A Recipe for Baked Kibee from Imee's Mediterranean Kitchen

Amy Bizzarri
Kibbeh on a plate with rice, greens, and other vegetables.
Kibee, the national dish of Lebanon, made by combining bulgur wheat with beef or lamb mixed with spices and pine nuts, is featured daily on the menu at Imee's. Image: Courtesy of Imee's Kitchen

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For Nicole Nassif, owner of Imee's Mediterranean Kitchen, a fast-casual eatery at 171 North Wells Street in Chicago's Loop, family time means gathering in the kitchen over great food.

"Food is a love language to Arabs," says Nassif. "Eating and hanging out in the kitchen was just what we did in our house."

Naturally, she named her first-ever downtown restaurant after the women who filled the kitchen with laughter, love, and delicious Lebanese food. Imee means “mom” in Arabic, and Nassif says she wants her guests to feel like they’re in her mother’s kitchen. Nassif serves food she ate growing up. There was a “deep-rooted tradition of home cooking,” she says, with her mother and both grandmothers passing that love of food on to her.

“As I see it, I've weaved a third generation of flavors with theirs to create the menu for Imee's, and it’s truly been the realization of a lifelong dream of mine, to create a unique place where Chicago residents and visitors can experience authentic Lebanese cuisine and a piece of my culture,” Nassif says.

Even Imee's logo is a tribute to the women of Nassif's family: the four leaves of the lemon represent Nassif, her mother, and her grandmothers. 

Lebanon has one of the largest diasporas of the Arab world, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. There have been two major waves of Lebanese immigrants to Chicago, the first in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the second following the Lebanese civil war in the mid-1970s. 

Nassif’s paternal great-grandparents immigrated to Chicago in the 1920s; her maternal grandparents arrived via Mexico in the early 1900s.

"My grandmother came through Mexico, where she sewed and made dresses for 50 cents a day to survive," says Nassif. "She even incorporated some Spanish words into her Arabic—words that I only learned were not Arabic when I moved to Chicago."

Photographs of her family through the years, including a photo of her entire family standing proudly beside their station wagon in the 1980s, as well as handwritten letters sent to her at summer camp by her aunts and uncles, adorn the eatery's lemon-colored walls. 

Nassif maintains her family's home culinary traditions at her eatery.

"We make the laban, yogurt, here onsite, for our yogurt chicken with rice. We squeeze every lemon. We marinate our chicken overnight in a secret family blend of seven spices, and our beef is marinated in a house-made mint marinade,” she says. “Our tabouli, a traditional salad made with parsley, wheat, tomatoes, mint, and a squeeze of lemon juice, is freshly prepared every morning, following our family recipe.”

Kibbeh, the national dish of Lebanon, made by combining bulgur wheat with beef or lamb mixed with spices and pine nuts, is featured daily on the menu at Imee's. (Nassif spells the dish as kibee). Try Nassif's recipe below. 

The interior of Imee's KitchenThe four leaves on the Imee's Kitchen lemon logo represent the four women in her family. Image: Courtesy of Imee's Kitchen

Imee’s Mediterranean Kitchen Baked Kibee

By Nicole Nassif

Note: Make the filling in advance as it needs to cool before you add it to the kibee. You need to use the kibee meat mixture ASAP.

For the filling:
3/4 lbs ground round
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp allspice
2 tbsp pine nuts
3/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp allspice
3/4 tsp salt

For the kibee meat:
2 lbs very lean beef or lamb
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cups #1 bulgur wheat
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon


1. For the filling: Put meat in a dry pan, cook slightly, then add onions. Cook thoroughly. Add spices and nuts and cook until fat is dried up. Set aside to cool. (You can make the filling in advance in order to let it cool.)

2. Once the filling has cooled, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

3. For the kibee: Grind the meat with the onions and bulgur wheat in a meat grinder on a very fine grind. Keep the meat very, very cold.

4. Mix meat and spices together, then split the mixture into two halves. 

5. Butter the bottom of a 9x13 pan thoroughly.

6. Line the bottom of the pan with one half of the kibee meat mixture, then add the cooled filling, then layer the second half of the kibee over the top of the filling.

7. Take a butter knife and pull the meat off the sides of the pan.

8. Pre-cut the meat into squares and pour olive oil over the top.

10. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.