If I had to pick one recipe to make with my eyes closed, it would without a doubt, be the recipe for my beloved Pumpkin Kibbeh. Aside from the fact that it is one of my personal favourites, I genuinely couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve made it if my life depended on it.
Allow me to explain. Although any mention of it is surprisingly absent from this blog, during the summer and Ramadan of 2013, I decided to bite the bullet and launch a humble home-based vegan catering business under the name of Arab Vegan Kitchen. It was extremely challenging (especially given that I was only in my second year of post-graduation full-time work at the time) but also incredibly rewarding. Having only ever cooked food for friends and family, I was unbelievably excited at the prospect of being to put my creations out there for others to savour. In all honesty, I didn’t expect to receive many orders. After all, I was still new and how many people in Bahrain would really want to have home-cooked, “healthified” vegan food for iftar?
Well, apparently – a lot. From day one I was getting anywhere from two to six orders a day. So daunting was the demand that I often had to relegate orders to the next day and enlist the help of my mother more than a handful of times.Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me. For 30-days I cooked my heart out, meticulously designed labels and packaging, and hand-delivered the majority of the orders that came in. Of all the dishes I had on offer – the pumpkin kibbeh was by far the most popular, with a few regular customers ordering it several times throughout the month.
Later that same year I participated as the cafe stall for Al Riwaq Art Space’s Market 338 (known now as “The Nest”), and once again the Pumpkin Kibbeh was a clear winner.
As with any recipe that has been tried and tested countless times, there have undoubtedly been modifications made along the way. So today, I give you the treasured recipe for the new and improved, but still outstanding, Pumpkin Kibbeh 2.0.
- 1.5 cup steamed and pureed pumpkin OR butternut squash
- 2 cups fine brown bulgur
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp cumin powder
- ½ tbsp ground coriander
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 flax egg (1 tbsp ground flaxseed + 2-3 tbsp of warm water, mixed until gelled)
- 1 cup frozen and defrosted (or 2-3 cups of tightly packed fresh) spinach
- 1 can (drained) or 1.5 cups of cooked chickpeas
- ¼ cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp of sumac
- pinch of nutmeg
- 1-2 tbsp olive or canola oil
- Start by steaming the pumpkin and pureeing in a food processor. You could also use canned pre-pureed pumpkin in a pinch.
- Cook the bulgur as directed on the package and season with salt– it shouldn’t take too long as bulgur is already parboiled so keep a steady eye on it and make sure it doesn’t go mushy.
- Combine the pumpkin, bulgur, spices, flax egg and olive oil in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. You should have a mixture that can be easily moulded and is not too crumbly. If it’s too “wet” add in a little more bulgur or even some breadcrumbs would do the trick. Place the mixture in the fridge to cool down and firm up if needed.
- Pre-heat your oven to 350 F/180 C.
- For the stuffing, sauté the onions and garlic on medium heat in some olive or canola oil for 5-8 minutes until softened. Add in the chopped tomato followed by the spinach and stir through along with the sumac, nutmeg, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chickpeas (along with a little reserve water or vegetable stock if you feel the mixture getting dry – although this shouldn’t be the case if you’re using frozen spinach as it will release its own water) and allow to simmer on low heat.
- In a separate pan, toast the walnuts for a few minutes, stirring frequently, then add to the rest of the spinach mixture. Simmer on a low heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed before turning off the heat.
- Now it’s time to assemble. Take a heaping tablespoonful or so of the bulgur mixture and flatten in your palm. Place a heaped teaspoon of the spinach and chickpea mixture in the middle and squish it inward lightly (you don't want to break the outer layer). Using the rest of the bulgur "dough" form a closed oval-shaped ball around the kibbeh and gently pat to secure. Repeat until the bulgur mixture is used up.
- Grease a baking tray with some olive oil and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown, flipping once in between to ensure even baking.
While the original recipe is far easier to assemble – I must say I personally prefer eating kibbeh in “appetiser” form. There’s just something about biting into the perfectly baked bulgur crust to meet a wonderful medley of spiced spinach, chickpeas and toasted walnuts.
Have I mentioned it goes great with a tahini dipping sauce?
Recipe notes, as always:
- You can definitely substitute butternut squash or even canned pumpkin in a pinch, if you need to.
- Shaping the little kibbeh nuggets into perfect ovals with pinched pointed edges is an acquired skill that admittedly takes a lot long time to master. When I’m making this in a hurry I stick with easy rounded oval shapes instead.
- If you have excess filling, don’t worry. It freezes just fine and is also delicious on its own or on top of some rice or quinoa. I often make extra filling for that purpose alone!
- The kibbeh itself also freezes wonderfully, so this is the perfect dish to whip up in advance for an easy weeknight meal or snack.
Oh, and another thing about this Pumpkin Kibbeh?
It kind of changed my life in ways I never thought possible. But that’s another story, for another time.
Until next time, friends!