Marak Kubbeh Adom, a Taste of Iraqi-Jewish Tradition

Prior to moving to Israel, I had never had Iraqi-Jewish cuisine. But in the brimming aisles of Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market there is an Iraqi-Jewish enclave with tons of restaurants serving traditional fare. Kubbeh (also called kibbe) is one of those dishes. It’s beautiful, it’s addictive, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever had. Sort of a beet and beef-stuffed matzoh ball soup.

These beef-filled semolina dumplings are cooked in a borscht-like beet soup and served piping hot (unlike borscht). Even though this is not a dish I grew up with, the moment I first tasted it in the Iraqi-Jewish section of Jerusalem, I identified it as comfort food.

There are a million recipes for this soup. The sour, tangy soups are given the label hamousta while the so-called sweet stews (really meaning not sour) are called hulou. Within these two categories there are countless variations, which can include okra, eggplant, squash, zucchini, garlic or beets. Marak kubbeh adom, or red kubbeh soup, is a Kurdish specialty that is based on a crimson red broth made from beets and other root vegetables. Syrians also make a similar variation, kibbe, that are fried.

I adapted the kubbeh recipe from an out of print cookbook from 1964 called “The Israeli Cookbook: What’s Cooking in Israel’s Melting Pot” by Molly Lyons Bar-David. I made a number of changes, including the addition of ras al hanout (a lovely North African spice blend that is not at all traditional here but works beautifully) and omitting the pine nuts (which I’ve found to be more common in Syrian preparations). To see this recipe, and to read an article I wrote about the history of kubbeh and kibbe, check it out in The Jew and the Carrot.

This is one of those dishes that every Iraqi or Kurdish mother makes and always has in their freezer. And indeed, it freezes well (see my instructions below). I made plenty to have extra on hand, but feel free to halve the recipe. Also, it looks like there are a lot of steps, but I was thrilled at how easy this was to make. Really, it comes together in just about two hours (I was expecting an all day affair).

Marak Kubbeh Adom
Yield: 10 or so servings

INGREDIENTS
Beet Soup:
Olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 beets, peeled and roughly chopped
4 tablespoons (about 100 grams) tomato puree
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Marak Kubbeh Adom:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon ras al hanout
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground beef
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
4 cups coarse wheat semolina
2 cups water

METHOD
For the Beet Soup:
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and sauté the onions and garlic until onions are translucent. Add the beets and cook for a few minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the paprika and season with salt and pepper, then add the chicken stock (of course it’s best to use homemade here, but just use the best quality you can. I have to admit, I used “chicken soup mix” because that’s what we have here, and it turned out great.). Allow to simmer over medium-low heat, uncovered, for at least an hour.

Just before adding the kubbeh, stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Using an immersion blender, pulse to partially blend the soup (or carefully transfer about 1/3 to a blender). This step is optional and will depend on what texture you like your soup.

For the Marak Kubbeh Adom
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the ras al hanout and toast, stirring, 1 minute. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring and breaking up with a spoon, until meat is cooked through. Remove from the heat and season with black pepper. If there is a lot of grease and fat in the pan then drain. Allow to cool, stir in cilantro, and set aside.

Put the semolina and water in a large bowl and allow to sit for a few minutes until the water is fully absorbed. It should be soft, but not liquidy or sticky. Try to avoid adding additional water or semolina as it could become very sticky; if this happens discard and start over. Just trust me.

Take a small amount of the semolina mixture and form a ball about the size of a ping pong, rolling it between your palms. Be sure your hands are clean and dry. Using your thumb, make a hole in the ball and work your way around the inside to hollow it out slightly. For those of you who have ever taken a ceramics class, it’s similar to making a pinch pot.

Holding the hollowed out ball/cup in the palm of your hand, stuff a small amount of the meat filling into the cavity (you can use a spoon but I just use my hands and wipe it with a towel). Pinch the opening together and smooth over to seal. Roll in the palm of your hands once more and transfer to a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Continue until the filling or dough is used up (I had a little extra filling).

Note: Kubbeh / kibbe may be frozen at this point. Put the baking sheet directly in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the kubbeh to an airtight container. To eat, add the frozen kubbeh directly to the hot soup and cook for a little extra. The soup can be frozen too! But freeze separately.

Add as many kubbeh as will comfortably fit in the pot without crowding (or less) and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Serve in large bowls, giving 2 to 3 kubbeh per person (they’re filling). Enjoy!

This recipe was selected as a food52 Editor’s Pick!

Testing notes from recipe tester thehappycook: “I think I could easily become addicted to this. The beet soup itself was really well flavored and nicely balanced. The lemon juice brightened the soup and made the subtleties of the other ingredients shine. As for the dumplings, yum. I loved the textural combination of the meat and semolina when cooked together with the soup. As kmartinelli suggested, I froze some of the dumplings and heated the soup with the frozen dumplings for an additional ten minutes. Perfection!”

Linked up at the Soup Recipes Link Up over at The Local Cook

 


17 Comments

  1. This is so amazing! You did such an amazing job. I loved it, tasted just like the one we had in Jerusalem.

  2. so you don’t bake the dumplings? they cook in the soup? interesting!

    • Katherine

      Yes! It’s incredible. Next step: developing a vegetarian version for you!

  3. Jonathan Cohen

    Wow, those Kubbehs look delicious! One of my favorite foods. But you can’t eat more than four without being overwhelmed by guilt!
    Also, the photos are lovely.

    • Katherine

      Thanks Jonathan! I can’t eat more than four without being ridiculously stuffed! They’re so good but so filling.

  4. Hi – do you have a recipe for ras-el-hanout?
    Thanks

  5. sarah m

    just made a (somewhat basterdized) version of this- it is amazing! thanks for the recipe!

    • I am so glad to hear that!! Thanks for letting me know how it turned out :-) It’s definitely open to revisions. This reminds me I need to make it again soon :-)

  6. sarah m

    Haha I’m fairly confident your recipe is better without my changes; I used almond meal because I’m avoiding wheat, among other things, and I was too lazy to buy ground beef and make the filling so I skipped that too. So basically your recipe is good enough that it was awesome even though I essentially skipped the best parts :)

  7. Great recipe! I love beets…I have never heard of this recipe before! It’s true, you learn something new everyday.
    I think I would add couple of spoons of temerind to the sauce, it adds a great lemony and tangy sweet taste.

    • Thanks Summer! I love the idea of adding tamarind. There’s also another popular soup base for the kubbeh called “hamousta”, which means sour and includes lots of lemon juice. I love both varieties, especially in the winter time!!

  8. We grew up eating this dish on Friday nights at my grandmother’s house (in Sydney, Australia). But our recipe also has ginger and mint in the soup which really gives it an amazing flavor, and it was a thinner consistency with chunky pieces of beetroot, rather than putting it through a blender. My great aunt would also put a chicken or chicken pieces in there to give the soup extra flavor. When the kubbahs were gone but there was still soup left (which inevitably happened), we would have the soup over some rice. Oh, and the kubbahs we made were MUCH smaller. Happy to see these recipes are being revived.

    • I love how many variations on kubbeh there are! The ginger and mint sounds like a lovely addition, as does chicken. Thanks so much for sharing your family’s tradition!

  9. Thanks for sharing this – great recipe and stunning photos! Just a quick note though… “Marak Kubeh Adom” means “Red Kubeh Soup” in Hebrew. You write “Beet Soup” to refer to the soup/broth and “Marak Kubeh Adom” to refer to the Kubeh dumpling. The dumpling itself is just called “Kubeh” :-)

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