If you ever get invited to a Middle Eastern dinner, you will be amazed at the elaborate banquet displayed on the table. A large platter piled with with a mountain of rice usually topped with nuts and raisins, two to three kinds of meat dishes consisting of lamb, chicken and sometimes fish, a couple of stews filled with pulses and vegetables, many mezzes and side dishes, salads, and heaps of flat bread which is seen as essential. For a food lover such as me, I find it very difficult to try to enjoy the dishes prepared to their full potential because as you can imagine, there is no way you can stomach it all, even if you were starving to death. You just have to get ready for many buttons popping, or simply wear loose clothing.
Nonetheless, these occasions are rare and are filled with a few families catching up, kids running about and lots of loud chitter-chatter filling the whole house with such a warm atmosphere that a by-passer would certainly find difficult to ignore. What’s also striking is the generosity and the endless hospitality shown by the hosts. I enjoy such gatherings, not just for the huge array of food available, but the warm atmosphere which fills you with a feeling of love more satisfying than food ever could.
Okay, maybe I am getting a little carried away, especially if you have to think of all the washing-up to do afterwards. However, when it comes to barbecues, it’s truly a team effort; everybody gets involved, the men take their places at doing what they do best, the BARBECUE! No stereo-typing here, but if you asked me, the smell of the smoke lingering on my clothes would selfishly keep me away.
So, the cold weather in the UK this Easter, did not dampen our host’s spirits and even though there were still patches of snow in the garden, the coal barbecue was on full power. The first batch of kebabs turn out slightly burnt as the flames slowly settle into a milder more suitable grilling environment for the lamb, tomatoes and onions. Traditionally, the tomatoes and onions are inserted whole on the thick skewers, obviously the onions needing much more time to tenderise. Any charcoal burnt skin is discarded before consumption.
So I’ll leave you with a very simple recipe for Iraqi lamb kebabs, a quick salad and a vegetable dish that were served alongside it on that day. The next post will feature the popular cooling yoghurt drink, laban, usually served alongside the lamb kebabs.
Iraqi ‘Sheesh’ kebab – (sheesh means skewer, usually quite a thick one to hold the kebab and prevent if from falling)
- 1 kg finely minced ‘fatty’ lamb
- 1 small onion, finely grated
- salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon flour, if needed
- pinch of mild curry powder, optional
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, optional
The secret for a good tender kebab obviously depends on the quality of the lamb. If you can get your butcher to mince the meat with the onions several times, you will get a smooth paste which not only cooks quicker, but is also easier to shape on the skewers. If you have a mincer at home try mincing the onions with the lamb at least twice.
Mix the lamb, onions, salt and pepper, curry powder and parsley, if using, and knead for about 5 minutes, until you get a nice smooth paste. Leave to rest for at least half an hour and up to 2 hours before shaping into skewers.
Prepare your barbecue or preheat your grill.
For each kebab take about a tennis-ball size of mince and shape evenly onto the ‘sheesh’ (skewer). Repeat for the number of skewers available, then place on the barbecue (or grill). Turn each skewer after 2-3 minutes so that a) you get an evenly cooked kebab, and b) the kebab does not fall off the skewer. You may need to add some flour to the remaining mixture if the kebab falls off.
Keep turning the kebabs until they are grilled to your desired taste. Carefully remove with a piece of flat bread and either pile up in a platter, or make a sandwich immediately while the kebab is still fresh and hot. 🙂
Parsely, onions and sumac salad
Sumac is a tart and fragrant spice usually found in middle-eastern shops. If you find sumac hard to locate, use lemon juice instead.
- Large bunch of flat leaf parsley, washed and thoroughly dried
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 heaped tablespoon sumac
- Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
In a large bowl, mix the onions with the sumac and leave for at least 15 minutes. This should soften the onions and make them less pungent.
Before serving, add the parsley and good drizzle of olive oil and mix.
Roasted aubergine and tomato dish – Mirza Qasimi
This dish is very similar to baba ganoush, it’s just served differently.
- 1 large aubergine
- 1 tablespoon olive oil for frying
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3-4 fresh skinned tomatoes, chopped
- salt and black pepper to taste
- garam masala to taste, optional
- squeeze of lemon juice, optional
Grilling the aubergine on the grill: Preheat the grill to high. Line a baking tin/tray with foil. Prick the aubergine with a fork in several places and place on the tray. Grill for 30 minutes, turning over occasionally.
Grilling on a gas hob: Pierce the aubergine using a fork or a sharp knife on several places. This avoids an explosion. Line the area around the hob with foil to protect them, plus it will be easier to clean later. Place the aubergine directly on a moderate flame and roast for about 12-15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Keep an eye on the aubergine so it doesn’t catch fire.
Leave the aubergine to cool.
In a large frying pan heat the olive oil on moderate heat and add the onion. Fry for about 6-8 minutes until the onion changes colour but not too brown. Add the chopped tomatoes (you can use canned) and cook until the juices released from the tomato evaporate, about 10 minutes or so. Season, add spice and lemon juice, if using.
Peel the burnt skin from the aubergine, and roughly dice the inside flesh. Add to the onions and tomato mixture, mix. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. Spoon on a serving dish and serve.