This make-at-home version of the Lebanese classic raw meat dish kibbeh, which has been adopted enthusiastically by Brazilians, is easy to make and a fun appetizer or first course for dinner guests - with the proviso that your guests must be somewhat adventuresome eaters. You might even want to ask ahead of time what people think of the idea of eating raw beef or lamb, so that you don't make a large dish of raw kibbeh only to discover that none of your guests will touch it.
It's interesting to note the cultural bias involved in the eating of raw animal protein, and how it changes over time, sometimes very slowly, sometimes quite rapidly. As an example think of raw-fish sushi or sashimi. Twenty-five years ago these Japanese foods could only be found in Japan itself and in restaurants catering to Japanese immigrant colonies in other places around the world. For many North Americans, in particular, even the idea of eating raw fish brought on a gag reaction. But sushi caught on in the Americas and Europe, and although these are still some holdouts, most people think nothing of eating a plate of nigiri sushi, or tuna belly sashimi. Even kids love sushi these days, whether those kids are Japanese, Canadian, Italian or Brazilian.
In some culinary cultures there's always been a place for raw meat. Ethopian cuisine offers many dishes which include raw beef. And the French have been eating steak tartare for a long time - almost as long as those Tartars from whom the dish is named. In the Levant, and around the Middle East, kibbeh cru has an honored place at the meze table. There still is a significant sector of the population which cannot abide the idea of consuming uncooked beef or lamb. Ironically, many of these people love super-rare steaks in which the center of the cut is barely warm - but at least it's not raw!
A dinner party isn't a place to educate one's guests' palates - or to encourage them to eat something they find unappealing. Save the kibbeh cru for your friends or family members who like to stretch their comfort zones when it comes to eating. Let the rest eat their kibbeh cooked.
Note: If you want to grind your own meat for kibbeh cru, follow the instructions in the recipe. If you want to buy it it's best to ask your butcher to grind it fresh from a single piece of meat without visible fat. Don't use packaged ground meat. And ask your butcher to grind it two or even three times. You want very finely ground meat when you make kibbeh cru.
RECIPE - Raw Kibbeh (Kibbeh Cru)
Serve 10 as a appetizer or first course
2 pounds fresh beef trimmed of all visible fat (or prepurchased ground beef - see above)
1 lb (500 gr) bulgar wheat (sold as trigo para kibe in Brazil)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 bunch fresh mint, leaves only and stems removed
1 small bunch Italian parsley
juice of 1 lime
3 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 - 1 clove garlic, finely minced, to taste
extr-virgin olive oil
If grinding your own beef, cut the meat into 1 in (2 cm cubes). You can use either a manual meat grinder, in which case you'll want to grind the meat on the finest blade 2 or 3 times. If you use a food processor, grind extra-fine but do not let the meat be ground to a paste.
In a large mixing bowl combine the bulgar wheat with at least 2 quarts (2 liters) cold water. Reserve to let the wheat soften.
Meanwhile, in another large bowl combine the meat, onions, mint, parsley, lime juice, and garlic if using. Mix together completely with a wooden spoons or, better, with your hands. Reserve in the refrigerator.
When the bulgar wheat is softened (usually about 30 minutes - test by sampling), drain it in a colander or sieve. Place the drained wheat on a clean dish towel and squeeze it dry in the towel.
Add the bulgar and the softened butter to the meat mixture and again mix together thoroughly. Mound the completed kibbeh decoratively on a large platter, scoring the top in a geometric pattern. Decorate with mint leaves, drizzle olive oil over and serve immediately, or reserve for up to one hour in the refrigerator. Accompany with fresh pita bread.