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 fiancΓ© 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 Kebabs
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
  • salt

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.



  1. I’ve given up buying cook books but I like the Claudia Roden books and have some of my own. I find the informative and biographical sections as interesting as the recipes.


  2. Oh that movie! I love it… thanks a lot for reminding me those scenes they are amazing… I should watch it again, laying on the couch maybe with your kebab in front of me! great great recipes!


  3. Reblogged this on The Cookbook Guru and commented:
    My Kitchen Witch has contributed another feast for us from this month’s book, The New Cookbook of Middle Eastern Food. I can only imagine if we had Lady Red Specs and My Kitchen Witch in the same kitchen with their love of this book would create a Middle Eastern Feast worthy of a Sultan!
    Enjoy your read from another wonderful contribution,


  4. I always wing it with kebabs adding ground sumac, or cinnamon, garlic and/or lemon zest but whatever I add, garlicky yoghurt sauce is mandatory. I’d be very happy to have bourghul tossed in butter every day! (If only I could!) Should we take Leah’s comment as a challenge and plan a sultan’s feast?


    • I usually wing it, too. So many variations! A bit daunting preparing a feast…a frugal six courses? Imam Bayilidi has to be one of the dishes – such an indulgent dish with a story attached.


      • For me and my limited Middle Eastern eating experience, festive dishes seem to be about time consuming preparation and elaborate presentation, rather than extravagant ingredients. Definitely Imam Bayaldi as a meze. A moulded rice dish would be on my menu, and coconut jam served as a spoon sweet.


  5. Gosh! You could open up a little stand near any university on either side of The Pond and make a fortune selling these. They certainly do look good! Thanks for sharing this recipe.


  6. I went to Uni in Sheffield many, many moons ago and let me tell you, the kebab shop at the back of the bus station didn’t anything like this – if only!!
    Funny isn’t it that you see a variation on the tahini yoghurt sauce all over the place these days and I’m sure people claim it ‘theirs’ but it’s been around for a long long time. I love this sort of food.


    • Well, there are good and bad kebab shops! πŸ˜‰ We go to the one on Eccleshall Road. Very good, but I still prefer homemade – so easy to do and you can adjust the spices and herbs to suit. Yes – tahini seems to be everywhere!


    • The brilliant thing about ground lamb kebabs (or kefta!) is the ability to add whatever herbs and spice combination you want. We make these a lot and I usually just go with whatever I fancy at the time.


  7. I will do this whole menu! Love using ground lamb and often make lamb burgers with a yoghurt mint sauce – so this will be a great variation on a familiar theme for me. Also like the bulgar and chickpeas. I forget about using bulgar but it’s so easy and tasty. I’m so glad you posted this. Thank you!


  8. From one americanfoodieabroad to another, I would LOVE to know what you have to say about Donner Kebabs as they are respresented in the UK. It is to my horror that my husband has taught my daughter to desire these. πŸ™‚


    • Donner kebabs – well…I have to admit that I have had my fill of them over the years – some good, some bad. My problem with them, as well as many fast food items, is that I don’t know exactly what is in them. I now tend to stay away from that kind of food. It is, however, possible to get a similar taste of the donner kebab by coming up with the right spice mix in your own home made kofta kebab – though the texture isn’t quite the same. Still, has to be better than mass produced, compressed meat(??) and unidentified substances.


    • Oh, I think you are going to love Claudia Roden. She packs a lot into her books, tells a good story and is fully grounded in the history and culture of a place – puts the food in context. The tahini-yoghurt dressing was good with a tomato salad which we had the next day – a good all around creamy salad dressing!


      • I have to share that the world of food blogging is fairly new to me, and you (mostly) ladies are all incredible! The love, attention to details, and creativity you put into your posts is inspiring.


  9. You packed you koftas so well… I’m drooling on the ipad screen now πŸ˜‰ …great the bulgur too… I’m in love with chickpeas! πŸ™‚


    • Both the koftas and the bulgar are so easy to do. I love loading the meat with herbs and spices – usually combinations as the whim hits me as I’m making them and what I have available.


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