An aubergine-stuffed Lebanese-style treat with a crisp bulgur coating from Arabica
Image: James Critchlow
For Israeli-born Yotam Ottolenghi, kibbeh is a “a dish for life”. “Whichever Lebanese cook first dreamed it up is a genius,” claims British chef Allegra McEvedy. Greg Malouf is of Lebanese heritage, and the national dish—a raw salmon version with a soft herb salad—takes pride of place in his last meal.
“The aubergine is my favourite: aubergine, pomegranate molasses and pine nuts,” lists Maajid longingly, from behind the stall at Arabica. There are other flavours—wild, earthy mushrooms, sharp onion and smooth spinach—but the aubergine, for Maajid, is king.
It’s king for us as well. Not for nothing did a Turkish imam famously faint away at the mere taste of it. Dark, smooth and smokily suggestive, it is the perfect foil for a bright, jolly pomegranate that’s been reduced to sweet, sticky paste.
Elegant pop of pine nuts
It needs crunch of course—the elegant pop of pine nuts is no match for this unctuous combination of aubergine and pomegranate—but that’s where the cracked bulgur wheat casing comes in, deep fried and spiced up with a dazzling array of aromatics.
“We make the shape”—a plump, cushiony missile—“by hand,” says Maajid “then we stuff it with filling and close it before frying.” They must literally stuff it, we think as we bite into it, for even a modest mouthful leaves a landslide of pine-nutty pomegranate-flecked aubergine cascading into our mouths.
Not that we’re complaining. This is a feast of a Friday feeling, conjuring up Arabian Nights-style decadence without you even leaving your desk—though getting away is advisable. Not only will it spare your keyboard of wheat crumbs and molasses, it will enable you to pair with the obligatory tahini sauce.