I often ask about my friends’ family recipes. Sometimes they promise to provide one, or tell a story about long lost, treasured recipes written on cards. But today was special. My friend Anton came with his son Greg, his grandmother’s recipe for Syrian Baked Lamb Kibbeh, and stories galore.
Before we began the kibbeh, Anton opened the cookbook that he uses as a guide, a small spiral-bound volume entitled, Cookin’ Good with Sitta: Traditional Mid-Eastern Recipes. The Our Lady of Perpetual Help Society of St. Ann’s Melkite Catholic Church in West Paterson, NJ created the book. With prayers for before and after meals on the inside cover, it’s a classic old fashioned cookbook by a ladies guild. As Anton leafed through the book, it sparked memories of his family’s food traditions.
Anton is a wonderful storyteller. As we prepared the Syrian Baked Lamb Kibbeh, titled Kibbeh Bisaneeyeh in the cookbook, he talked about his mother and grandmother. His son Greg may have heard the stories before, but he listened attentively too.
I was mesmerized by Anton’s stories, particularly those of his Armenian Orthodox Christian grandmother, from Aleppo, Syria. A refugee from the Armenian genocide, she never let anyone speak ill of Muslims in her presence because she said that they had taken in the refugee Christians and treated them well. I wish she were with us today to spread her message of religious tolerance.
Although Anton said he doesn’t speak Arabic (when I asked), he pronounced Arabic names of dishes with ease and used the guttural sounds I am used to from Hebrew. Anton calls his ancestry Syrian, but he strongly identifies in particular with Aleppo, the city his family is from and a crossroads of cultures and foods of the Middle East and elsewhere.
He also explained that the cookbook uses colloquial, rather than proper names, for some dishes. I found out what he meant when I went looking online for the Arabic name used in the book for the dish, Kibbeh Bissaneeyeh. (The translation provided is “Lamb and Wheat Baked with Stuffing.”) That name retrieves almost no results in Google. But Kibbeh Bil Sanieh does. Thank goodness for Anton’s guidance.
If you don’t know what baked kibbeh is, think of it as Middle Eastern meatloaf. That’s the way Anton described it as he put the casserole together and I’d agree. Comfort food even if you didn’t grow up eating it.
Three Things to Know About Syrian Baked Lamb Kibbeh
After we made the Syrian Baked Lamb Kibbeh, I grabbed a few plates and some Greek yogurt for our tasting. I invited my husband, who had made himself scarce during our cooking adventure. We cleaned our plates in no time flat, and my husband asked for seconds. Needless to say, I see Syrian Baked Lamb Kibbeh in our future next time we long for comfort food.