Veganise This: Iraqi Kubba

One of the most challenging parts of transitioning to a plant-based diet can often be the sacrifice of traditional dishes during cultural events and festive occasions. The food we eat is rooted with history and culture, and this should not be forgotten when switching to a vegan diet. Although veganism is widely regarded as a modern millennial Western phenomenon, the diet can be adapted to suit a Middle Eastern palette. 

Veganising traditional Arabic dishes can be an exciting and inspiring, however it could also be challenging.

The greatest challenge towards veganism is the ritualised affair of a gathering, also known in Arabic as ‘Azeema, where staples such as kubba are expected to grace the dinner table. In Iraq, this moreish ball of rice and spiced meat is traditionally made with lamb mince. Amongst the most popular meat products, lamb has the greatest impact on the environment. The production of lamb creates almost 40kg of carbon dioxide per every 1kg eaten

In recent years, soya and seitan-based minces have become popular alternatives to lamb mince, however they are not always easily available and accessible to those living in less metropolitan areas. Instead, this recipe chooses uses a mix of walnuts, lentils and oyster mushrooms in the stuffing, making the kubba lower in saturated fat and higher in fibre. Oyster mushrooms are used for their firm texture and meaty flavour, but may not be widely available in some countries. You can substitute them for any other kind of mushroom if needed. 



(makes roughly 30 kubbas)


For the rice shell:

2 cups of white basmati rice 

30g plain flour 

1 teaspoon of turmeric

2 teaspoons of salt

Pinch of saffron (optional)

For the mince filling:

2 cups of brown lentils, boiled 

1 small onion, finely diced

2 cups of oyster mushrooms, finely chopped 

1 cup of walnuts, finely chopped or blitzed in a food processor

1 bunch of parsley

1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon of ground cardamom

1 teaspoon of ground cloves

2 teaspoons of salt

1 teaspoon of ground pepper

For assembly and frying:

1 small bowl of lukewarm water

1 litre of sunflower oil


Begin by soaking the rice in cold water for at least 30 minutes. Rinse through to remove the starch and roughly drain.

In a large pot, bring together the soaked rice, turmeric, salt and saffron (optional) and cover with 3-4 inches (7.5cm – 10cm) of water.

Bring to the boil and then cover. Leave to simmer for 20-25 minutes. Overcooking the rice is not a problem here, as the texture does not have to be fluffy like regular rice. 

Once all the water is absorbed, turn the heat off and leave the rice to cool (ensure to keep the lid on to retain moisture!). 

Roughly mash the rice mixture with a handheld masher or potato ricer. 

Add the flour and begin to knead the rice mixture until the mixture comes together. Set aside until assembly. 

To make the mince filling, begin by frying the diced white onions in a tablespoon of oil. When translucent, add the mushrooms and sweat off until all the liquid has evaporated.

Add the cooked lentils and spices and leave the mixture to fry until completely dry. 

Finally, stir in the chopped parsley and walnuts and set to one side. 

To construct the kubba, ensure to have the rice mixture, lentil mixture, and a small bowl of water (for your hands) on one surface.

With damp hands, take a small handful of the rice mixture and create a flat circle, roughly 5-6cm in diameter. 

Add a spoonful of the lentil mixture in the centre of the rice circle and enclose. This may take some practice, but the essential thing is to ensure that the lentil mixture is completely encased by the rice. 

Shape the kubba into uniform balls and set aside on greaseproof paper.

In a large pot, heat the sunflower oil to 170c and deep fry the kubba until they are golden brown. Remember that they will continue cooking once taken out of the pot, so do not over-fry! 

Allow the kubbas to dry on greaseproof paper or on a cooling rack before serving. 

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