- I love Middle Eastern food, the variations, colours, flavours and everything else around it. I try to cook a lot of original recipes while I modify others to suit the dietary needs in our house.
Since the Middle Eastern diet involves a lot of dairy in all its shapes and forms, there are certainly things that I miss in that category. Another important ingredient featured heavily in the region's diet is wheat in all its forms; namely flour, semolina, couscous, burghul and freekah (green dried roasted wheat grain).
I have not yet managed to find a substitute for freekah, but I love using millet to replace burghul which works exceptionally good with a great taste and texture. Since I discovered millet and it's health benefits, it became one of my favourite grains in addition to quinoa. I cook it like rice and use it to replace many of the couscous and burghul based dishes such as the Tabbouleh salad and Kibbeh.
Millet is one of the oldest grains, it is tiny yet packed with nutrients and naturally gluten free. This tiny pearly grain is very rich in amino acids, protein, phosphorous, iron and B vitamins. It is easy to digest millet due to its high alkaline contents. Millet is also high in calcium, carbohydrate and fibre in addition to copper, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium.
All these nutrients and low glycaemic index with great taste, what's not to like, even if you are a wheat eater you will surely enjoy Millet.
Kibbeh (traditionally meat with cracked wheat)
Kibbeh is a very popular dish all over the Levantine area of the Middle East and, although originated in Syria, it has been adopted by neighbouring countries for many generations with slight variations. Kibbeh can be prepared and served in a number of ways and usually cooks show off their culinary skills by their ability of perfecting the kibbeh balls that must adorn every self-respecting buffet table and any occasion.
Of all the variations, the kibbeh tray is by far the simplest and easiest to master with just two main ingredients, meat and burghul (cracked wheat, bulgur wheat). To make it gluten and wheat free I use millet and ground rice replacing the burghul as follows:
Millet & Rice Kibbeh
Gluten Free, Wheat Free, Peanut Free, Nut Free, Egg Free, Dairy Free, Soya Free, Sesame Free, Coconut Free
Quantity enough for a 30cm diam. round tray or oven dish of a similar size
Makes about 40 slices.
For the filling:
400g lean Lamb mince
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. allspice
½ tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
2 tbsp. a mix of sunflower and pumpkin seeds (optional)
For the kibbeh shell:
400g lamb mince
250g ground rice (not rice flour)
150g millet grain
1 medium onion
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. allspice
¾ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. cold water (more or less as needed)
Preheat oven to 220˚C
- Place the millet in a sieve and rinse under a running tap then place in a bowl, cover with boiled water and leave to soak for about 25 minutes, while you prepare the filling
- Heat 1 tsp of the oil in a frying pan and gently fry the sunflower and pumpkin seeds until golden. Remove and leave to drain.
- Add the rest of the oil in the pan and cook the chopped onion and crushed garlic on medium heat until transparent (about 5 minutes).
- Add the meat and spices and continue cooking on medium high heat for 15-20 minutes until the meat is evenly browned and cooked.
- Stir in the seeds and leave the stuffing to cool while you prepare the kibbeh shell.
- Peel and quarter the onion, drain the millet and place in the bowl of a food processor with the onion, meat, ground rice and spices. Process on high speed, adding a little of cold water as needed, until the onion is completely minced and everything comes together in a pastry-like ball.
- Tip the kibbeh in a bowl and knead with wet hands, adding few drops of cold water if needed to achieve a smooth pastry like ball and divide in half.
- Brush the oven tray with some of the 2 tbsp. oil and with wet hands spread half of the kibbeh evenly and add the filling on top in an even layer.
- Spread the rest of the kibbeh shell on top of the filling. The easiest way to do so is to take small parts and flatten between the palms of your hands and spread on the tray on top of the filling until all the quantity is finished. Now wet the palm of your hand with cold water and use it to smooth the surface evenly covering all the filling.
- Using a sharp knife, score the kibbeh tray into diamond (baklava) shaped slices, brush with the rest of the oil and cover with tin foil.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes then remove the foil and bake for further 10-15 minutes until nicely browned and the edges of the kibbeh starts to dry and shrink away from the tray.
- Leave to cool slightly before slicing as per pre-cooking scoring and serve hot or cold with lots of salads, yoghurt (if tolerated) and pickles.