we make grape leaves!

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