Antonio Tahhan leads a Zoom cooking class, teaching fellow Master of Arts in Arab Studies (MAAS) program students at Georgetown to make Aleppan-style fatteh

Recipe Corner: Kbeibat, Middle Eastern Dumplings from Antonio Tahhan

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“Kbeibat dough is usually made with a combination of bulgur and farina/semolina. My aunt Masy soaks, strains, and purées bulgur in a food processor, and then kneads in some farina and water. The filling is made with ground beef, spices (in my family’s case, just some black pepper), onion, and parsley. Some cooks fill their kbeibat with raw meat and some fill theirs with sautéed meat — there are pros and cons of each method, and each result is totally different. The sautéed filling has that seared-meat flavor, which nicely contrasts with the subtle flavor of the boiled dough. On the other hand, the raw filling gently cooks along with the dough, and result in a more satisfying texture. To see an example of semolina kbeibat, made with the raw filling method, check out my friend Tony Tahhan’s kbeibat.

Either way, you can’t go wrong,” says Kathryn Pauline, the food writer, photographer, and recipe developer behind the Saveur award-winning food blog, Cardamom and Tea.

Antonio Tahhan is a Syrian-Venezuelan American food writer, researcher, and blogger who moved to Florida with his family when he was younger. He pursued degrees in Math, Economics, and Spanish Literature at Cornell University. He studied food anthropology and became fascinated by its stories, traditions, and taboos. In 2010, he was awarded a Fulbright Research Grant to go to Syria, where he studied the midday meal in three contexts: at homes, in restaurants, and in the streets. From cooking to eating, food was a natural vehicle for cultural exchange and one that Antonio continues to explore.

“I enjoy making Middle Eastern dumplings called kbeibat, Assyrian-style semolina-bulgur dumplings stuffed with a spiced lamb kofta filling. The first time I made them without my Syrian grandmother, she was there the entire time, over the telephone, walking me through each step,” he says.

Antonio documents recipes and stories from Aleppo and his many travels, bringing people together online and in person around the love of food. During the recent pandemic, he even launched a web series called “Teta Thursdays,” a virtual conversation on food, culture, and identity. Each week, he interviewed food writers and researchers who specialize in the food culture of the Arab world. He was accepted to the Master of Arts in Arab Studies program at Georgetown University where he plans to attend this fall. “The dough for these dumplings is basic: bulgur, semolina and water. My first attempt at making the dough was a complete disaster. According to my grandmother, I over-soaked the bulgur and added more water than I needed.”

Kbeibat: Middle Eastern Dumplings from Antonio Tahhan

The dough starts with the bulgur:

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“You want the water to cover the bulgur by about one inch. After 15-20 minutes, discard any remaining water from the bulgur and mix with the semolina flour to make the dough. There will be little if no water left to drain.”

The meat filling:

“The filling is the same as for kefta kabobs: ground beef, onions, parsley, ground allspice and salt. Since we’re not adding any extra fat and we’re boiling these dumplings, you’ll want to make sure to buy a fairly fatty selection of ground beef.”

The dumpling work flow:

Tip: Use ice-cold water to help keep the dough from sticking to your hands.

Cook dumplings in simmering water. Dumplings cook in 4-6 minutes.

Ingredients:

1 cup bulgur wheat, #1 grind (fine)

1 cup fine semolina flour

Water, for dough

1 lb. 85% ground beef

2 medium onions, grated

1 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

2 teaspoons allspice, ground

Kosher salt, to taste

Preparation:

Rinse and strain bulgur using cold water. Soak bulgur in cold water to cover the surface by a finger or two, no more. Let bulgur sit for at least 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the meat mixture by mixing together the grated onion, parsley, allspice, and salt with the ground beef.

Mix bulgur, semolina, and a little salt (1/2 teaspoon kosher salt) to form the dough. Knead until it comes together. If wet, add a little more semolina. If dry, add more water. Cover dough until ready to use.

Fill a bowl with ice water to keep your hands wet while shaping the dumplings.

Roll a 1-inch wide ball of dough between your hands. Open a hole using your pointer in one hand, while rotating and holding the shape of the ball with your other hand. Once the hole is wide and the dough casing is thin, stuff it with a spoonful of meat mixture and seal by pressing the edge of the hole together. Alternatively, you can follow the easier disk method outlined in the diagram on the blog post (below).

Arrange the dumplings on a large sheet pan lined with parchment paper (or lightly coated with oil) to prevent them from sticking. Bring a medium sized pot of water to a simmer and season with salt (as you would when you’re making pasta). Simmer the dumplings for 6-8 minutes in batches.

Check the raw meat for seasoning by cooking a tiny piece on a skillet. It’s easier to work with and shape the dumplings when your hands are wet. It will help keep the dough from sticking to your fingers.

Yield: Approx. 36 dumplings

For this recipe, go to Antonio’s blog:

http://www.antoniotahhan.com/2010/04/27/middle-eastern-dumplings/

For more recipes, see: https://www.antoniotahhan.com/recipes/

Over 1.58K subscribers have viewed Antonio’s YouTube videos at:

https://www.youtube.com/@antoniotahhan

Connect at:

https://www.facebook.com/antoniotahhan

https://mobile.twitter.com/antoniotahan

https://www.instagram.com/antoniotahhan/?hl=en

https://linktr.ee/antoniotahhan

https://www.antoniotahhan.com/projects/

“One of the most popular social events this semester was a two-part virtual cooking class hosted by first-year MAAS student and food writer Antonio Tahhan. Participants gathered the necessary ingredients in advance and then followed along, cooking at home, while Antonio demonstrated how to make yogurt, rice pudding, and Aleppan-style fatteh. Food was also a gateway to the community Antonio found in the <https://ccas.georgetown.edu/academics/maas/> Master of Arts in Arab Studies program, from which he will graduate this month. An established culinary writer and researcher, he attended a Center for Contemporary Arab Studies symposium on Levantine cuisine at Georgetown and was motivated to apply for the center’s MAAS graduate program. During his time at The Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS), Antonio has continued to explore his passion for the food cultures of the Middle East and is a contributor to the recently published volume Making Levantine Cuisine: Modern Foodways of the Eastern Mediterranean. After graduation, he intends to produce a documentary about the food cultures of the Syrian diaspora, which he hopes will ‘highlight the ways Syrians are more than just vulnerable communities that we often see portrayed in the media.’”

See: https://ccas.georgetown.edu/2021/03/02/the-pandemic-and-our-community/

Also:

https://cardamomandtea.com/289/kbeibat/

https://www.tasteofbeirut.com/kurdish-kibbeh-kuttelk/

https://www.facebook.com/SalpysInternationalKitchen/posts/kbeibat-my-style-assyrian-dumplingsoriginal-recipe-by-salpys-international-kitch/973302009488576/

https://issuu.com/georgetownsfs/docs/winter-spring_2022_ccas_newsmagazine/s/15752594

References:

  1.  “The Syrian Hospitality Waltz,” by Antonio Tahhan, 2010-2011, Syria, December 6, 2011 at: https://blog.fulbrightonline.org/the-syrian-hospitality-waltz-by-antonio-tahan-2010-2011-syria/
  2.  “Antonio Tahhan (MAAS’22) Draws on SFS Education to Launch Documentary Project Exploring Syrian Diaspora Experience Through Food,” May 9, 2022 at: https://sfs.georgetown.edu/antonio-tahhan-maas22-draws-on-sfs-education-to-launch-documentary-project-exploring-syrian-diaspora-experience-through-food/

Note: Antonio learned to make “Swar El Sit” while on a Fulbright Student Program in Syria in 2010-2011. Swar El Sit is a traditional Aleppan pastry made from phyllo dough that has been rolled in the form of a bracelet. The small bracelets are baked, sprinkled with simple syrup, and filled with finely chopped Aleppan pistachios. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXHCcIMFEvA

*Special thanks to Robyn and Doug Kalajian at https://thearmeniankitchen.com for their assistance with this story. See: https://thearmeniankitchen.com/antonio-tahhan/

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