About six weeks ago, the Cook's Corner received a bit of fan mail from Bowling Green resident Patty Nusbaum.
|Patty Nusbaum with her baked kibbe. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
She sent an email asking for helping finding a previously-printed recipe.
"I love the Cook's Corner," she added. "It is my favorite feature in the Sentinel! I have remarked to so many people that no matter what the feature is, you manage to make the recipe sound so appealing that I want to make it right away. I am not what I would consider an intuitive cook, nor do I cook much at all day to day, but the few things I do spend time on in the kitchen I have perfected to at least my family's satisfaction."
Nusbaum enthusiastically went on to list some of her favorites, noting that the two most popular are for her buffalo dip and her no-spinach artichoke dip. "I take the recipes with me when I take those dishes (to a potluck or similar event) because it never fails that I will have to email a half dozen people with it after I leave."
She added that she's also had much success with her recipes for baked kibbe, a Middle Eastern dish made with ground beef or lamb; as well as her peanut butter balls and her fresh apple cake.
All five recipes sounded phenomenal, and it was clear we had another Cook's Corner in the making. But which recipe to feature?
Both buffalo dip and artichoke dip have already been featured in the past.
But the kibbe was intriguingly exotic and not something done before.
Nusbaum says she first acquired the recipe from her Syrian mother-in-law, Julia Nusbaum, "who was the best cook I ever met. She could whip up a feast in a half hour from a pantry that looked like it contained a whole lot of nothing.
"As a young woman she was a cook in her family restaurant called Sam's Place in Blakeselee, Ohio." That restaurant was started by her own father, Sam, who emigrated to the U.S. from Syria at age 14. Sam's Place "is still in business and (now) run by my husband's cousins."
If you ever visit the restaurant, "go hungry, is all I can say," Nusbaum warned.
She likes to use ground chuck in her kibbe. "I've never cooked it with lamb because my mother-in-law never did, but you could."
The other core ingredients in kibbe are burghal, also called bulgar wheat, and pine nuts.
"Burghal comes from Bulgaria and is known as man's oldest wheat product," said Nusbaum. "It can be purchased at a Mediterranean bakery. I go to the Tiger Bakery in Toledo to get mine."
Burghal found favor as a way to "spread the recipe out more" and make the dish economical. "So you can use more or less" of the ingredient. Personally, Nusbaum likes more.
Burghal comes in different, numbered degrees of coarseness.
"At the bakery, they told me to go with No. 1," the least-coarse version.
Correct handling of burghal is a secret to good kibbe, a secret which Julia Nusbaum didn't always choose to let others in on.
"When my brother-in-law Greg married, my sister-in-law kept making (kibbe) and it didn't turn out very well."
It wasn't until five years later that mother-in-law Julia said to her daughter-in-law, "You married my son and you've given me grandchildren, so I'm going to tell you: You need to soak the burghal in water before you cook it."
The family joke "is that she told me the secret to kibbe right off the bat," says Patty Nusbaum with a smile. "But I brought children into the marriage, so she knew I was good for it."
Nusbaum and her husband have a 14-year-old son together, and he loves his mother's kibbe.
"He loves most of the Mediterranean dishes" that Nusbaum's mother-in-law taught her to make, including grape leaves and a little meat pie called Sveha.
Whenever Nusbaum bakes kibbe, she deliberately cooks a large pan-full "because I like to freeze some and have leftovers. It can easily be downsized to a regular 9-by-13 pan, or even smaller. I don't want anyone to be scared off by the thought of having to use 4 or 5 pounds of meat."
Mint is "huge" in Mediterranean culture, so Nusbaum likes to slip mint into her kibbe.
The best thing about this kibbe recipe is how simple it is to make.
"One hundred percent of the other kibbe recipes I've looked at" - probably 50 recipes - "were more difficult," because of a more time-consuming middle layer. Julia Nusbaum, a busy farm wife with six children, "wanted to slap that dinner out" so she streamlined the preparation steps.
Nusbaum herself was not raised in the Mediterranean tradition. "My mother was Irish and my father was German. They were business people. So there would be either TV dinners or something flambe' on the table, nothing in between."
She grew up in Grosse Point, Mich., and attended Bowling Green State University.
She and her husband lived in Holland, Ohio, for nearly three decades before deciding it was getting too busy and traffic-filled.
"Remembering how much I loved it here, on a lark we changed our plans and bought a house in BG seven years ago."
They appreciate "the ease of going to movies and to dinner," especially at her favorites, Pagliai's and El Zarape.
4-5 lbs* Ground Chuck, Sirloin or Lamb
3 or 4 cups* Burghal
2 tbsp. Lemon Juice
1 cup Snowbra (Pine Nuts) - can use less or more depending on preference
1/4 to 1/2 cup Ground Allspice
Salt and Pepper to taste (approx. 1 tsp. each)
Additional spices as desired (cinnamon, cumin, parsley, oregano, mint, etc.)
3 tbsp. or so Olive Oil
Place dry burghal in large bowl and cover with water. Drain, cover with water again and let soak 20 minutes.
Drain burghal and add spices.
Add meat and lemon juice and mix well with your hands, like a meatloaf.
Spray pan with Pam and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Make half the meat into patties and press flat into pan.
Press patties together to make bottom layer of meat, wetting hands often with COLD water.
Add layer of snowbra.
Add top layer of meat and smooth over, again using liberal amounts of water with your hands.
With wet knife, cut diagonally both directions, wetting knife frequently.
Smooth olive oil across the top with your hands or a brush.
Bake about 35-40 minutes until brown on top and cooked throughout.
Can broil a few minutes for more browned top layer.
Leftovers are great reheated or frozen.
For Family-size dish: Use the smaller amounts of meat and burghal and 9-by-13 casserole dish.
For extra large meal: Use the larger amounts of meat and burghal and 11-by-15-by-3 roasting dish.