Ramadan recipe: Fateem's kibbe shines, even in a Syrian IDP camp

She's been displaced for five years with her husband and 14 children, but Fateem still manages to prepare delicious food for her family.

A slotted spook lifts out a scoop of kibbes from the hot oil
Fateem lifts sizzling kibbes out of hot oil [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]
Fateem lifts sizzling kibbes out of hot oil [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

For Ramadan, Fork the System brings you stories of family, connection, and the dishes that made the month special for our guest chefs.

For the past five years, Fateem Khaled Errahmoon and her large family have lived in a camp for displaced people near Maarat Misrin, a small city in northwestern Syria's Idlib province.

They fled here after being forced from their home in Tah, a town in southern Idlib, during Syria's long-running war.

With their finances tight, the family is still living in a weather-beaten tent.

But Fateem, a 45-year-old mother of 14, is no stranger to hard work. She is constantly moving around their living space, making sure things are as shipshape as possible.

She misses life in Tah, which she remembers fondly as a time when she and her husband were younger, living with relatives and surrounded by their love.

Every meal was a big family dinner back then, she recalls, and Ramadan was an especially important time for everyone to come together.

Today's iftar, the meal at sunset when Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan, will be no different.

Fateem's hands crimp the edges of a sambousik with a fork
Fateem has no tables, counters, appliances or even a stove to cook on [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

"I went grocery shopping and bought minced meat, onions, bulgur wheat and flour so I could make kibbe, sambousak and shish barak - dishes loved by every member of my family," she says with a broad smile.

"Back home in Tah, those three were a staple of our home-cooked Ramadan feasts," she says as she bustles around, preparing to cook.

There are no tables in Fateem's cooking space, nor are there counters, mixers, vent hoods or even a stove. Everything is prepared on the floor, using the limited utensils and platters she has.

To cook, she has a wood-burning stove fashioned out of an old barrel. She feeds it with kindling and wood gathered around the camp. And to judge whether a pot is hot enough to cook in, she uses her experienced eye and a steady hand held above it.

Today, we've decided to make kibbe

Dishes that used to be made weekly are now made once during Ramadan because the family cannot afford some ingredients.

Overhead view of the food laid out on a tablecloth on the floor
A simple yet delicious meal laid out on a tablecloth, ready for iftar [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]
A simple yet delicious meal laid out on a tablecloth, ready for iftar [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Fateem was 18 the first time she cooked kibbe, sambousak and shish barak, she says. A new bride, she and her husband lived with her parents-in-law, but her own parents were not far away in their small town.

"You know, I was famous all over our town for how tasty my kibbe is. I've got that special touch, I guess," Fateem says as she gathers her ingredients and sends one of her children scurrying out to look for a round tray she needs.

At Tah, she says, she used to make the three dishes "five or six times" every Ramadan.

"But after our displacement, we were no longer able to make them because meat was so expensive, and it's the main ingredient of all these dishes.

"Today I'm making them because my kids are craving [them]. ... It’s been more than a year since they last had them."

Fateem smiling at the camera warmly, in her pink headscarf
Fateem says she is well known in her hometown for making the tastiest kibbe. A taste test proved her right [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Her mind goes back to the day she learned how to make kibbe, sambousak and shish barak.

"I remember, I was cooking with my mother-in-law and my mother in one of the village kitchens. They were singing this old folk song. It went something like, 'The sun has set as the dark of night grows. The thread of love broke, and the heart cries out its woes.' I still remember it.

"Making these dishes was always a chance for the family to come together, and every time I make them, I feel nostalgic for when we used to get together in Tah."

Her mother and mother-in-law passed away nearly eight years ago. To honour their memory, Fateem says she has decided to make a lot of kibbe, sambousak and shish barak and give some of it to her neighbours.

And with that, off she goes. She says she is sure that once the call to prayer has sounded and everyone tastes her food, there will be no doubters that her kibbe is, indeed, superior.

Kibbe

As the chilly day warmed up and the sun came out, Fateem and her family set up a production line to shape, stuff and crimp.

Fateem carries on her head a big tray with the kibbes on it to take outside to fry
Fateem takes the prepared kibbes outside to fry [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]
Fateem takes the prepared kibbes outside to fry [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Ingredients

Shell

  • 10kg (22lb) bulgur
  • 4 tablespoons dried Aleppo peppers
  • 4 tablespoons dried mint
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 1kg (2.2lb) flour

Filling

  • 1kg (2.2lb) minced lamb
  • 1kg (2.2lb) onions, chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons dried Aleppo pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt

Note: The amounts above in Fateem's recipe are for enough kibbe to feed about 30 people, so you will have to divide the recipe according to your needs.

Fateem's hand filling the kibbe
Fateem fills the kibbe by hand [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]
  1. To make the kibbe shell, bring a very large pot of water to a boil, then take it off the heat. Add the bulgur, Aleppo pepper, mint and salt and cover for 30 minutes to an hour or until the bulgur kernels have plumped up and softened enough to put through a grinder.
  2. Mince the soaked bulgur. Fateem uses a traditional, hand-cranked meat grinder, but a food processor will work just as well. Grind the bulgur until it is smooth and sticking together.
  3. The filling is pretty simple: Brown the ground lamb in some vegetable oil. Then add the chopped onions, and cook until the onions are translucent and delicate. Add the chopped parsley and the seasonings, and take the pan off the stove once everything is fragrant.
  4. Add the flour to the ground bulgur, and knead the mixture until it is smooth and holds together well.
  5. Form the dough into round, flat, palm-sized portions, then shape them into cones.
  6. Stuff them with the fried meat, then pinch the other end to make the classic kibbe shape. Make sure to seal it well so no stuffing breaks free during frying.
  7. Heat oil, and fry the kibbes. Remove them when they reach a nut-brown colour.

Sambousak and shish barak

The universal comfort of dumplings, one version fried and the other simmered in a tangy Arabic yoghurt. What could be better?

View of a circle of dough with its filling on it before it is sealed
A filled circle of dough waiting to be shaped [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]
A filled circle of dough waiting to be shaped [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Ingredients

Sambousak dough

  • 5kg (11lb) flour
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 70g (2.5oz) yeast
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup yoghurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 teaspoons salt

Sambousak filling

This is the same as the filling for the kibbe

  • 1kg (2.2lb) minced lamb
  • 1kg (2.2lb) onions, chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons dried Aleppo pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
    Overhead shot of a big platter of sambousak
    A platter of sambousak [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]
  1. Mix the yeast with the sugar, yoghurt and a little warm water, and wait for it to bloom.
  2. Put the flour in a large bowl. Add the 2 cups hot water and mix.
  3. Add the yeast mix once it has bloomed plus the salt. Knead well until everything is well mixed.
  4. Add the vegetable oil, and knead again until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Cover it and set aside to rise for about an hour.
  5. While the dough is rising, you can prepare the filling. Again, it's pretty simple: Brown the ground lamb in some vegetable oil. Then add the chopped onions, and cook until the onions are translucent and delicate. Add the chopped parsley and the seasonings, and take the pan off the stove once everything is fragrant.
  6. After the dough has risen, pinch off small handfuls of it, and roll them out into circles. Put a teaspoon or two of the filling in the middle. Then fold one side over to form a semicircle. Use a fork to crimp the edges, so they don't pop open while frying.
  7. Slide the sambousaks into the hot oil, and fry until golden. It should only take about a minute, according to Fateem, but use your judgement.
    Fateem's hands cut out small circles of dough using an Arabic coffee cup
    Fateem cuts out small circles of dough using an Arabic coffee cup [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Ingredients

Shish barak dough

  • 5kg (11lb) flour
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • Enough vegetable oil to knead the dough smooth
  1. Put 1/2 cup of the vegetable oil and all the other ingredients in a big bowl and knead.
  2. Add more oil as needed until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Shish barak filling and sauce

  • 1/2kg (1.1lb) of minced beef
  • 4 onions, finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried mint
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 4kg (8.8lb) Arabic yoghurt
    Fateem's hands work on small circles of dough
    Fateem shapes the shish barak [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]
  1. Mix all the stuffing ingredients together.
  2. Roll out the dough, and cut out small circles about as wide as your index finger. Fateem uses an Arabic coffee cup.
  3. Put a teaspoon of stuffing in the middle of each circle. Then seal the edges, and pinch the two ends of the semi-circle together to make little shish barak bundles, like the photo.
  4. When you are done filling all the dough, put the yoghurt in a pot over medium heat, stirring constantly. When it starts boiling, add the shish barak, and cook for 20 minutes.

The family eating in their tent
[Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]
[Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera