I’ve been taking a lil’ hiatus from blogging this past month and will continue to do so for the next few months. Why? Well, I’ll explain soon.
In the meantime I hope you’re all having a breezy and local fruit filled Summer.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgic food, what it means when we eat something that’s linked to a cultural experience, a specific place or person.
There’s this study that was conducted more than 10 years ago that I often turn back to. In essence, it tested the nutritive value of nostalgia, of pleasure in food, in eating.
A group of Swedish women and a group of Thai women were given two meals (one, traditionally Swedish, the other traditionally Thai) with the same nutritional content of iron and then tested to see how much iron they’d absorbed from each meal.
This study was conducted when the idea that “a calorie is a calorie” was huge (which I suppose, in some circles, still is), and I imagine that their findings were, at the time, a revelation. The Swedish women absorbed only half the amount of iron from the Thai meal as the Thai women and vice versa.
But it didn’t end there. Both meals were placed in a blender and each group was given a blended version of their traditional meal. Once again, absorption rates were far lower than when they’d eaten the meal as they remembered it and when it was, most likely, beautiful (because can we all just admit that blended is not nearly as beautiful as un-blended [which is why all sorts of berries and bee pollen are added to the tops of smoothie bowls, yeah?]).
This study is still fascinating to me for 2 main reasons.
#1: Nostalgic foods, comfort foods do more than just nourish our weary souls; they increase the absorption of nutrients that nourish us in a very tangible way.
#2. The lattice-crust, the edible wildflower, heck, even the parsley garnish. These little touches that make our meal more beautiful also make our meal more nutritious. Turns out there’s a deeper calling to make our food beautiful than impressing our dinner guests or instagram followers. (That being said, I know this dish isn’t *technically* the most beautiful [it is essentially a meat-pie, after all], but the pine-nuts and sage-leaves and pretty pattern do help).
Which brings me to kibbeh, specifically kibbeh bil sanieh which is essentially meat and pine nuts in a meat and bulgur shell. Kibbeh is an incredibly nostalgic food for me. Growing up with an Iraqi grandmother she always seemed to have a pie plate of it in her fridge, which we often ate cold and with a side of torshi.
I don’t have my grandma’s recipe for kibbeh, sadly, but this version comes pretty close. For those w/o deeper ties to middle eastern culture, perhaps you’ve tried other kinds of kibbeh — football shaped and fried seems to be the most ubiquitous –braise those in tomato sauce and you’ve got a traditional Iraqi preparation, though one I don’t ever remember my grandma making.
I’ve been wanting to recreate her version of kibbeh for a while now, as for me, it’s a perfect Summer food, when you want to reserve turning on your oven on for fruit pies and the like. You can make it at the beginning of the week and you can keep it in the fridge and bring it along on picnics for days after (I’d say at least 3), or you can even freeze half of it for those Summer nights when a dinner-game-plan has fallen by the wayside.
Kibbeh Bil Sanieh
For the baharat (adapted slightly from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem):
Grind everything together in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Store in sealed glass jar.
For the dough:
For the filling: