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SFoodie's 50 Favorites: Saha's Vegan Kibbeh 

Wednesday, Apr 25 2012
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Though more than a third of the dishes on its menus include meat, Saha — Mohamed and Marmee Aboghanem's stylish restaurant, which serves what they call "Arabic fusion" food — has achieved cult status for devoting a big portion of its menu to vegan dishes. "I have a lot of vegetarian and vegan friends," Mohamed explains.

And we're not just talking hummus or baba ghanoush. Stuffed and fried avocados wrapped in frilly knaffe, or pastry threads. Maklouba, rice, and spices layered with eggplant, yogurt, and tofu. One of the best of Mohamed's vegan dishes? His interpretation of kibbeh, a Lebanese-Jordanian dish that, almost by definition, is made with a blend of lamb and bulgur.

Aboghanem's vegan kibbeh changes with the seasons. The exterior shell stays the same — bulgur wheat, pressed into an elongated oval — and so does a dab of Yemenese bayaa, a leek-herb pesto with a fiercely herbaceous bite, and the saffron sauce the kibbeh rests on. Sometimes the filling is dominated by bell peppers and yellow squash, other times it's butternut. On our last visit, when we opened up the shell, mushrooms, sauteed until they concentrated into an umami-laden mass, spilled out. The fried bulgur shell's granular crunch is the source of the kibbeh's immediate appeal, the first thing that gets you. But the multilayered flavors of the dish soon unfold and expand: A hit of cilantro, an intimation of saffron, the bite of pepper, the earthy pulse of the mushrooms. It's a dish as rich and inviting as the restaurant itself.

For more of SFoodie's 50, visit blogs.sfweekly.com/foodie/sfoodies_50.

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Jonathan Kauffman

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