Recipe: Lebanese Lemony Lentil & Swiss Chard Soup (Kibbet Raheb)

updated Feb 3, 2020
Jump to Recipe
Post Image
(Image credit: Alexandra Grablewski)

Around the World in 30 Soups: This month we’re collaborating with chefs, cookbook authors, and our own Kitchn crew to share a globetrotting adventure in soups from countries and cuisines around the world. Today’s stop: Lebanon.

We turned to Julie Ann Sageer, author and host of Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen, to share one of her favorite “Lebanese soul food” recipes — a lemony Lenten classic handed down from her grandmother.

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 dinner or lunch, and I’ll often make a big pot of it on a Sunday so I can heat it up throughout the week.

When this lemony and garlicky special scent starts to steep and slowly simmer from the stovetop, as the amazing aroma permeates throughout the kitchen and into my soul, I always think of my Sitto (grandmother) preparing this soulful soup in the springtime in Lebanon for her family. My Sitto was a talented chef and thankfully handed her traditions to my mother, who is a master chef in my eyes. (And who, in turn, taught me the true way to cook authentic Lebanese cuisine.)

I shall always cherish this special gift that has been placed now in my hands. I’m honored and humbled that I am able to share my heritage with wholesome soups like this one with the world and with all of you who take the time to take a taste of my Lebanese soul food.

(Image credit: Alexandra Grablewski)

Lemony Lentil & Swiss Chard Soup with Bulgur Wheat Bites (Kibbet Raheb)

Serves8 to 10

Nutritional Info


For the soup:

  • 2 cups

    dried brown lentils

  • 1 bunch

    Swiss chard

  • 1 tablespoon

    sea salt

  • 1

    whole garlic head (about 10 cloves) peeled and finely mashed or puréed into a smooth paste

  • 1/2 cup

    freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 1/3 cup

    olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons

    fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped, for serving

For the bulgur wheat bites:

  • 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

  • 1/2 cup

    unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

  • 1 teaspoon

    sea salt


  1. Spread the lentils out in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel, and run your fingers through to ensure that there are no small stones or impurities. Then, rinse lentils in a fine-mesh sieve under cold running water and drain over the sink.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 to soak it.

  5. 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 that 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 your fists in and then flipping the entire mixture over, until it comes together tightly. It 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Form the bulgur bites: Lightly flour a baking sheet or board and set aside.

  8. Lightly flour a large counter 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 1/2 inch thick.

  9. 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 breadsticklike shape that is long and thin. Then, using a sharp knife, cut across each strip horizontally, to create 1/2-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.

  10. 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 to 12 minutes, just until the bites have cooked through.

  11. 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 or save for another use. 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 to 12 minutes until the greens are cooked through.

  12. 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. Serve hot.

Recipe Notes

Gluten-free version: Replace the bulgur wheat with cooked and chilled quinoa, and use gluten-free all-purpose flour instead of all-purpose flour.

From Julie Taboulie's Lebanese Kitchen: Authentic Recipes for Fresh and Flavorful Mediterranean Home Cooking. Copyright © 2017 by Julie Ann Sageer with Leah Bhabha and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Griffin.

(Image credit: Courtesy of St. Martin’s Griffin)

Find the Book: