by Phillip Juma
This can’t be an Iraqi food column without talking about kubba, or kibbe, as it is known. Kubba is a national treasure of Iraq. The best way to describe it is a lamb (or beef) croquette, meatball, or dumpling. It takes on various textures, cooking techniques and ingredients (usually bulgur, rice or potato) – all as good as each other. This particular dish, Kubba Hamuth, is one that is very close to my heart. The outer shell of the kubba is made up of ground rice and minced beef, while the inside is a fatty lamb mince, which has been blended with onions and spices. This is then added to a thick tomato sauce with turnips and is served piping hot. I like to add mint-herb oil for freshness and turnip crisps to play with the textures.
All kubba dishes are very labour-intensive and quite ‘fiddly’ as each kubba is hand-made, so please be patient - it is well worth it in the end. Better still, you can freeze these little delights for a cold, wintery day and I guarantee you will be feeling warm and loved after you finish eating them.
Traditionally, our family would serve this dish on special occasions – in a buffet setting alongside many other dishes at the dinner table. An extra large bowl would hold 200+ kubba pieces in a rich tomato sauce and we would come up and help ourselves. My version is slightly different – more refined and more suitable for a sit-down dinner party. As featured on the JUMA pop-up menu throughout this year, I served this dish as part of a tasting menu, which is the recipe I would like to share with you today. I hope you enjoy it!
- 1/2 pound minced beef (remove all fat)
- 11/3 cups ground rice
- 2/3 pound minced lamb (slightly fatty)
- 4 white onions
- JUMA spice baharat (mixed blend of coriander, cinnamon, cumin, and allspice)
- 4 cups lamb stock (#boilyourbones)
- 6 turnips
- Tomato Passata (or crushed tomatoes)
- Tomato puree
- Sunflower oil for deep frying
- Bunch of fresh mint
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white pepper
- Seasoning (salt & pepper)
- 3 garlic cloves
- Microherbs (basil or coriander) to garnish
- 1 cup of water
- Juice of 1 lemon
- For the outer shell of the dumpling; take a large mixing bowl, and mix the beef mince, ground rice & white pepper with a wooden spoon. You are going to blend it all later, so you just want the flavours combined for now.
- In a food processor, blend the mix for a few minutes, in small batches. You need to add a few splashes of water while it’s blending as you are looking for a thick, glue-like consistency. The water is very important. Place the blended mix in a separate bowl.
- Once all combined, wash the food processor and move onto the filling; add one onion, blend until very fine. Then add the lamb mince, seasoning, JUMA spice, and blend again so all the flavours combine. Place lamb filling mix in a separate bowl.
- Now take the rice/beef dough, the lamb filling bowl and a small bowl of water and find a comfortable chair as this may take some time. With wet hands, take a small ball of the dough (slightly smaller than a golf ball) and flatten the dough in your hands to form a round disc.
- Next, take the lamb mince and place a small piece in the centre of the disc and begin folding the edges in, to encase the lamb mince filling. This can be quite fiddly, but the dough mix should be quite forgiving. Any cracks should be easily rectified with wet hands.
- Once all the dumplings are done. Freeze them on a tray. They should not be touching each when they go into the freezer.
- Begin making the sauce. Peel and chop 4 turnips into small cubes (ideally, half the size of the kubba). Chop the onions and garlic and begin frying in some olive oil in large pot. After 5 minutes add the tomato passata, puree, lamb stock and turnips. Season generously and let that simmer for at least 30 minutes.
- After that time, bring to a vigorous boil and add the frozen kubba. Be careful not to drop them in from too high up as the bubbling sauce might splash on you. Stir once in. You will notice the sauce settling as the cold kubba has just entered. Don’t worry keep the heat high and stir every five minutes making sure no kubba are catching on the bottom of the pan. Cover the pot for 15-20 minutes.
- With the remaining 2 turnips, peel them and slice them on a mandolin. In fresh oil, fry them until golden brown and crisp. Drain, and season with table salt immediately.
- Once the kubba has cooked, season the sauce generously and finish with the lemon juice.
- Before serving, blitz up the fresh mint with some olive oil to make a mint oil. This is to drizzle on at the end.
- To serve, place the kubba on a plate with the turnips. Drizzle over the mint oil. Garnish with a turnip crisp and micro basil.
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