The topic of grilled meat and seafood is very dear to my heart… or shall I say my stomach :). Back in the Philippines, a thinly sliced-pork belly charred to perfection, locally called, “inihaw na liempo” is a perennial favorite, and to have it with grilled squid – absolutely sublime! This, however, shall be a topic for another day once I find a good source of whole un-gutted squid.
In the United States, the Persian kebab has become, for me, the grilled fare of choice. The origin of the kebab is not very clear but it is said to be of Turkish origins – take for example, “shish-kebab” means “skewered meat” in Turkey. During the medieval age when fuel was in short supply, Turkish soldiers would skewer pieces of meat on their swords and cook them over open flame. There is also the “souvlaki”, a Greek kebab version that is frequently served with pita and rice pilaf. Some other countries – Armenia, Lebanon, India and Asia – all have their own variety of this dish and the difference would lie in the assortment of spices they use.
I’ve eaten my share of souvlaki and kebabs in various fiestas such as the Greek, Armenian and Lebanese food festivals, as well as in a few Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern restaurants. But none of them has captured my gastronomic consciousness as the Persian Kebab. If Iran had a national dish, I believe it would be the Chelo kebab. Each family, it seems, has its own kebab master – relatives speak of “the one” with such reverence.
Years ago, the “Hungry Hubby” (HH) and I would endure a two-hour trip up the I95 corridor to Vienna, Virginia just to dine at a restaurant called Shamshiry, walk off the filling lunch at Tyson’s Corner and return late afternoon sated but already planning for the next visit. Sometimes we’d stop by Sauson market to pick up a few Iranian groceries, although I heard that Yekta in Rockville, Maryland is the best source of such items.
One Christmas, “Hungry Hubby’s” sister gave us a cookbook called “The New Food of Life” by Najmieh Batmanglij. It was then that our curiosity was picked and we decided to experiment with the kebab recipes in the book. We never went back to Shamshiry.
This preparation is the specialty of HH. It has become a kind of a signature dish in our household. It is often useless to prepare something else other than kebobs for our guests because the look of disappointment is so evident whenever the grilled meat dish is not on our menu.
2 lb tenderloin
1 large onion; peeled, sliced
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp black pepper; ground
2 tbs limejuice (fresh)
2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp saffron; ground, dissolved in water
1/4 cup yoghurt
8 roma tomatoes
2 tbs Butter
2 small limejuice (fresh)
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp black pepper; ground
Cut the meat into 3 by 4 by ¼ inch pieces and place in a large glass or Pyrex dish with cover. Add onion, olive oil, pepper, limejuice, salt, saffron water (if desired) and yoghurt to the meat. Mix well. Cover the meat and marinate for at least 24 hours. Turn the meat in the marinade twice during this period.
Thread each piece of meat onto the flat, sword-like skewer, leaving a few inches free on both ends. Spear the tomatoes on separate skewers.
For basting, combine oil, the juice of 2 limes, and salt and pepper in a small saucepan. Keep warm.
When the grill is hot, brush the tomatoes and meat lightly with the basting sauce. Place the tomatoes on the grill first, and then place the skewered meat on the grill. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, turning the skewers frequently. The meat should be seared on the outside, pink and juicy on the inside.
Serve with chelow (saffron steamed rice) and garnish with tomatoes. Sprinkle sumac powder if desired.
Ground Meat kabab
2 lb ground beef; twice ground
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 large onion; peeled, finely grated
2 tbs Butter; melted
1/2 tsp limejuice (fresh)
12 flat 1-inch skewers
sumac for garnish
In a warm mixing bowl, combine the meat and the rest of the kabob ingredients. Knead with your hands for about 5 minutes to form a paste that will adhere well to cooking skewers. Cover the paste and let stand for 15 minutes at room temperature.
With damp hands, divide the meat paste into 12 equal lumps about the size of oranges. Roll each into a sausage shape 5 inches long and mold it firmly around a flat, sword-like skewer. Cover and keep in a cool place.
For the basting sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan and add a pinch of salt and limejuice.
1 pint of yoghurt
salt pepper to taste
1 tbs dried mint
1 tsp dried tarragon
½ tsp dried rosemary
1 cucumber, skinned and diced into small
Crush the dried herbs in your hand and mix together. Add the yoghurt and the cucumber, salt and pepper.
Some pictures of the Hubby threading kebabs.
Or should I say eating notes. There is a ritual we practice in partaking of this dish.
Make a mound of rice on your plate and carve a well in the middle. Drop a piece of butter, cover with the rice and let the butter melt. Sprinkle with sumac if desired. Traditionally a raw egg yolk is thrown into the mix (but we had stopped doing this). Get a piece of grilled tomato, break it open and sprinkle with sumac, salt and pepper and mash it down some more. Add the kebobs and enjoy!
We make our rice with a crispy crust called tah-dig. The crust is great to enjoy with the yogurt mixture.
The Fillet kebob is pretty straightforward to make just like any shish-kebab. The book suggests sirloin but we find that tenderloin from Costco tastes the best. There is no need to get prime cuts for this because it is going to be marinated anyway.
The ground meat kebab on the other hand requires much a greater degree of preparation . This, thus far, is my favorite kebab. Use ground meat that has substantial fat in it – do not even think of using those 97% fat free type, 80% is good. As soon as you master the method (and art) of preparing this, I think your friends shall revere you as a “kebab master”. Remember that the meat should not be too cold when you mount them on the skewer. Have a bowl of water beside you to dip your hands in to prevent the meat from getting too sticky. Gently shape the ball of ground meat along the length of the skewer. Make sure that it is spread evenly so it will cook properly.
As if skewering the ground meat is not hard enough, the grilling part is just as tricky. This is normally done with no grates on the grill. But we chose a grill that will let us lay the skewer without the meat touching the grate too much. Timing in turning the ground meat kabob is essential because you do not want one side to cook too much that it will detach from the skewer. We do get some casualties from time to time, but our guests love these fallen kebabs as impromptu appetizers.
With the weather getting warmer, I can’t wait for the next round of kebabs!
I was able to get some pictures from our family friend, Dale of his travels to Iran where he took pictures of folks eating kebabs, some kebabi (kebab restaurants) and a family kebab master.