Sunday, August 10, 2008

Grilled Spiced Ground Meat Kebabs: On or off the Skewer

With summer still here, it seems time for a different meat dish for grilling over charcoal or the gas grill. (The blog posting on spiced chicken shish kebabs [5/31/08] is by far the most read of my recipes.) Here is a 'köfte kebab', a ground meat kebab, something popular from as far West as Turkey and the Balkans to as far East as Pakistan and India, where it's called 'sheekh kebab'. The classical meat for this is lamb. But except among Hindus, beef is probably more common due to its cheaper price. My friends at the Istanbul Café in Decatur sell many of these.

There is a bit of technique required to make the meat sticky enough (unlike meatballs, this uses no egg) to cling to a skewer or to itself. Part of the trick is using fairly, but not totally, lean ground meat -- from 85% to 90% lean is about right. Leaner than that doesn't hold together plus it makes a dry kebab. The meat, once seasoned, must be kneaded well. If pressing the meat onto a skewer, a flat skewer is best. The meat should be squeezed around the skewer with your hand and flattened somewhat leaving indentations in the surface from your fingers. Chill the skewered or unskewered kebabs and paint the surface with a little olive oil before grilling.

There is coriander in two forms in these kebabs, the ground seeds and the leaves, the latter known more commonly in this country as cilantro. Coriander is an ancient seasoning, and both the seeds and the leaves were used in cooking in the Middle East when the Pyramids were being built. As were garlic and onions, by the way.

Most sorts of Middle Eastern kebabs are served with rice, unless they are rolled in a flat bread (such as pita) with tomato and lettuce. Rice pilaf recipes can be found in my blog in the postings of 1/5/07 and 3/30/07. The cucumber-yogurt sauce tsadziki (in Greek) or cacik (in Turkish) that makes a nice cool accompaniment is on the blog on 4/25/08. The kebab recipe will serve six or more depending how hungry they are. But it might feed as few as four for some of my student friends. The couple of Turkish red wines I've tried make me think of Merlot. Which is what I would serve with these. Or maybe beer.

Ground Meat Kebabs Tim

1 very small clove of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds 85-90% lean ground beef (or lamb if you can find, and afford, it)
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons ground coriander
3 tablespoons finely crushed ice or ice water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon, or to taste, ground cayenne (or 1 teaspoon 'Rooster' Siracha chili-garlic sauce)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Lemon wedges, red onion thinly sliced lengthwise, and coarsely chopped cilantro or parsley leaves for garnish

Using the back of a spoon, thoroughly crush the garlic in the salt until a smooth paste is obtained. In a large bowl, mix together the garlic-salt, meat, and all the other ingredients except the garnishes. Knead this well to evenly season the meat and make a pasty mixture.

Divide the meat into 12 equal portions. If using skewers (only flat metal ones work well), press one portion onto each skewer into a long sausage shape, then flatten the meat slightly by squeezing it gently with your fist repeatedly up the length of the meat and leaving finger imprints in the meat to give a rippled effect. If making unskewered kebabs, make into long sausages, working the meat well so it is evenly thick up the length of the kebab. Chill the kebabs in the refrigerator at least half an hour, or all day.

When the grill is hot (or use the broiler at the top of the oven) paint the kebabs lightly with olive oil. Grill or broil them, turning carefully but frequently until seared on the outside, and the inside (test by poking the tip of a knife in and twisting it) is to the desired degree of doneness.

Serve with a rice pilaf or flat bread. Garnish the kebabs with thinly sliced red onion and cilantro or parsley leaves. Accompany with lemon wedges and, if desired, with a cucumber-yogurt sauce (see reference above).

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