When I was in Istanbul two years ago, kebabs were everywhere: shish kebabs – grilled chunks of meat or chicken on a skewer; doner kebabs – meat cooked on a rotisserie and sliced off for serving; and kofta kebabs – ground lamb or beef shaped onto skewers and grilled. They were served with tomatoes (raw or grilled), fresh parsley, assorted salad ingredients, seared peppers, rice or pita, and tahini or yogurt sauce – perfect complements to the rich, flavorful meats.
Here’s an example of a kebab dinner I had in Instanbul, taken with my iPhone:
I’ve been thinking (dreaming actually) of Turkish kebabs ever since my trip, wanting and intending to make them at home. I finally got to developing a recipe for kofta kebabs. I chose the kofta because you can pack so much flavor into ground meat, with finely chopped herbs and spices.
In Turkey I was intrigued by the unusual shape of the kofta kebabs – long and flat with ridges. I wondered how it was done. Now I know! It’s not required that you do this, by the way. You can simply form a long sausage shape and flatten it a bit, and your kebabs will be just as delicious. But if you’re up for trying the fancy technique, here’s how to do it:
Keep a bowl of ice water handy to dip your hand in, if the meat starts to stick to you. Slide a portion of meat onto the skewer and stand the skewer upright – pointy side down – holding the top with one hand. Use the other hand form the meat into a long, ridged, sausage shape by gently squeezing it from top to bottom, and pressing the side of your thumb in as you go, to make the ridges. Flip the skewer and repeat the process, squeezing and ridging the other side. Keep flipping and repeating until you have a long, flat, ridged kebab. If you want more instruction, check out this YouTube video.
I like to serve these buffet-style, with the kebabs and warm pita on one platter, the fresh vegetables on another platter, and the garlicky yogurt sauce in a bowl on the side.
I hope you enjoy this festive Turkish dish! It’s a great one for a entertaining.
- You will need long 6 skewers, preferably flat (12 inches or more) or 12 shorter ones. If you use bamboo skewers, soak them in water first, for at least 30 minutes.
- For the Garlicky Yogurt Sauce:
- 1¼ cups plain Greek Yogurt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 small garlic clove, pressed or finely minced
- 1½ tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sumac (plus more for the meat and vegetables)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- For the Lamb:
- 2 pounds ground lamb or beef
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and grated, blotted with towel to soak up excess liquid
- 1 large bunch flat leaf parsley, just the leaves, divided
- 3 tablespoons Urfa pepper
- 1 tablespoon sumac, divided
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- For The Accompaniments:
- 2 ripe tomatoes, sliced in half through the core, each half sliced thinly
- 1 english cucumber, washed and thinly sliced, crosswise
- 1 red onion, peeled, slivered, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, drained
- Parsley leaves (about 1½ cups or whatever's left of the bunch)
- 12-18 romaine lettuce leaves (depending on size), washed
- 3-6 pitas, sliced in half, warmed
- Make the Garlicky Yogurt Sauce: Mix all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Store in the fridge until you're ready to use it.
- Make the Kebabs: Finely chop ¼ cup of the parsley leaves. Set the rest aside for the salad.
- In a large bowl combine lamb, onion, chopped parsley, urfa pepper, 2 teaspoons sumac, and salt. Work the ingredients together with your hands for a couple of minutes until they are fully incorporated.
- Divide the meat mixture into 6 or 12 equal portions, depending on the size of your skewers. You can simply skewer them them squeeze them into long sausage shapes or you can try the ridge techqnique: Keep a bowl of ice water handy to dip your hand in, if the meat starts to stick to you. Slide a portion of meat onto the skewer and stand the skewer upright - pointy side down - holding the top with one hand. Use the other hand form the meat into a long, ridged, sausage shape by gently squeezing it from top to bottom, and pressing the side of your thumb in as you go, to make the ridges. Flip the skewer and repeat the process, squeezing and ridging the other side. Keep flipping and repeating until you have a long, flat, ridged kebab. Store the kebabs in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to grill.
- Arrange Accompaniments: Put tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, parsley and lettuce in piles on a platter. Sprinkle onions and cucumbers with ½ teaspoon sumac.
- Grill the Kebabs: Heat the grill to high. Charcoal grilling is more authentic but gas works well, too. Oil the grates of the grill to prevent sticking. Grill the kebabs for one minute on each side to seal them. Cook them for about 8 minutes longer, flipping them after 4 minutes. Turn off the grill and warm the pita on the hot grates for a few minutes, while you unskewer the kebabs.
- To Serve: Carefully remove skewers (they'll be hot!) and set meat on a platter with the warmed pitas. Serve with accompaniments and garlicky yogurt sauce. Divide remaining ½ teaspoon sumac, sprinkling some over meat and some over the yogurt sauce.
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