Kibbeh bi laban, or kibbeh labanieh, is kibbeh balls in yogurt. It's Lebanese comfort food at its best: think unstuffed kibbeh balls cooked in a warm dried mint yogurt sauce that has a delicious tangy flavor to it.
Kibbeh bi laban is so special, and it's popular all over Lebanon. Though kibbeh bi laban can seem a bit complicated to bring together, once you break it down into steps, it's pretty straightforward and oh-so-worth-it.
What I Love About This Recipe
Kibbeh labanieh is warm, flavorful, and takes me right back to childhood memories when I used to have lunch at my grandma's place. I remember how she would be standing in her kitchen stirring a pot filled with kibbeh balls cooking in a minty yogurt sauce. Making this recipe with her is something I'll always be so grateful for.
- Kibbeh dough: Kibbeh dough is made from fine bulgar wheat, ground lamb or beef, onion, ground seven spice, ground allspice, and ground nutmeg.
- Yogurt: The best kind to use in this recipe is goat yogurt. If you can't find that, you can substitute it with any kind of full fat whole milk unsweetened yogurt but make sure you stir it continuously while it's cooking to prevent it from curdling.
- Cornstarch: This recipe's thickening agent. Mix it in some water before you mix it with the yogurt.
- Short grain rice: Just a hint gives kibbeh in yogurt an incredibly amazing texture. Make sure the rice is washed and drained really well before you use it.
- Dried mint: A little goes a long way and adds so much flavor to the dish. I feel it brings everything together so make sure you don't skip this ingredient. Fresh mint does not work as a substitution here but if you don't have dried mint on hand you can try adding dried parsley or coriander.
- Salt to taste
See the recipe card at the bottom of the post for quantities.
How To Make Kibbeh Bi Laban
This recipe is made up of two parts: making the kibbeh balls and then preparing the yogurt sauce (and then cooking the kibbeh balls in it).
Make The Kibbeh Balls
Soak the fine bulgar wheat in water for 40 minutes to 1 hour. The bulgar should be soft when ready. Drain the bulgar wheat.
Split the meat into three batches. Ground the first two in a food processor and place them in a bowl. Put the third batch in the food processor along with the onion and spices and process.
Add this mixture to the rest of the ground meat. Add the bulgur to the meat and start kneading the mixture with your hands until everything is mixed together (it takes around 5-7 minutes so keep mixing).
Shape the kibbeh into balls, similar to those you make for fried kibbeh balls but minus the stuffing). Take a little bit of the kibbeh mixture in your hand and wrap it around your thumb. Keep moving your thumb in circles while shaping the kibbeh ball. When you remove your thumb there will be an opening in each piece. Don't stuff the kibbeh balls, they should be hollow.
Hint: When making kibbeh in yogurt, you don't need to stuff the kibbeh balls (you can if you want to though).
Once you're done making the kibbeh balls set them aside and start working on the yogurt sauce.
Make the Yogurt Sauce
Add the yogurt to a pot.
Stir the cornstarch into the water and pour the mixture into the pot (with a strainer to refine the starch).
Whisk everything together really well for around 2 minutes before transferring the pot to a stovetop.
Bring the yogurt to a boil while stirring. Make sure you stir consistently to ensure the yogurt doesn't curdle. After a few minutes, add in the short-grain rice and continue to stir.
Next, gently drop the kibbeh balls into the sauce and keep on stirring.
Add in the dried mint and salt. Let everything cook together for 10-15 minutes (while you stir) and keep stirring until the sauce thickens. Turn off the heat and serve in bowls.
Tips and Tricks
- Stir, stir, stir: The key to this recipe's success is to constantly keep stirring the yogurt sauce so that it thickens properly and doesn't curdle. It's a bit of a chore but remember, the result is worth it!
- Mix the cornstarch in water: Never add the cornstarch straight into the yogurt because it'll form lumps. Instead, mix it in a bit of lukewarm water and then strain it into the yogurt.
- A bit of meal prep: You can make a bigger batch of the kibbeh dough, shape it into balls and store them in the freezer for the next time you want to bring together a pot of kibbeh in yogurt in no time. The kibbeh balls can be stored in the freezer for up to six months.
- What to do if the yogurt curdles: If you use whole fat yogurt, cornstarch and stir the sauce continuously as it cook, this shouldn't happen but just in case it does you can try to save it by lowering the heat and adding a bit of cornstarch to the pot while stirring.
- Use fine bulgar wheat. Coarse bulgar wheat is different than fine bulgar wheat.
Variations and Substitutions
- Coriander and garlic version: Some people fry up some garlic and coriander in a bit of olive oil and add them to the yogurt sauce once it boils over.
- Meatless version: A lot of people I know make labnieh without the kibbeh. They follow the exact same recipe but add a bit more short grain rice to it. This is often served as a side dish.
- Cooked kibbeh ball version: I've seen versions where people fry or bake the kibbeh balls before adding them to the yogurt sauce.
- Stainless steel pot to cook the kibbeh in yogurt
- Strainer for the cornstarch/water mix
- Whisk for all the stirring
- Ladle to perfectly serve this dish
Store the kibbeh in yogurt in an airtight container. It keeps well in the fridge for up to 3 days. The yogurt sauce doesn't freeze well but you can freeze kibbeh balls separately and store them for later use. Freeze the uncooked kibbeh balls for up to 6 months.
This dish can be served with any other kind of cooked kibbeh. People in Lebanon often dip fried kibbeh balls or pieces of kibbeh bil sinniyeh in the yogurt sauce.
Unfortunately, only full-fat dairy yogurt works here. Other forms of yogurt break down during the cooking process.