One is never far from a kebab shop in a University town in Britain. Grilled meat packed pitas are everywhere – so much so that we forget meat (particularly grilled meat) in some cultures was once a food largely reserved for celebrations. Claudia Roden in The New Book of Middle Eastern Food begins her chapter on Meat by saying that meat had always been labelled in Arabic literature and folklore as food of the rich and aristocratic – a mark of status. For the rest of the populous, meat was a special treat reserved for feast days and festivals.
Of course, meat generally meant lamb or mutton…or occasionally kid (goat). This puts me in mind of at least two scenes in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The first scene portrays the “force feeding” of lamb that was roasted on a spit in the suburban front yard to the culture-shocked parents of the prospective (non-Greek) son-in-law. The other scene has the bride’s aunt insisting on making lamb for the vegetarian fiancé and not seeing the incongruity of the situation. Humorous, certainly, but reflecting deeper cultural meanings – using the lamb to celebrate the uniting of the two families.
I’ve taken three recipes from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food – including a lamb kebab – for the blogging cookbook club, The Cookbook Guru who are testing recipes from Roden’s book this month.
Kofta Meshweya, as Roden calls them, are simple kebabs made with minced (= ground) lamb, finely chopped onion and parsley. She provides a basic recipe and a whole host of ingredient supplements and accompaniments. Some of these suggested variations I have deployed here, although not in the same combination she listed. These can either be grilled over flames on the barbecue or under the grill (=American broiler).
Makes 6 to 8
- 1 lb. ground lamb
- 3 to 4 shallots
- 1 large bunch of parsley
- 2 sprigs of fresh mint
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Chop the shallots finely. I tend to use shallots rather than stronger flavored onions here since I want the moistness from the shallot, but not allow it to overpower the flavor of the herbs. Add the chopped shallots to a bowl with the ground lamb. Finely chop the bunch of parsley (discarding the tougher stalks) and the mint leaves from the sprigs.
Add the herbs to the meat mixture along with the red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper if required. Mix with your hands, fully incorporating the meat and other ingredients.
Take your skewers (see notes below for a discussion of skewers) and mould your meat around them. The meat should be about an inch in diameter.
Place them either over hot coals on a barbecue or under the grill/broiler. Cook for approximately 8 minutes, turn and cook for another 8 minutes or until the meat is browned and sizzling.
Tahini – Yoghurt Sauce
I’ve halved Roden’s recipe and it still makes more than required. The remainder makes a nice dip or salad dressing for some other time. Make up ahead of time to give the flavors time to meld.
- 1/3 cup tahini
- 1/3 cup Greek yoghurt
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- Juice from 1 lemon
- 2 Tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Simply combine all the ingredients and whisk until it is smooth. Add more milk to get the consistency you want.
Bulgar with Chickpeas
Like the Tahini – Yoghurt sauce, I have simply halved Roden’s recipe and reserved the parsley garnish for final plating.
- 2-1/4 cups water or stock
- 1-1/2 cups bulgar wheat
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 1/2 to 1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained
Bring the water or stock to a light boil in a saucepan. Add the bulgar, turn down the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 5 minutes or until the bulgar has absorbed all of the liquid. Add the butter and let it melt. Stir in the cooked chickpeas and adjust seasoning. Turn off the heat, keeping it covered until you are ready to serve.
Notes & Evaluation:
As Roden indicates in the description of the kebab recipe, wide, flat-bladed skewers are best for minced meats since this prevents the meat from rolling when turned. However, if you are grilling in the oven, soaked bamboo skewers are fine – simply use tongs to turn the meat rather than relying on the skewer. Generally when grilling on the barbecue, I use the flat-bladed ones. Of the variations from Roden’s list, a little mint in addition to the parsley seemed a natural accompaniment to lamb. The hot pepper flakes were added to give it a bit of a zing. Roden points out that minced meat is a popular meat for kebabs and meatballs namely because of its ability to accommodate herbs and spices into the mix. I’ve also chosen to combine the kebabs with a bed of bulgar wheat and chickpeas, topped with a garlicky tahini-yoghurt sauce, all from Roden’s book. Indeed, in her introductory chapters, Roden urges her reader to be flexible in planning menus – a pick and choose philosophy I could certainly endorse.