Vegan Kibbeh with Turkish cranberry beans

I was first introduced to Kibbeh (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kibbeh) at a tiny little restaurant in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago, Bethlehem restaurant, where I worked, briefly, as a waitress, back when I first moved to the city. I think the job lasted three weeks. I wasn’t fired. Nor did I quit. The owner simply disappeared, so that one evening when I showed up for work he simply wasn’t there. Which was fine. I was not a very good waitress. I was constantly convinced I was going to drop food. It made me nervous. And I don’t think I made enough money to cover transportation costs.

Because there were so few customers, I passed the time by talking to the owner. Or, rather, listening. Mostly he spoke of things I didn’t understand. He was Palestinian. I was a completely ignorant 22-year-old who at that time in my life (yes, I am ashamed of this) was wilfully disengaged from the political process and cared little, because I knew nothing, about the middle east. So I didn’t have any concept of what drove this man to drink various airplane sized bottles of alcohol at the end of each night. All I cared about was his food. He cooked delicious, intriguing food, much of which I’d never heard of or tasted.

I was familiar with hummus, of course, and falafel, both of which he made and made well. But kibbeh? Completely new. It reminded me of the aranciata I used to devour during the glorious bit of my life that I spent studying abroad in Florence, Italy. But instead of gooey rice and cheese, a relatively bland comfort food that one could sink into without thought, food as escapism, kibbeh required engagement. Analysis. One could not help but think about the contrasts in taste and texture brought with each bite, unfamiliar and intriguing. Yet, because of the unfamiliarity, I was overwhelmed. Plus, while delicious, the first kibbeh I experienced was more of an appetizer than a dinner. Not something I would ever cook at home. I therefore never asked for the recipe or thought much about how to make it.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when a friend and I were at Semirami’s, my favorite local Lebanese restaurant. (http://www.semiramisrestaurant.com/) We both ordered the special. kibbeh poached in tomato sauce. It was revelatory! And also inspiring. I was planning to cook dinner for a friend’s birthday the following weekend and had been at a loss for what to make. Because we were going to a play beforehand. Which meant the dinner needed to be made ahead. Yet, because I was cooking as part of a gift, I wanted it to be special. This would be perfect! And I was pretty sure I could it with beans.

Since I started this project, dreamsofmyfava, I’ve stockpiled quite a few beans. Some I ordered and others I received aTurkish beanss gifts, from supportive friends. So I had quite an array of choices to consider. None of them seemed quite right, though. Then I remembered–a good friend recently visited Turkey, where, apparently, beans are so popular that entire restaurants are devoted to them. So she brought me a sack of Turkish beans. Which I’m pretty sure are cranberry beans. Which are my favorite. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/01/03/cranberry-beans-with-garlic-sage-and-olive-oil/)While Turkey is not Lebanon, and I didn’t actually find any recipes for Turkish Kibbeh, it felt right. Decision made.

Now that I knew what kind of bean I would use, I faced the fact that in addition to making a version with beans, the challenge for this recipe was that I’ve never even made the traditional, tried and true kibbeh with lamb. And when I looked online, I could not find a single example of poached kibbeh. I therefore had no frame of reference beyond my single meal from Semiramis. But, having made the decision, I was undeterred. And perhaps a little manic. Because during that week I was also trying to write a tricky, long, and painfully fruitless brief at work. In my spare time, I was working on organizing a panel discussion on prison reform. And I was also texting back and forth with a much younger man who had asked me out on a date. Which, for where I’m at right now, was terrifying and exciting on pretty much every possible level. In short, my mind was overflowing with hopes and anxieties and dreams.

Thankfully, there was also yoga. Which enabled me to continue moving forward, non-grasping, through the hopes, past the anxieties, and without investing in any dreams. I focused.

First, I read several recipes. All shared the same ingredients of bulgur, lamb, onion, and pine nuts, flavored with allspice and cinnamon. I finally settled on this one from Epicurious as my template because it was baked, not fried. (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Baked-Kibbeh-107351)

Next, I cooked the beans. Because I wanted them to retain their shape, I brined overnight. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/01/05/brining-beans/) I added spices and olive oil in an effort to create a richer mouth feel and a deeper, more complex flavor.

Beans
1-1/2 c. dried cranberry beans
1/2 t. ground allspice
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
3 T. olive oil
1 thumb-sized piece kombu (for digestion)

Add all of the ingredients to the insert of a crockpot or a medium-sized pot. Cover with 1″ water. If using a crockpot, cook on high for 3 hours, or until done. If cooking on the stove, bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer checking the water level and testing for doneness. They will probably take about 1-1/2 hours. When they’ve done (or a little earlier, when they’ve given up but aren’t yet finished), salt liberally, starting with 1 teaspoon. I believe I used about 1-1/2 teaspoons. Cool in the cooking liquid and refrigerate until ready to use.

Next I started working on the kibbeh, which is a bit of a process.

KIBBEH

Filling
1/2 medium, sweet onion, finely chopped
2 T. olive oil
1 c. cooked beans, drained but not rinsed
1/2 t. ground allspice
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. dried crushed chili pepper
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c. pine nuts, toasted
salt, if necessary

Bulgur mixture
1 c. fine bulgur
1/2 medium, sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1-1/2 or 2 c. cooked beans, drained but not rinsed
1 t. ground allspice
1 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. black pepper

1.  To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over moderate heat. Cook the onion until golden, 8-10 minutes. Add the beans and spices, stirring gently to combine, and cook until heated through. Remove from the heat and stir in the pine nuts. Salt to taste.

2. To make the bulgur mixture, first cover the bulgur with 1 inch of cold water in a bowl. After the dust and chaff rise to the surface, pour off the water. Repeat twice. Then cover the rinsed bulgur with 1″ of cold water and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain in a fine-meshed sieve, pressing down on the bulgur to remove excess liquid, and transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

3. To assemble the kibbeh, I used an ice cream server to scoop about an egg-sized portion of the bulgur mixture into the palm of my hand. I pressed an indentation in the center and added a scant tablespoon of the filling. I then formed the bulgur mixture around the filling. Transfer the filled kibbeh to a lightly oiled plate and repeat until you’ve used up all the filling and bulgur mixture. Refrigerate, uncovered, while you make the tomato sauce.

The tomato sauce at Semirami’s was delicious, unctuous and sweet with definite chunks of tomato and onion. Although I did not identify the spices when I was at the restaurant, from my research I was pretty sure it was flavored with allspice and cinnamon. So that’s what I decided to use. The Semirami’s sauce was also very sweet, almost certainly made with a generous amount of sugar. Since I try not to cook with refined sugar, I decided to use honey.

Tomato Sauce
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 28-oz can whole plum tomatoes, chopped
1 medium, sweet onion, chopped medium
1/4 c. olive oil
1 T. honey
salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet, over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until golden, approximately 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the honey and salt to taste. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

Okay. Here’s where I took a misstep. What I should have done was bake the kibbeh for about 40 minutes at 350. That’s what I did with this one. And it’s what I’ll do next timebaked kibbeh. As you can see, you then have a cohesive little bundle, which is presentable. But, of course, I, being impatient, over confident, and generally overwhelmed, did not take that route.

Instead, I took the carefully formed, uncooked kibbeh from the fridge and nestled them directly into the tomato sauce. The little guy overhead got the special treatment only because he wouldn’t fit into the skillet with his friends. Who, after cooking on the stove for about 10 minutes and then in the oven, covered for another 45 minutes, looked like this. poached kibbehNot pretty. I tried a bite. It was delicious. But I had to transport this dish to my friend’s house. And then serve it for her birthday dinner. By which point it would bear no resemblance to kibbeh. It would be stew. Which might be okay. But I was not going for stew. I wanted kibbeh.

At this point, the person I was until very recently would probably have been freaking out. So I’m very proud to report that I wasn’t at all stressed. It was improv. The original idea didn’t work. The possibility remained, however, for something new. So. Onward.

In an act of bold desperation, laughing, I took out a baking sheet, lined it with parchment paper, and carefully scooped each fragile kibbeh from the sauce to the baking sheet. Then I crossed my fingers and jumped in the shower. 20 minutes later things were smelling good. They weren’t quitcranberry bean kibbeh poached in tomato saucee firm, but something was happening. And, after an additional 25 minutes, I had these. Not the most beautiful dish I’ve ever made. Not what I intended to make. But, hands down, the most delicious food I’ve ever created. Complex flavor, toothsome bite, and deeply satisfying. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to recreate that magic. But I plan to try. Because even if it doesn’t turn out the same as the first time, I can’t imagine that it will be bad. And even if it is bad, I will have fun. Living love. Full of gratitude for the ability to feed myself and people I love. And, through creating delicious, healthy food, manufacturing joy.

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Breakfast at Little Goat Diner followed by an inaugural poem.

This morning I woke up early, too early. I had big plans. A close friend who lives very far away, too far to see often, is in town this week, for work. So we decided to meet for breakfast. Which was super exciting, as it meant we got to check out Stephanie Izard’s newest restaurant, Little Goat Diner (http://littlegoatchicago.com/diner/).

OMG — it was so good! Put on your hat scarf gloves parka and every other warm thing you own (because it is ridiculously cold, even if you didn’t just arrive from Thailand) and go, right now. The space is warm and comfortable, with a bright, friendly vibe. And the food is delicious. I had the Bull’s Eye French Toast, which is described on the menu as follows: “crispy chicken . sweet onion brioche . bbq maple syrup.” Sort’ve like chicken and waffles, right? Yes, but more.

First, there were the gooseberries. At first I wasn’t quite sure what they were, these shriveled rounds of gold strewn atop the toast. I guessed gooseberries, because, well, what else could they be? But, never having had a gooseberry before, I wasn’t certain. And also they tasted pickled. Which was a perfect accompaniment to the savory sweet maple syrup drenched onion bread but kind’ve weird. I had to know for sure. So I asked the waiter.

It turns out that yes, they were indeed gooseberries, but not pickled. Just plain gooseberries, which are waiter likened to a cross between strawberries and tomatoes. Honestly, I didn’t taste any either of these fruits. Just a delightfully sweet vinegary pucker. But perhaps my palate wasn’t at its most sensitive. Because as delicious as it is, this is not subtle food. Which is fine with me.

The second surprise, which the menu does suggest and which I feel a fool not to have anticipated, were the eggs. Yes, the Bull’s Eye. Or Eyes. Because there were two, one cooked into the center of each toast. I discovered the first by accident, when I cut into the toast and saw thick yolk running out of the perfectly cooked white. If you try this dish, make sure to go for the egg straight away. Because while my egg-free bites were very good, the remainder, each a perfect combination (because I’m a bit obsessive that way) of chicken, toast, egg, gooseberry, and syrup, were momentous.

If this was a proper review, I would now describe my companion’s meal. She ordered the “kimchee & bacon & eggs & pancakes asian style breakfast tasty thing.” Unfortunately, however, I can’t tell you anything except that she liked it a lot. I didn’t even taste a bite! I meant to, I swear, but I didn’t think the flavors would be compatible. So I wanted to wait. And then I was too full. But I can tell you that it is the chef’s favorite, at least according to Chicago Magazine (http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/November-2012/Stephanie-Izards-Little-Goat-Is-a-Big-Time-Diner/). I’ll try it next time.

After breakfast, we foolishly walked back to the hotel. Under normal circumstances it would have been pleasant, even fun. It wasn’t far. But today is one of those cruelly cold Chicago winter days, where the clear blue sky and bright sun exist primarily to illuminate the deadly patches of black ice that lurk on sidewalks, waiting to trip the unwary. Full, happy, healthy, we survived the walk without suffering anything worse than reddened noses. Yet we passed more than one person who appeared not to share our good fortune. We talked about homelessness and what will happen tonight to those people who live, whether by bad fortune or choice, outside of society. And then we went on with our days.

The public ceremonies for President Obama’s second inauguration are being held today, this year’s Martin Luther King Day. It’s a big day. Important. Exciting. Full of love and hope and weighty thoughts about the responsibilities we bear for our fellow humans, our planet, our past, our future. Yet none of that was on my mind when I started the day. On my way home, however, while reading everyone’s posts on Facebook about the inauguration, I remembered the inaugural poem.

When I got home, I had missed the live action. So I was able to read the poem first. Then I watched and listened to Richard read before an audience that included the Obama’s and the Biden’s and the members of the Supreme Court and Eric Cantor (who seemed not to be enjoying himself), and untold numbers of others, many of whom seemed as moved as I by these words about humanity and hope and inclusiveness and what it means to be a human being living and working in America. I then read the poem again.

In case you have not yet seen and/or heard it, here’s a link followed by the text. Namaste.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/01/21/169905447/watch-one-today-an-inaugural-poem

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches 2
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling, or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello

shalom, buon giorno

howdy

namaste or buenos días

in the language my mother taught me—in every language

spoken into one wind carrying our lives

without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound 3
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together