Although the Turkish shish kabob is popular in the Middle East and in other parts of the world, the Arabs as well as the Iranians have another interesting way of grilling meat. Instead of stringing up chunks of lamb or camel or other good meat on a skewer, they shape ground meat around a skewer and grill it over hot coals. Usually, this skewer has a flat, sword-shaped blade, so that the meat stays on it better. Also, both ends of the skewer rest across the coals, with no support in the middle. In other words, no grid is used. To accomplish this at home, I use two bricks with the coals between them, and a third brick is used in the rear. The trouble with a rack, of course, is that the meat tends to stick to it and tear off the skewer.
The Arabs prefer a finely ground meat. More often than not, lamb is specified, but I normally cook the dish with beef or a combination of beef and pork, which I run through the grinder twice. I suspect that any combination of good meat can be used, such as turtle and camel. Personally, I am fond of the method for cooking what I consider to be inferior cuts. In other words, I use the tenderloin for shish kabob, and the recipe below for the tougher cuts. I also like the method because it allows one to mix the spices into the meat rather than swabbing them onto the surface.
2 pounds of finely ground meat
1 chicken egg
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley,
or 1/2 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix all the ingredients well and set the mixture in the refrigerator for an hour or longer. Build a fire and rig for grilling. When the coals are ready, shape the meat mixture around a skewer into balls, about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Fill up the skewer, but don't pack the balls together. Put the skewers across the coals and grill until done, turning frequently. I prefer mine to be cooked for 10 minutes about 4 inches from hot coals, but cooking times will vary, depending on your fire and your rig. In any case, the inside of the balls should be done but quite moist. I serve the meat over a bed of rice.
The spices in this dish can be varied to suit your taste or your meat, or both. Camel, for example, or even mutton, might benefit from a bit more cumin. Or you can omit all of the spices, except perhaps the salt and cayenne pepper. (Black pepper can be used instead of the cayenne pepper.)
The Arabs cook a similar dish by shaping the ground meat onto the skewer in a long sausage shape instead of in balls. Suit yourself. In Iran, my wife informs me, they use sword-shaped skewers and shape the ground meat around it, then they pull it off with the aid of a flat, pliable bread, not unlike the Mexican tortilla. Sometimes they eat the meat in the bread, and sometimes they eat it separately.
On The Grill
A complete guide to hot-smoking
and barbecuing meat, fish, and game.
By A.D. Livingston
The Lyons Press
Recipe Reprinted by permission.
This page created September 1999
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