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simple, plant-based food with fresh ingredients, vegetables and heaps of grains

Levantine Kibbeh – bulgur wheat and lamb torpedoes in yoghurt sauce

The news revolving around Syria for the last number of years has been grim and shows no sign of stopping. Living in Erbil, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, we have come to know many people who have been affected by these events. Almost all of them have lost something: their house; their career; their education; and, for far too many, their family members killed by the conflict.

But Syria has so much to offer in the form of its rich culture and outstanding food. In fact one of the bi-products of the conflict is the multitude of amazing Syrian restaurants opening up in the neighbouring countries, owing to the displacement.

Over time, we got to know Rami and his family, originally from Damascus, who fled to Erbil following the outbreak of war. His mother, Um Rami, taught us about what life was like growing up as a girl in her home country “In Syria every girl needs to learn how to cook before she gets married.” She learned it from watching her mum cooking, and her mum from her grandmother, and so on. Um Rami didn’t have a daughter so I guess she was passing her Kibbeh recipe on to us!

Kibbeh is a dish enjoyed across the Middle East and North Africa Region. However, its origins are uncertain. It is said that during WWII, the British soldiers referred to the dish as “Syrian torpedoes.” Following the turbulent events of the 19th and 20th centuries, Arab immigrants also introduced the dish to the American continent.

Kibbeh is a collective effort: time-consuming, labour-intensive, and requiring many hands. We were told that this social aspect, combined with the slow process provided a good opportunity to exchange gossip, and that many potential marriages had been discussed by the matriarchs of respective families, over a bowl of kibbeh dough.

In late 2016, Rami and his family were accepted on a refugee resettlement programme to Australia. Before they left, we organized a social kibbeh-making/gossip afternoon with a group of friends to learn Um Rami’s tricks and to raise some money to help the family settle in to their new home. The photos and recipe contained in this post are from that day.

Yields 12 servings

Levantine Kibbeh - bulgar wheat and lamb torpedoes in Yoghurt sauce

2 hr, 30 Prep Time

1 hrCook Time

3 hr, 30 Total Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1 kg extra fine or fine bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • 0.5 kg minced beef
  • 1 l water
  • Spices : ½ tsp chili flakes; 1 tsp hot chili powder; ½ tsp black pepper; 1 tsp salt
  • Meat Dough
  • 1 kg minced beef (don’t be afraid of fat. Check note beneath)
  • 180 g onions, finely chopped
  • 200 g walnuts, chopped
  • Spices: 2 tsp chili flakes, 2tsp black pepper, 3 tsp salt (flat), ½ tsp hot chili powder, 2 tsp cumin
  • 1,5 l sunflower oil for frying
  • Yogurt sauce
  • 2 l yogurt (4,6% fat)
  • 1 l water
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 chicken stock cubes (yes. We use them)
  • 1 espresso cup short grain rice, soaked for half an hour in 1 glass of water
  • 1 tsp powdered mint


  1. In a large pan, heat olive oil and add finely chopped onion. Sauté the onion for about 5 minutes (it should be translucent) and add the ground beef. Once the beef is browned, season with salt and the remaining spices. Add chopped walnuts and continue cooking until tender, 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and put aside.
  2. Meat dough:
  3. In a large bowl, cover the bulgur with 1 litre of water. Let it sit for 30 minutes.
  4. Afterwards grind the softened bulgur in a mincing machine. Add the spices and ground beef. Mix through and mince again to a smooth paste. You can also use food processor.
  5. To form the torpedoes, with your wet hands and shape the meat-bulgur dough into egg-sized shapes. Using index finger, poke a hole in the center of each ball, rotate the dough in your palm to shape the ball into a thin-walled oval (just check the videos below). Fill the hole with 1 tablespoon of the filling and then using your palm again gather the edges together to seal, shaping it into the aforementioned “torpedo”. Wet your hands from time to time to prevent sticking.
  6. In a large saucepan, heat enough oil to cover the kibbeh. Fry kibbeh in batches until dark-browned, 4-5 minutes over medium heat. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer it to a plate lined with paper towels, to soak the excess grease.
  7. Yogurt sauce
  8. Mix yogurt, water, eggs and bring to the boil while stirring (stir continuously to prevent it from scrambling).
  9. Once boiling, add the soaked rice with remaining water and boil for additional 15 minutes.
  10. To serve, place the fried kibbeh along the base of a serving dish, cover with yoghurt sauce and finally sprinkle some mint to garnish.
  11. Serve hot or at room temperature.


Useful hints:

What meat do I chose? After discussing, we agreed it’s the best to choose meat from animal’s back. Ask your butcher to keep some fat so that your meat is not dry. (I don’t believe that this remark comes from a former vegan).

Don’t use kibbah that opened during frying as all stuffing will “leak out” to your yogurt sauce. Simply put it aside.



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