Police & Thieves

“If someone thinks that peace and love are just a cliche that must have been left behind in the 60’s, that’s a problem. Peace and love are eternal.”        

– John Lennon

I have a thing for retro, vintage and all things ancient. I love the cross stitching of the Palestinian villagers, on cushions, dresses, wallets and even table runners. I love old and used pots and pans, they look like they have been used to death, allowing the owners to have some good times. I also have a thing for old traditional recipes. The ones passed through from generation to another. Secret recipes, old recipes, family recipes the old & forgotten recipes make me excited. I can run the earth in search of such recipes. I value them and hold them close to my heart. To me, they are stories, like legacies, left behind to tell tales of a people passed, their lifestyles, their celebrations, their flavours and their values… I Love the insight. Tucking into foods of such nature is a pleasure. Just close your eyes, with every hint of coriander, with every breath of broth-infused yogurt sauce and with every brushing of creamy goodness on your tongue… close your eyes, and breathe… think of those people who were. Think of the simpler life they lead, the lack of TV and the appreciation of the storytelling pastime. The slower pace and a whole family, even extended family, all gathered up at an Iftar table. Think of that mother who cooked the stew, who as she cooked thought of her children, their futures and what is to be. Take a bite, breathe in the aromas, slowly, and try to imagine the streets of those times. Less cars, less noise, less modern, less fuss. Think of Iftar time, when the streets are empty, because everyone is gathered at that table to savour the hard work in the kitchen that spells LOVE… I love old recipes, traditional recipes, ones that become a definition of a relationship, a family speciality and legacy that eventually make up cuisines. Such is Arabic Cuisine. There is a story behind every dish. A reason why this dish is important to the family. A history of a family, an area and even a social class. We might not know all the stories, but I am always amazed by those I get to find out about. There is so much simplicity, necessity, and truthfulness behind every dish. Simply amazing.

Today’s recipe is for a traditional Levantine dish that is very famous and can be traced way back in time. Kubbeh o Shishbarak Bilaban is a concoction that requires a lot of preparing ahead. Let’s say it would be quite challenging to freshly make the Kubbeh, Shishbarak and go on to cooking them in yogurt sauce all on the same day; to be served for lunch! Therefore this is one dish that you will have to make in stages. You can prepare the Kubbeh for freezing, this is a link for a detailed tutorial of how you can make the Kubbeh. Please note that the Kubbeh made for this dish is usually a smaller size Kubbeh than that made for other purposes. The same instructions, just smaller size. You can make it ahead, and freeze till ready to use. Then you need to prepare the Shishbarak. In a previous post I posted a step-by-step tutorial on how to make Shishbarak, here is a link. Once you have these two items ready, you will not believe how easy it is to cook this dish. It is just a matter of making the sauce and adding the Kubbes and Shishbaraks to it!


Mum calls this dish Shorta o Haramiyeh (literally meaning Police & Thieves!!) Many people use this naming for this dish and some say Askar o Haramyeh which eventually means the same! I find the name very strange! Why thieves? Why police? Which ones are the thieves and which are the police? Very funny! Well I will share with you the version I grew up eating. I will share mum’s police and thieves, the recipe which she was given by grandma, who in turn inherited it from her mother…



Serves: 4
  • 10 pieces Prepared Kubbeh (recipe on this link)
  • 20 pieces Shishbaraks (recipe on this link)
  • 2 Kg fresh natural yoghurt
  • 3 tbsp corn flour or starch
  • 1 liter clear meat broth or chicken broth
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp DS Premium Organic Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • DS Pink Himalayan Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to Taste

A side dish of Cooked rice

Place the yogurt, 1 clove garlic and cornstarch in the blender. Blend until fully incorporated.

Heat the broth in a medium cooking pot. When it comes to a boil add the blended yogurt mixture and stir to incorporate. Bring the mixture to a boil, adjust liquid level if necessary adding more liquid if the mixture thickens too much.

As the yogurt mixture heats up and comes to a boil gradually add the frozen Kubbeh and Shishbarak. Adding them all at once will decrease the temperature of the liquid which will cause the Kubbeh to fall apart. As you add and wait to heat, stir very carefully in order not to break the Kubbeh. Once all the Kubbeh and Shishbarak have been added, lower the heat and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes or until all is cooked through.

Right before serving, heat the olive oil together with the garlic cook over high heat until the garlic softens a little bit. Add the chopped coriander and cook until it is wilted. Place the stew in a serving bowl, and pour the sizzling coriander mix over the top. Serve immediately with a side of cooked rice (see the video above for how to cook rice perfectly).

Recipe variations

Some Lebanese recipes, will bake or fry the Shishbaraks and serve them in a separate dish on the side, leaving it up to the guests to add to their dish. Other recipes incorporate the Shishbarak with the sauce. Some like the Shishbarak pre-cooked and then added to the sauce, some like to add it raw, and prefer the chewiness and softness of its texture when poached in the yogurt sauce. Most recipes do not add any other meats, as the filling includes meat and the Kubbeh is made out of meat. Some people add cubed chicken to the recipe. A very similar concoction adds green broad beans to the whole equation creating another layer of flavour and texture. There are many versions, and many recipes, all of which just as good. And just like with anything, you can choose what you like and go for it. You can even prepare it in different ways for different occasions. I frequently do that with most of my food 🙂

Please note that just like in the Kubbeh bilaban recipe, you can make the Shishbarak with the yoghurt sauce without adding the Kubbeh if you wish. This is the version I usually do the day I make the Shishbaraks.

My mother in law’s recipe for this dish is one of the best I have ever tried. She makes a Divine version of this dish. She cooks chicken cubes with sweated chopped garlic and coriander, adds water and cooks until the chicken is cooked through. The addition of water here creates a coriander infused broth that eventually flavours the whole dish. She then adds a prepared yogurt sauce to the Kubbehs and Shishbaraks and simmers till done. Heavenly!

Let’s chat – I don’t understand the concept of  ‘this is old, I hate it‘. I hear that a lot. Old is good, new is too. There is a time and place for everything. But old is roots, grounding, stories, life and growth. Old reflects on new and new comes out of old. Don’t allow these recipes to die. Keep them alive and allow your kids to experience them, and get in touch with their goodness beyond just food, beyond nutrition… Somewhere for existence of tradition, of history and of the stories they hold within; Our Collective Culture…

How about you? Do you have specific traditional foods that you want to keep alive, to hold on to and to tell your kids about so they in turn will tell theirs? Share with us we love to know 🙂


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