A few things first.
1. Pronunciation: “Muh-rock Koo-beh Ah-dome” = Red kubbeh soup. Kind of a mouth full, so let’s just call it “kubbeh.”
2. Kibbe/kubbeh/kubbi/kubba: sort of a “tuh-may-toe v. tuh-maw-toe” deal here = dough balls (made from semolina or bulgar) stuffed with ground beef (vegetarian suggestion below). Apparently there are over 17 kinds throughout the Middle East.
Best place to get it in Jerusalem? Befriend a Kurdish person, or go to Ima kubbeh bar in the Machaneh Yehuda market. Can’t make it to Jerusalem? Last I heard, Ima restaurant opened in New Jersey. Dying NOT to go to New Jersey? You can follow this recipe.
For the last year or so, my good friend Tamar has been blogging about being a “half breed,” (she is half Kurdish and half Ashkenazy/American) on her website halfbreedhaven.com. For some of us, having a dual identity ain’t no thang. We tattoo it on our arms, we write college admissions essays about it, and think it makes us unique or special in some way. I, for one, always wait for a wave of shock to pass over the face of a person whom I have just told I am half Persian to. They look for arm hair, they stare at my nose, and they almost can’t help themselves but say, “but you’re…so white!” And I just smile and feel grateful that I don’t have to wax my back hair.
It wasn’t until I moved to Israel that I learned from friends like Tamar that for many Israelis with Middle Eastern and North African roots, the places they “come from” are often a huge source of shame.
BUT, when it comes to food, ain’t no one gonna’ brag harder than a little Kurdish boy about his mama’s kubbeh. His mama’s kubbeh is better than your mama’s kubbeh, better than your mama’s mama’s kubbeh, and if your mama’s mama’s mama wasn’t Kurdish, you bes’ believe they are better than hers too! Indeed, food seems to be one aspect of “life in the old country” that no Jewish community dared to leave behind on the trek to Israel.
So, kubbeh soup, what is it? Think: your first sourdough baguette after the Atkins diet. Think: making it through “camel” pose in hot yoga without barfing. Think: a warm chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven while the chips are still soft and kinda burny on your tongue in the best kind of way. Kubbeh soup is satisfaction, repose, and, despite feeling thankful for my fair-skinned, hairless, Russian/Polish roots, it is an INFINITELY better version of matzo ball soup.
Like ice cream, Kubbeh soup comes in a couple different colors and flavors: Hamoutsa (lip-smackingly sour, tangy and practically inedible, in my opinion), Metaphonia (sweet, lemony and tomato-based) and then the beet-based version of Metaphonia. Sadly, no Kurdish grandmother taught me how to make this, but it is pretty darn close to the real deal. And, in case you were feeling like a smarty pants, the irony is not wasted on me that this post is about preserving traditional food recipes though I am taking liberties with the recipe. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it!
Makes about 12 servings
What you need (*You can use any veggies you want. Common ones are: zucchini, celery, carrots, and beets)
2 cups beets; peeled and coarsely chopped
2 small sweet potatoes; peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cups of carrots; chopped at varying lengths
three handfuls of kale; chopped (you can use spinach or any other green)
1 medium onion; diced
4 heaping tblsp tomato paste (almost one small can)
8 cups vegetable/chicken stock
1 cup water
1 tsp garlic; minced
juice of 3 lemons (if you have lemon salt, you can use this too or in replace of the lemons, but start slow)
salt & pepper (quite a bit, but taste as you go)
For the kubbeh:
4 cups semolina
2 cups water
1 cup fresh parsley; finely chopped
1 small onion; finely chopped
1 tsp garlic; minced
1 lb ground beef (you can use whatever meat you love) *if you want to make this VEGETARIAN, blitz anything vegetarian that you like together: celery, mushrooms, almonds, tofu and use that instead*
1 tsp baharat spice mix
salt & pepper
How to do it:
Just to start: this soup gets better as the days go by, like most soups. So be happy if you have some left overs.
In a large pot, heat up a few tblsp of olive oil. Toss in the onions, and after a few minutes, add the garlic and cook until the onions are translucent. Add the beets, carrots, sweet potatoes (whatever veggies you want, really) and saute together for a few minutes. Then add the tomato paste, stir it all together and add the stock and water. Simmer on medium for an hour uncovered. When you’re about to enjoy the soup, add the lemon and/or lemon salt and season with salt & pepper to taste.
While it’s simmering away, over medium heat, toast the baharat spice with a tblsp or two of oil until you smell its fragrance. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the meat, parsley, salt and pepper and cook until the meat is done, breaking it up with a knife or fork as it cooks.
In a small bowl, combine the semolina and water and let it sit until the semolina soaks up all the water. It should not be crazy sticky but it should NOT be wet. If it is, add a little more semolina. Once the water is absorbed, make ping pong sized balls by rolling it between your hands.
Flatten the ball in your hand, make a slight cavity in the center, and place as much meat as will fit in the cavity so that you can still pinch up the edges and roll it back into a ball.
Place the balls into the soup, as many as will fit without crowding, and cook for another 30 minutes. The balls will soak up all the flavor and get bigger. *Tip: try to reeeeally flatten that dough out. You don’t want heavy kubbeh balls because it’s incredibly filling even when they’re light.