In Arabic, kibbet raheb translates as “monk’s soup,” as this dish, which dates back to biblical times, was often enjoyed during the fasting period of Lent and on Good Friday among Lebanese Catholics.
I love to make this hearty, lemony soup with soft bulgur bites as a warming springtime or summertime dinner, lunch, or brunch, and I’ll often make a big pot of it on a Sunday so I can warm it up and soothe my soul all week long in the summer.
MAKES 6-12 SERVINGS
2 cups brown lentils
1 gallon (16 cups) cold water
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 whole garlic head (about 10 cloves), peeled and finely mashed or pureed into a smooth paste
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1⁄3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped for serving
1 lemon, wedged for serving
BULGUR WHEAT BITES:
3 cups cold water
1 cup #1 fine bulgur wheat, soaked and softened
2 tablespoons shallots, finely minced
1 medium yellow onion, finely minced
1⁄3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon sea salt
- Spread the lentils out in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel, and run your fingers through to ensure there are no small stones or impurities. Then rinse lentils in a fine-mesh sieve under cold running water and drain over the sink.
- Transfer the lentils to a very large pot, and cover with 1 gallon (16 cups) of cold water. Place on the stovetop but do not turn on the heat.
- Make the bulgur bites: Place the bulgur wheat in a large bowl, cover completely with 3 cups cold water, and set aside to soak and soften, about 20 minutes.
- In a separate large bowl, combine all the remaining bulgur bite ingredients and mix together.
- After 20 minutes, test the bulgur wheat by squeezing some of the grains between your fingertips; it should be soft and squishy, with no firmness. If it is still firm, continue soaking.
- Once the bulgur has adequately softened, dip one of your hands into the bowl, and squeeze most of the water out of the grains over the bowl, leaving just a little bit of water so the bulgur will bind together. Sprinkle the bulgur into the large bowl over the other ingredients, working in handfuls until all of the bulger has been added in.
- Using your hands, thoroughly mix all the ingredients together until they are well incorporated. Then, begin to knead the dough, plunging in your fists and flipping the entire mixture over until it comes together tightly. The dough should be sticky and moist, but not overly wet or dry. If the dough feels too wet, add additional flour by the teaspoon, and if it is too dry, add additional water by the teaspoon.
- At this point, turn on the heat to medium under the large pot of lentils on the stovetop and cook, uncovered, watching for the pot to begin boiling.
- Form the bulgur bites: Lightly flour a baking sheet or cutting board and set aside.
- Lightly flour a large countertop or cutting board, and transfer the dough onto the surface.
- Using your hands, mold the mixture into a large ball, and flatten it down by pressing with the palms of your hands, beginning in the center of the dough and working your way out, until the dough is uniformly ½ inch thick.
- Using a dough cutter or sharp knife, slice vertically through the dough into 6 even strips, about 1-inch thick. Take each strip and roll it under your hands, left to right, to form a long, thin breadstick-like shape.
- Then, using a sharp knife, cut across each strip horizontally, to create ½-inch cubes. Lightly roll them into balls, using the palms of your hands, and spread them out evenly on the floured baking sheet or board.
- By now, the pot of lentils should be at a boil. Once the water is boiling, using a handheld strainer or large slotted spoon, carefully place the bulgur bites into the lentil liquid, adding them in small batches and tapping off any excess flour from the balls before placing them in the liquid.
- Gently stir to ensure that the balls do not stick to each other. Then, turn the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10–12 minutes, just until the bites have cooked through.
- While the bites simmer, thoroughly rinse the Swiss chard leaves under cold running water and shake off as much excess water as possible.
- Slice off the thick end and center stems and discard. Layer the leaves on top of one another, roll them up, and slice across the leaves with a sharp knife, creating 1-inch-wide ribbons. Add to the pot, season with the salt, and simmer for 10–12 minutes until the greens are cooked through.
- Once the greens have cooked, add the garlic paste, lemon juice, and olive oil, and simmer for a few minutes more. Taste and add additional seasoning as needed. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley, and squeeze the juice of 1 lemon wedge. Serve hot with warm pocket pita bread.
Variation: For a gluten-free version, replace the bulgur wheat with cooked and chilled quinoa, and use gluten-free flour instead of all-purpose flour.
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