Because kitchen shifts rotate, I'm never quite sure who I"m going to be working with at any given week. This is great since it gives me a chance to a) meet more of the women and b) figure out who I work with best and try and arrange it so they we work together often. One of my favorite cooking partners is A. A. reminds me very much of my aunt. I'm not sure why but it could be because she shares the same wide smile, perfectly manicured hands and air of competence. Or, it could be their shared habit of calling everyone "darling". For this reason alone, I took to her immediately. A. also taught me how to make kubbe, which made me like her even more.
Kubbe, for those who aren't familiar with the dish, are meat-filled semolina dumplings that are traditionally served in a sour, lemony soup. (There is also a type of kubbe that is made with bulgur and fried, but we'll get that a different week). Kubbe is highly popular in Israel, but I had never tried my hand it. I just assumed that you had to be an Iraqi grandmother to make kubbe, otherwise you'd just get it all wrong. So when A. offered to teach me, I jumped at the chance.
Making kubbe is slightly complex, but once you get the hang of it it's not that bad. You first make a filling of sauteed ground beef, garlic and some celery. Set it aside and let it cool. Then make a dough of semolina and water.Wet your hands. Grab a fist-full of dough and roll into an evenly shaped ball between your palms. Holding, the ball in the palm of one hand, press down with two fingers of your other hand, from the center-outwards to create an even, flat circle of dough. Place about a tablespoon of filling in the middle of the circle of dough and cup your hand, pulling the dough up and over the filling. Roll the dumpling between your palms to reshape into an even ball. Wet your hands again and repeat.
Kubbe is gossip food. It's slightly tedious and annoying to do on your own, but when you're sitting with a bunch of friends, talking and laughing and keeping your hands busy, it's a pleasure. The recipe below is not precisely the same one I made with A., but it's near enough. Also, note that the soup the kubbe is cooked in is quite tart. Don't fret. When eaten together the kubbe, the richness of the dough and the meat offsets the tartness quite nicely.
Adapted from, The Book of New Israeli Food, by Janna Gur
The Kubbe Dough:
1 cup coarse bulgur wheat
1 cup fine bulgur wheat
1 cup semolina
1-2 tbl. flour
The Kubbe Filling:
1 3/4 lb beef, ground finely
4-5 stalks celery, finely chopped
3-4 cloves crushed garlic
Salt and pepper
3 tbl oil
5 large onions, diced
2 liters chicken broth
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
The rest of the celery stalk, chopped
1 bunch of Swiss chard, cut into strios
Salt and pepper
1. Prepare the dough: Mix the two types of bulgur and add enough water so that it is covered by at least 1 1/2 inches of water. Let sit for 45 minutes. It should remain covered in water at all times.
2. Squeeze the bulgur and discard the water. Add the salt and semolina and mix thoroughly. Add the flour and knead by hand to form a soft dough.
3. Prepare the filling: Heat oil in a large skillet and fry the meat slowly on a low heat until completely dry. Add the chopped celery, garlic salt and pepper and fry for a 4-5 minutes. Let cool.
4. Prepare the dumplings as described above.
5. Prepare the soup: Heat the oil in a large pot and saute the onions until golden. Add stock and bring to a boil. Add the celery and Swiss chard. Season with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice gradually, reduce the heat and cook for about a half an hour. Add the dumplings and cook for 20 minutes. Let the soup stand for at least an hour, reheat and serve.