Spend enough time in the Dominican Republic and at some point, most likely sooner than later, you will find yourself in a colmado somewhere, holding a fría in one hand, and a warm kipe in the other. And you will ask yourself how you survived that far without them.
You know that food has become part of a country’s culinary culture when the natives of the country do not, for the most part, know the origin of this food: this is the case with kipe. Those who know Middle Eastern food will recognize it as “kibbeh.” But how did this dish find its way, half around the world, to a new home in the Spanish Caribbean? It’s the old story of immigration.
As is the case in many Latin American countries, the 19th Century Dominican Republic saw a wave of immigration the likes of which had not been seen since the times of the Spanish “conquista.” People fled Europe, the Far East and the Middle East in search of freedom and opportunity. In the Dominican Republic, immigrants found what they were looking for, and despite being a relatively small percentage of the population, their descendants are very visible in the world of arts, business and politics.
The contribution of these immigrants to Dominican cookery is possibly their most obvious legacy to the country’s culture. In time, Dominicans adopted many a dish of Lebanese, Syrian and Egyptian origin, as is the case with tipili (tabouleh), niño envuelto (malfouf mahshi), arroz con fideos (bil shareyah) and possibly others which origins are now lost in time.
Making kipe is a sign of an accomplished cook, but don’t feel intimidated; it is much easier to make than it appears.
Kipe (Bulgur and beef rolls)
1 cup bulgur (whole grain)
1 lb of ground beef
2 cups oil for frying
1/2 cup tomato sauce (or 1 Tbsp tomato paste)
1/4 cup raisins
2 basil leaves, chopped
1 bell pepper
1 small onion, very finely diced
Put the wheat in a bowl, cover with water and let it sit for 4 hrs, stirring a couple of times while it rests.
Pulse onion, bell pepper and basil in the food processor until you obtain a coarse paste.
In a bowl, mix meat, pepper, basil and onion.
Add a pinch of pepper and 2 teaspoons of salt.
Using your hands, mix the meat with the vegetables until you get a uniform mixture.
Separate in thirds and reserve 2/3 of the meat.
- To make the filling:
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan.
When the oil is hot add the 1/3 of the meat you’ve taken out.
Brown the meat.
Add tomato sauce and mix well.
Add 1/2 cup of water and the raisins and simmer over medium heat.
When all the liquid has evaporated, remove from the heat.
Let it cool down to room temperature. Reserve.
- To assemble the kipes
Drain the leftover water from the bulgur and squeeze to get rid of as much water as possible.
Add the remaining raw meat to the bulgur.
With your hands mix the bulgur and raw meat, kneading it until it is mixed uniformly. This is a key step; the better mixed this is, the better chances of kipes not breaking apart in the hot oil. Knead for your life!
Put 2 tablespoons of the mixture on the palm of your hands and roll into a ball.
Make a deep indentation in the ball.
Place 1 tablespoon of the filling in the indentation.
Put another tablespoon of the bulgur mixture on the filing and roll the kipe with the palm of your hands, making it as compact as possible.
Refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
When it is time to fry them, give them another quick squeeze to make them even more compact.
Heat the remaining oil in a frying pot over medium heat. The oil has to be very hot; cool oil will make your kipes break down and possibly ruin the oil too.
Being very, very careful with splatters (hot oil and cold liquids do not get along well) fry your kipes, preferably one at a time, dropping them in the oil with a colander to avoid burning yourself.
After frying, the kipe has to be deep brown outside. Open the first one when you are done. If there is any pink part inside it means there is still raw meat — a bad thing. Fry the next one longer. Place them on a paper towel to drain excess oil.
Clara Gonzalez is based in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic. An expert on Dominican cuisine , her recipes and photography are featured on the food blog Aunt Clara’s Kitchen.