Kibbeh Nayeh is the tartare of the Middle East and was something my family always made during large gatherings and celebrations, which in most cases was whenever my family was in town or if we visited ANYONE on my mother’s side of the family. Time we spent together was a moment of celebration, especially when you don’t live in the same country. Even though Mom was raised in Peru, her roots are in Syria. While I do not speak Arabic nor have I ever been to the Middle East, I was raised on a version of these Kibbeh burgers. Mom used to make massive batches of Kibbeh Nayeh which would be served with a couple glugs of GOOD olive oil, radishes, green onions and some sort of pita or crusty bread. All of the cousins and Tias would gather around and help form the football shaped kibbeh and after dinner, we would line back up and help form them into burgers and freeze them. Those same Kibbeh burgers were served every Tuesday night or at any weekend cook out.
Now that I live alone, I find myself calling my mom, relatives and other family friends for recipes that remind me of those moments together. Because I have virtually no storage space for extra kitchen appliances and the fact that all of my great aunts (and mom) eyeball every measurement of this recipe, I’ve resorted to cheating a bit. I don’t own a meat grinder and Kibbeh Nayeh should be ground three times on sterile blades and should use lean beef with no fat or gristle. You generally need to have a pretty good relationship with your local butcher for this as well. Because this recipe will not be consumed raw and will be in burger form, I have decided to take a short cut and skip the meat grinding. I incorporate all of the other elements of Mom’s Kibbeh - finely cracked wheat, mint, parsley, garlic, and cayenne if you like it spicy.
For the Burgers
- 1/ 2 cup fine bulgur wheat (#1)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/ 2 white onion, finely diced
- 1 pound lean ground beef or lamb
- 1/ 2 cup chopped mint
- 1/ 3 cup chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 1/ 2 teaspoon (optional) dried chile or cayenne
- 1 1/ 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- Coarsely cracked black pepper, to taste
- Vegetable oil, for cooking burgers (optional)
For the Burgers
Rinse the bulgur in cold water and drain. Cover with 1 inch of cold water and let soak for ½ hour or until bulgur is softened. Once softened, place bulgur in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out as much water as possible.
In a small skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and onion. Sauté until soft and translucent, then remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
In a large bowl, combine ground beef, soaked bulgur, onions, mint, parsley, cumin, garlic, chile, salt and pepper. Thoroughly combine the ingredients until everything is evenly distributed throughout the beef. Divide the beef mixture into four equal portions (approximately 4 ounces each) and form into patties.
Preheat a grill or a cast iron skillet. If using a cast iron skillet, add a small amount of oil to the pan and cook patties for 3-4 minutes on each side or until your desired doneness. Allow burgers to rest for approximately half of their cooking time.
For the Aioli
In a small bowl, combine mayo, preserved lemon, grated garlic, salt and pepper to taste.
Lightly toast the burger buns in a hot skillet. Spread a generous amount of the aioli on the bottom bun. Add burger, sliced tomato, radishes, season with flaky salt and pepper. Top with lettuce and remaining half of the burger bun.