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During Ramadan just after sunset hungry clients enter the restaurants in swarms and one can hardly find a place. Two hours later though one can have these places all for oneself – and also the exhausted staff: Restaurant «Al-Khwali» on Maazanet al_Shahim in the Old City of Damascus.


Stuffed Bulgur Lamb Dumplings

Kibbeh (or kebbeh) can be found throughout the Near East – but the true masters of these meat dumplings reside in Damascus. A speechless but hungry Hektor Maille discovered this for himself when he sat down for a meal in the Syrian capital. The kibbeh he was served there, were 1001 nights rolled into a single dumpling – it seemed to him that each magnificent and succulent bready little ball was filled with not just minced meat but with all the longings, as it were, of a culinary fantasy of the Orient. Of course, we cannot compete with the kibbeh-competence of the kitchens of Damascus – but we can provide a recipe that can, in our opinion, lead to a reasonably satisfactory result.

Ingredients for 8 persons

400 g bulgur (if possible a finely crushed type of)

3 teaspoons all spice

2 teaspoons marjoram, dried

1 stick cinnamon (about 6 g)

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 heaped teaspoon salt

2 onions, roughly chopped

400 g lamb meat without bones (best ist a piece from the gigot oder shoulder) – ask your butcher to pass it two times trough one of these wonderful chilled meat-grinders


For the Filling:

2 x 1 tablespoon olive oil

40 g pine nuts

1 teaspoon all spice

1 smaller piece of cinnamon (2g)

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

onion, finely chopped

200 g mincemeat from beef (or again from lamb)

2 tablespoons raisins

1 teaspoon sumach


Other Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons rape seed oil

Preparation of the Dough

Kibbeh dough in Damascus is, in principle, spiced dough made of bulgur wheat, minced lamb and onions. There are various stony ways in which to knead these ingredients into dough (more).

  1. Soak bulgur wheat for 20 minutes in adequate water (about 1 litre). Change the water frequently depending on the type of bulgur used. Strain and press well with your hand.
  2. Grind pimento (allspice), marjoram, cinnamon, pepper and salt into a spice-powder in a coffee-grinder.
  3. Mix bulgur, spice mixture, onions and minced meat together in a dish.
  4. Put mixture into a meat grinder and give it two swirls. Then put it back into the dish and knead well with your hand. At the end, there should be a homogenous, pinkish-brown paste in which the bulgur can still be visible in a granular form. Add more salt according to your taste. If possible keep the meat paste aside in a cool place for a couple of hours before further use.

Preparation of the Filling

  1. Fry pine kernels in a tablespoon of hot oil, stirring them constantly in the pan. Remove pan from fire just before the kernels turn golden brown (the kernels cook further because of the high temperature of the oil).
  2. Pulverise pimento (allspice), cinnamon, pepper and salt in a coffee grinder.
  3. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan and fry the onions. Add minced meat and fry, making sure to free any lumps with a wooden spoon.
  4. When the meat takes on a light colour, add the raisins and spices and fry until the meat turns deep brown.
  5. Add pine kernels and sumach and mix.

Preparation of Kibbeh

1. Make a ball the size of an ice-cream scoop with lightly moistened fingers.

2. Make a deep hole in the ball with one finger.

3. Stuff some filling in the hole.

4. Close the opening of the hole carefully and smoothen with a drop of water.

5. The kibbeh can have the form of a scoop, an egg, a torpedo…

6. Heat olive oil and rapeseed oil in a frying pan and fry the kibbeh until it is evenly brown on all sides.

(Pictures Othmar Jäggi)

7. Kibbeh can be served with salad such as tabouleh and moutabal or with hummus or yoghurt sauce.


  • Instead of pine-nut kernels, you can use walnuts in the filling, perhaps with a touch of honey – the faint sweetness is a wonderful touch.
  • If the preparation of balls seems too difficult (although it is not), one can prepare the kibbeh in the oven (more).
  • The prepared (but not yet cooked) kibbeh can be deep-frozen without difficulty. But one should first allow the kibbeh balls to freeze separately on a plate by placing them at a tiny distance from each other on it, before putting them together into a pouch or a container.
  • In a oriental kitchen one would probably deep fry these kibbeh – but without appropriate equipment this can turn out nastily.
Still hungry? Othmar Jäggi at HOIO's menu-test for Episode 12 of «Mission Kaki», August 5, 2010 in Zurich.

More about the travel adventure of Secret Agent Hektor Maille:

Even if he is speechless while he journeys through Syria, Hektor Maille is not devoid of appetite. Here are three delicacies that the secret agent savours in the wonderful restaurants of Damascus – after sunset, naturally, because it is the holy time of Ramadan:

First Publication: 12-8-2010

Modifications: 26-1-2011, 20-6-2011, 15-11-2011, 18-12-2011