The kebab has got to be one of the most beloved meat on a stick dishes in the world. Every country seems to have one with their special take on them. The idea of meat on a stick goes back as far as the Romans and Greeks but it was the Persians and Turks who perfected it and brought it to the rest of the world.
Of course, if you think about it, I am sure the caveman roasted his meat on a stick once he discovered fire…so in essence, kebabs have been around for aeons.
Now, the marination, the choice and cut of meat, and addition of spices is all new and differs from country to country.
In India and Pakistan the food is heavily influenced by the Ottoman and Persian empires. There is a huge selection of kebabs and grilled meats, all marinated in different spices and cooked with different methods. For example, in India, there is a kebab where strips of lamb or mutton are marinated and cooked on hot stones where the stone itself adds a dimension of flavour (I am going to try this soon using my pizza stone and my grill).
One of my favourite childhood kebab is one made with boneless meat and lentils mashed together, into a thick meat paste, formed into a patty and stuffed with an onion, chilli and cilantro mixture and then shallow fried. This particular kebab came via Persia because Persian cuisine has a very similar kebab. We changed it up a bit by adding the stuffing. It is amazing. I will have to post the recipe next time I make some. Maybe I can do a kebab series?
The list of kebabs are endless. If you have ever gone to a Balkan restaurant, they have some amazing grilled kebabs and sausages too. My favourite is the ćevapi with their gorgeous, puffy flatbread, the lepinje….YUM. Their influence is from the Ottoman Empire’s expansion into southeastern Europe.
I am guessing you are getting the general drift here…that we like kebabs…a lot…all kinds…from everywhere. I try and make quite a few myself but I think that kebabs are one thing that are best made by someone else on proper equipment, outside. They are a street food after all. A home kitchen or grill can produce acceptable kebabs but what a commercial fire pit can do for kebab is out of this world! Pair that with some hot naan or flatbread straight out of a clay oven or wood fired oven ….food fit for royalty!
Unfortunately, the Denver food scene is a bit lacking on the kebab front…if you live in Houston, Chicago, Dearborn, Toronto, London… you are lucky to have some decent kebab joints. So, when a kebab craving hits, I have no choice but to make some myself.
I buy my meat from a Halal grocer in Denver, about 40 minutes from where I live. Halal meat is what Muslims eat and it is meat responsibly slaughtered that has been permitted by God and has had all the blood (impurities) drained out. It is similar to Kosher slaughtered, but our rules are a bit more relaxed. Most Muslims are backwards compatible…that is, we’ll eat Kosher products.
I like to buy enough meat for two weeks at a time so I don’t have to drive all the way to Denver. On those days, I usually make kebabs (I find the kebabs hold together better using freshly ground meat and not defrosted meat). While I am at the shop, I also buy Iranian bread that is hot, fresh, soft and dense, covered with sesame seeds. There is no shortage of different breads that are all freshly made at the bakery around the corner and delivered to the store. I always time myself so I arrive when the guy is delivering the bread, it’s always hot and smells so good.
For dinner those evenings we have kebabs, salad, pickles, hummus, or labne and feta cheese. It is so simple but so satisfying and definitely easy on me! It is one of my family’s favourite dinners.
Last week’s kebab night, I made these Arabic spiced, ground chicken kefta kebabs. They were so moist and flavourful. Ground chicken kebabs are notorious for being dry, but if you use grated onion and don’t over cook them, they are perfectly moist and delicious. A basting with some melted butter helps a bit also. There were a couple of mine that got a tad bit over done but I was pleasantly surprised to find that even they were quite moist inside. The onion and herbs really help keep the meat’s moisture content.
You can use any spices you like and change it up and make it Indian inspired kebabs or Persian, Moroccan or Afghani. The choice is endless.
2 teaspoons Arabic spice mix (baharat) store bought or homemade
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
oil for coating and drizzling
1 teaspoon black peppercorn
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 small cinnamon stick, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom pods
1/2 whole nutmeg, grated
Place all the spices in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind until a fine powder is formed. Store in an airtight container, where it will keep for 8 weeks.
The easiest method is to use a food processor: process the onion, parsley, mint and garlic till very finely chopped...almost to paste.
Mix in the turmeric, spice mix, hot sauce if using and salt, gently but thoroughly.
Marinate for at least 30 minutes in the fridge longer is better.
After chilling and marinating, form the meat into kebabs shapes or patties.
You can use bamboo skewers (remember to soak in water first so they don't burn on the grill)
Patties are easier especially if your meat is a little moist and has a hard time sticking to a skewer.
I kinda finagled mine into sticking on the skewer but the patties tasted just as good.
Fire up a grill or turn on the oven to 400℉/200℃.
Baste with oil or butter and throw (gently) on the grill.
Remember to grease the grill grates.
Cook until done on one side and removes easily.
Don't force, it should release when done about 5-10 minutes.
Turn over and cook for 5 minutes or until they release by themselves.
I like to baste each side with some melted butter once.
If cooking in the oven, cook for about 20 minutes, press to check, they should be firm and browned.
You can finish them under the broiler for a minute or two.
Serve with rice, or fresh bread/naan and salad.
We like hummus with ours.
The baharat or Arabic spice mix is different for each region and per family. Each family usually has a blend they prefer and make their own to their own specifications. I usually buy a ready made blend from my ME store and use that. I have included a recipe for Yotam Ottolenghi's spice blend for those who may not have a ME store close to them or those who want to make their own.
I hope you are all having a great week so far. I was saddened to hear about the explosions in Boston. There is just no understanding why these things happen or why people do this. Where is our humanity? May God give all those affected by this tragedy some peace and patience to persevere.
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