As a child growing up in the United States, there were very few middle eastern restaurants, except for a couple of quality falafel shops. Hummus wasn’t even considered cool then, just some creamy beige paste my parents slathered on my pita sandwiches to the shock and horror of my classmates. Fast forward a few decades and Arab restaurants have proliferated around the country, with lines of people snaking around the block to feed their cravings for kebabs, tabbouleh, and baba ghanoush. Hummus has been kidnapped and hijacked with offensive flavors like gingerbread, chocolate mint, and yes, even cherry cheesecake. Vegan YouTubers obsess over tahini, and douse the proverbial liquid gold on everything from oatmeal to sweet potatoes to tofu. Shakshuka, dukkah, za’atar, kunafeh, and now even kibbeh now have prominent places on Trader Joe’s supermarket shelves.
Since Trader Joes keeps a laser sharp focus on food trends, you know Middle Eastern food has arrived when something as obscure a delicacy as kibbeh is now part of their frozen food collection. Traditionally kibbeh is made from finely ground meat, cracked wheat (bulgur), onions and spices. Between grinding and mixing of the meat, bulgur and spices, and the shaping of each croquette, this is one of the more time consuming specialties to make. So, a shortcut would surely bring relief to many who love kibbeh but don’t have the time to make it.
The word kibbeh itself is an ancient Akkadian word that was introduced into the Aramaic language. This originally Assyrian dish is now a staple all over Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Syria. There are hundreds of different types of kibbeh incorporating ingredients from lamb, fish, chicken, potatoes, rice, lentils, seafood and even pumpkin. But the quintessential and most popular flavor and shape is the deep fried croquette made with lamb in the shape of a football. This is the version Trader Joe’s chose for its product line.
So how does the Trader Joe’s version of kibbeh stack up against the traditional home cooked variety? The mass produced croquette lacks nuanced additions that make the flavors and textures pop, and Trader Joe’s spices are also a bit off, with heavy notes of coriander and cumin instead of allspice and a dash of cinnamon. I found it annoying that the packaging says “Middle Eastern Inspired,” which doesn’t give this product its due credit. We don’t say sushi is “Japanese Inspired” and we don’t say lasagna is “Italian inspired.” It would be great if Trader Joe’s took the cultural history into account with such an ancient recipe that is unmistakably Middle Eastern, not just “inspired.” It’s almost as if Trader Joes wants to bank on this popular cuisine, but couldn’t care less for the people behind this food.
To see our full taste test and review of Trader Joe’s kibbeh, click on the video below:
Have any of you tried this kibbeh? If so I would love to know your opinion in the comments below!
If you want to try your hand at making kibbeh from scratch, there is really no comparison. The extra effort will be worth every bite. For those that haven’t seen our special recipe before, here is a step by step tutorial: