A fragrant meat "pie" made of a lamb and bulgur top and bottom encasing a layer of lamb,onion, pinenuts, and allspice. Comfort food from the Middle East.
In a large bowl, soak the bulgur in the tomato sauce and water for about 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. If a bit of water remains, drain it out.
After the bulgur is done soaking, add the lamb, grated onions, and salt to the bowl. Knead the mixture with your hands for several minutes as if it were bread, until all of the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Anton told me that kneading is essential because it breaks down the protein in the meat. He said he learned that from Paula Wolfert, a master of Middle Eastern cooking as well as a prolific cookbook author on Middle Eastern food. Refrigerate the mixture while you make the stuffing. Cool Kibbeh Nayeh is easier to handle and work into thin layers for the top and bottom of this dish.
In a non-stick pan, or one with just the slightest bit of oil to keep the meat from sticking, sauté the ground lamb on low-medium heat, breaking it up so that it cooks in tiny pieces. (This step reminds me of making ground beef for chili.) After about 8-10 minutes, when the meat is completely cooked/browned, add the chopped onion, pine nuts, ground allspice and salt.
Stir the ingredients together and cook the mixture another 8-10 minutes. Set the mixture aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Retrieve the Kibbeh Nayeh from the refrigerator and divide it in half. Wet your hands and cover the bottom and sides of a 9" x 11" pan with one half of the raw lamb mixture. Pat it down gently so that it becomes a thin layer that entirely covers the pan.
Once the entire pan is covered with the raw lamb mixture, add the cooked lamb mixture on top. Then pan the remaining half of the raw lamb mixture into thin patties and place them on top of the cooked lamb, encasing it between the raw lamb layers. The photo shows the process mid-way through covering the cooked lamb with the top layer of raw meat.
When the cooked lamb is completely covered, wash your hands well and smooth out the top gently. Then cut diamond shapes all the way through the Kibbeh by making diagonal cuts with a large knife, then cutting diagonals in the other direction to make diamonds. (The pieces at the edge are not exactly diamonds.) Dot each diamond with a bit or two of butter.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top and sides are well browned. Check periodically during baking and pour off any fat that comes to the surface and dispose of it. (I poured the fat into the discarded tomato sauce can refrigerated it until it solidified and then threw it away.) At the end of baking, in order to make the top crispier, broil for 1-2 minutes. If using a glass pan, be especially careful not to put the pan too close to the broiler and don't broil if you can't keep the glass pan a safe distance from the heat/flame.
Let the Kibbeh rest for 2-3 minutes before cutting it. Serve with Greek-style yogurt.
For an explanation of what bulgur is and the grades it comes in, from extra fine to coarse, see What is the Difference Between Bulgur and Couscous.
Do not be concerned if the Kibbeh shrinks away from one or more sides of the casserole as it bakes.