Sunday 13 March 2011

Labnehse roots!

Aunty (tia) Judith and grandma (vovó) Odete making kibbeh  
photo: family album

My fridge drawer has 2 cauliflowers sitting there waiting for me to do something with them. It is not Dean’s and Nina’s favourite vegetable, but because I take part in an organic vegetable box scheme from Nina’s school I ended up getting it twice this week. The inspiration to turn them into a dish they’ll like came from an old family photo taken in my grandmother’s kitchen.

My grandparents on my father’s side came to Brazil from Lebanon at the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century.  My grandmother Odete was an amazing cook and her kibbeh (Lebanese dish made of bulgur wheat) were legendary amongst family and friends. I never came across a kibbeh as good as that in my life! My mum’s comes second, as she learnt it from grandma. Unfortunately, I never quite mastered it. My grandparents owned a hotel in my hometown and we lived in the penthouse. I grew up behind the scenes, hanging around the hotel’s kitchen - helping the cooks with the preparation of the food or simply fiddling with the equipment (making fresh orange juice or slicing pieces of roast beef).

Although my grandmother had a very good team in the kitchen, she used to cook some of the dishes herself (and when they were preparing a banquet her sisters would come over to give a hand). She used to supervise everything, from ingredients to the final plate (basically, what we call these days a chef). Those were formative years in my life as a cook.

As a College student in Rio de Janeiro, I turned my attention to other things. Cooking, then, was chuck-all-in-a-pot-and-make-whatever. There is a quote from Oscar Wilde that I love and says it all: “Youth is wasted on the young”. It was only when I became pregnant that my desire to learn more about nutritious and traditional cooking became stronger.

Both my grandmothers instilled in me their passion for food. As a tribute to them, especially to grandma Odete today, I am making a vegetarian oven baked kibbeh with one of those cauliflowers (well, she would’ve preferred it with lamb), filled with labneh. I got the idea of using cauliflower instead of lamb meat from the book Saboreando Mudancas, by Brazilian chef Flavia Quaresma and nutritionist Jane Corona.

Ingredients for the kibbeh base
Ingredients for the topping
Making Labneh. Put the yogurt inside
the strainer over a bowl
When the labneh is ready you can also make small balls
and keep inside a jar with olive oil
add the bulgur wheat to the cauliflower mixture and mix well

Kibbeh ready to be baked

Topping mixture ready to go on top of baked kibbeh

My vegetarian kibbeh!

Baked kibbeh with labneh filling

If your family is not very keen on cauliflower, this is a great way to use (or disguise) this vegetable in a meal. It is an excellent source of dietary fibre. You can also use pumpkin, butternut squash or potato for different variations. 

If you are using labneh, start its preparation the day before.


120g Bulgur wheat
170ml water (I used half the whey liquid and completed with water)
1 small steamed cauliflower (approx 300g)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic
10g parsley
10g mint
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the Labneh* filling

1 pot of 450g organic goat’s yoghurt (you can use cow's or sheeps yoghurt too)
¾ tsp fine sea salt

* If you don't fancy making it yourself, you can find labneh in major Lebanese shops. I love visiting The Green Valley Supermarket on 36-37 Upper Berkley Street, London W1H 7PG. Tel 020 7402 7385. 

For the topping
Olive oil or ghee
3 onions, sliced
50g pine nuts
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of allspice
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


For the kibbeh base

Wash the bulgur wheat and in a small bowl, soak it in the water for 2 hours.
Chop the steamed cauliflower and mix it with onion, garlic, parsley and mint and blend in a food processor. Drain the bulgur well, use your hands to squeeze it and add to the cauliflower mixture and mix well . Season to taste, but bear in mind that labneh can be a bit salty, so be cautious!

For the Labneh

Mix yogurt and salt well. Place it in a strainer and tie it like a pouch with a piece of string. Hang it in a cool environment for 12-24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the whey** (I used half the whey liquid to soak the bulgur wheat as it improves digestibility).

** Greek doctors considered Whey as “healing water.” It contains probiotic organisms that helps maintain a good balance of the digestive system encouraging repair of gut dysbiosis. Whey contains potassium and other minerals and vitamins. Whey allows protein to become more available for muscle repair and muscle building, that’s why is a great choice for athletes, specially after workouts.
You can drink it straight or mix it in your juices, tea, soups or smoothies, freeze it into ice cubes and add them into your smoothies, add some of whey liquid in the water you are soaking legumes (beans, lentils etc) or cooking grains to improve digestibility.

You can use it for fermentation of foods : cabbage, courgettes, apples, chutney, carrots, ginger etc. Check these books for more information and recipes on Whey:
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.
For the topping

Fry the onions in the oil or ghee until golden, stirring often. Add the pine nuts and stir until lightly coloured. Season and add the spices. Stir for 2 minutes.

The final step

Preheat the oven to 190ºC. 
With your hand, press half the kibbeh mixture into the bottom of a lighlty oiled small shallow baking dish. Spread the labneh and cover it with the rest of the kibbeh mixture. Bake it for about 30 minutes or until browned.

Serve the kibbeh with the topping – on its own or with some green leaves.

The main ingredients and their functional properties

Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea) belongs to the Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, turnip, kale and brussel sprouts). It has components called indoles that protect against breast and colon cancer; and sulphur, which has antiviral and antibiotic characteristics. It stimulates the liver. Contains vitamin C, folate and potassium.

Bulgur wheat (Triticum aestivum) is made from wheat berries that are boiled, dried and cracked. Wheat is sometimes considered an ideal food for human growth and development. It is good for treating night-sweats and diarrhea, moistens dry mouth and reduces thirst. When the flour is rancid from oxidation it can provoke allergic reactions. Ideally, wheat flour or even cracked wheat should be used soon after grinding, otherwise try and keep them in an airtight container, in a cool place or even refrigerated. Some people are only allergic to the processed flour but can eat pre-soaked and cooked berries, sprouted wheat or wheat germ. If eating wheat in any form causes any kind of indigestion, it is best to avoid it. Contains B vitamins and is a good source of dietary fibre.

Labneh (made from goat’s yogurt) is very helpful in cases of stomach ulcers. It is high in protein, natural fats and calcium. It is a natural source of probiotic activity (live friendly bacteria) that maintains a good digestive system, enriching the intestinal flora.
Sally Fallon explains how live bacteria work: “These friendly creatures and their by-products keep pathogens at bay, guard against infectious illness, and aid in the fullest possible digestion of all food we consume. Perhaps this is why so many traditional societies value fermented milk products for their health promoting properties and insist on giving them to the sick, the aged and nursing mothers”.

Till next week!



  1. The cauliflower khibbeh is a great idea. Will definitely try that. As for drinking whey... no, thanks.

  2. Marogosita,
    Voltei no tempo com a foto e o seu texto. Maravilhoso!!! Me arrepiei...daih vem seu dom e sua relacao com a comida. Tambem me deu agua na boca imaginar como devia ser delicioso o kibe da sua avo, sem falar no seu. Aqui faco um receheado com abobora... Saudades. Bjs. Bia

  3. Helena, thank you! Drinking whey neat is not my "cup of tea" too. That's why I mix the liquid in my smoothies or add it to my cooking.

    Biasita querida, obrigada!!!! Recordar eh sempre viver, ne! E qdo vejo fotos do passado, as lembrancas veem a galope. To me inspirando...Adoro kibe com abobora tambem. Um beijo grande

  4. Olá, Margot! Como eu amo a culinária libanesa! Tem gostinho a infância! Este tabuleiro de Kibe me isso, hoje eu fiz uma pequena viagem para comprar os ingredientes que não tenho na minha vila. Já estou com a despensa fornecida! Vou experimentar o kibe com vegetais, asubstituir a carne. Parece-me uma brilhante ideia! Beijinhos!!!!

  5. Fiz este quibe! Que idéia genial fazer quibe com couve-flor.
    Estou sempre a procura de receitas vegetarianas e estes quibes ficaram uma delicia! A única diferença é que eu fritei em vez de assar. Tirei fotos. Vou colocar no meu Facebook.
    Já que você nos presenteou com esta receita de família, deixa eu te contar sobre uma outra receita. Meu pai e seu tio Zuzu eram muito amigos. Papai sempre chegava em casa com “semente” de coalhada feita por seu tio Zuzu. Todos lá em casa adorávamos esta coalhada. Meu pai, quando veio me visitar, trouxe de Cachoeiro até aqui em minha casa, em San Diego, a semente da coalhada. Por um bom tempo eu fiz multiplicar esta “semente”.
    Estou adorando acompanhar o seu blog culinário!!!


  6. Sorry...I didn't mean to post my previous comment as anonymous.

  7. Gildinha querida, adorei a historia do seu Gildo carregando as "sementes" de coalhada pra voce. Essas "sementes", tenho ca pra mim, nao eram Kefir grains? Quando se proliferam parecem uma couve-flor. Esses graos conteem "living bacteria" (o que eh uma maravilha pra flora intestinal), vitaminas A, B12, calcium, magnesium entre outros minerais. E ajudam no processo de fermentacao do leite. O tio Zuzu era um cozinheiro de primeira mao, a coalhada e o Labneh que ele fazia eram famosos. Bons tempos! Quero ver a foto do seu quibe! Um beijo grande


© Margot's Kitchen | All rights reserved.
Blog Layout Created by pipdig