Along with their work ethic and business acumen, another thing that Lebanese immigrants carried with them when they immigrated to Brazil in great numbers in the first half of the twentieth-century was their culinary memories of their homeland. Lebanese immigrants settled primarily in Brazil's populous southeast, and it's in the big cities of that region, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and especially São Paulo, that one finds the greatest gastronomic influence of Middle Eastern foods on Brazilian cuisine. But the foods of the Levant have now moved beyond these metropolises and can be found everywhere in Brazil these days.
This is particularly true of the snack foods and appetizers known in Arabic as meze. A series of small dishes of food, similar to Spanish tapas, meze are served in bars and restaurants for lunch or a light dinner, with or without drinks, but almost always with plenty of pita bread for picking up dips and soaking up juices. The classic meze dishes of Beirut or Tripoli have become classic bar treats everywhere in Brazil.
A while back, Flavors of Brazil featured the most well-known of these meze, a ball of ground meat (lamb or beef) and bulgar wheat, stuffed with spiced ground meat. It's called kibbe, kibbeh or quibe depending on how you want to transliterate the Arabic word ن كبة ية. Kibbeh can be found in botecos and bars in Brazil, at lunch counters and stand-up juice bars, in fancy Lebanese restaurants, and at the beach where they are sold by ambulant vendors.
There is a second type of kibbeh served in Brazil that's quite different from the ubiquitous deep-fried meatball kibbeh. It's called kibbeh cru, meaning raw kibbeh in English, and it's a Lebanese take on the classic French dish steak tartare. In Brazil you are likely to find this version only in more upmarket Lebanese and Middle Eastern restaurants and it's not found at juice bars or at the beach. Considering that the primary ingredient in kibbeh cru is raw ground meat, that's probably a good thing in term of food safety!
Kibbeh cru is basically a mixture of finely ground meat (lamb or beef) mixed with bulgar wheat, spiced and seasoned with mint, drizzled with olive oil then served with pita bread. Diners spread a small amount of the mixture on a piece of pita before popping it into their mouth. It's usually served family-style, and one plate of kibbeh cru serves the whole table.
This dish is surprisingly mild in taste, with the flavor of the seasoning ingredients, normally including onions and fresh mint, predominant. Before serving, the plate of kibbeh cru is drizzled with olive oil or with a garlic/tahini sauce, and these also add character to the flavor.
Because kibbeh cru is made from raw meat it's important that one only eats it in establishments where one trusts quality and hygiene standards. Since almost all Brazilian cattle and sheep are grass-fed, or at least are not fed animal protein, some of the risks of eating raw meat in other countries are absent or reduced in Brazil.
The next post here on the blog will highlight a recipe for homemade kibbeh cru. If your next dinner party includes adventuresome eaters, serve them kibbeh cru Brazilian-style. Those that partake are likely to thank you for your efforts.