Kiskh is a dried fermented dairy product; different versions and variations are made under various names in North Africa, the Levant, Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran, Central Asia, and Mongolia. Traces of kishk have been found in ancient jars, and it may be an ancestor of cheese. In Lebanon, kishk is a powdered mixture made with goat, sheep, or cow milk or yogurt (goat is the most common), and burghul (parboiled cracked wheat). It is produced in the early autumn, following the preparation of burghul after the wheat harvest, and is a mouneh product, mouneh being the Lebanese tradition of preserving foods for the pantry. The burghul is mixed with milk or yogurt and some salt, and the resulting mass is left to ferment for about 9 days, traditionally in pottery vessels. The fermentation is kept active by adding small quantities of milk or yogurt over the course of the 9-day period. Each morning, the mixture is thoroughly kneaded by hand. The result of this process is kishk akhdar, or “green kishk,” which is either made into small balls and preserved in olive oil, or spread on clean cloths and placed on the roof to dry. Once completely dry, the mixture is turned into powder; traditionally, women did this by rubbing it between their fingers, but today it is more common to grind the dried kishk in a local mill.
The resulting powder is stored in jars and used throughout the following year. Kishk is yellowish, white, or beige in color, and has a distinctive lactic, fermented aroma. Farmers traditionally ate it in the morning to gain strength for the day’s work—the mixture of protein from the milk or yogurt and carbohydrates from the burghul make kishk quite a wholesome food. Kishk is used differently in different regions of Lebanon and at different times of year: In the winter, it is used to make a thick soup with onions or garlic, known as shorbet kishk or kishkiyye. Some people add awarma (preserved meat) or balls of kibbeh (seasoned minced meat) to the soup. Kishk can also be used as a topping for flatbreads, in which case it may be mixed with diced onion, tomato paste and/or red pepper paste, yogurt, and olive oil, and then spread over round piece of dough and baked in a hot oven. Sometimes sesame seeds are sprinkled on top. Other dishes that include kishk are meeykeh (kishk and mint salad), cabbage with kishk, kibbeh with kishk, eggs with kishk, and meat dumplings with kishk.
Despite the fact that kishk is a defining feature of Lebanese gastronomy, the practice of making it at home in the traditional way—a delicate, time-consuming process—is becoming less and less common, particularly among the younger generation. Kishk is sold in supermarkets, but only a few brands produce it in large quantities, and supermarket kishk is more refined than the traditional version; in addition, many people suspect that non-traditional ingredients are added to increase bulk. Traditional kishk is still available at farmers’ markets and can be purchased directly from producers. Seeking out and supporting these people is the best way to ensure that traditional kishk has a future.Back to the archive >