Friday, 10 June 2011

Lebanese beef kebabs

The kebab. Something I have loved all my life. Pieces of meat or vegetables stuck onto a skewer and grilled, probably marinated for a while first and maybe served with a dip. When I was young, a kebab was chunks of lean beef steak or lamb, interspersed with chunks of cut up sausages, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers and onions. The onions would start to burn, the peppers would still be half raw and the meat dubiously cooked. We loved them nevertheless as they represented barbecues which meant it was Summer. Now I am older and (a little) wiser, I have different notions of kebabs. 

In Britain, a kebab is a late night snack after the pub, usually a Donair, thin slices of 'meat' pressed together and rotating around a vertical spit served by patient and tolerant Cypriots, Greeks or Turks. Eaten in a pitta bread with salad and chili sauce, they could still be smelled the next day on your clothes and hair. I used to imagine I was above such common foods and order the chicken breast or lamb kebabs, whereby you could see the pieces in a cooler, sitting patiently in their yogurt marinades. They would be cooked to order, char grilled to perfection, which meant everyone would moan at me for having to wait as they tried to pretend to be sober and stop swaying. The kebabs were always served with shredded ice burg lettuce, tomato, cucumber, chili sauce and yogurt spritzed with a squeeze of lemon juice. I can't believe we didn't get a chance to photograph this British institution while in the UK recently, (only one late night and we went straight home - I think).

Of course, there are many other versions and ideas of what a kebab is. In India, a kebab can be ground meat, highly spiced and wrapped around a skewer, and in Indonesia the satay is the mainstay for meat on a stick, marinated with fragrant and herbal ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal, ginger and garlic and served with the delectable sweet and nutty peanut sauce. 

I decided to try something different for this barbecue dish, Lebanese kebabs. Taken from a recipe from Saveur magazine, they promised to be juicy, spicy, herbal and meaty. They had a good flavour but, unfortunately, were dry. This is because I have some stupid reluctance to buy ground beef that is not lean or extra lean. The recipe stated chuck steak ground up which would have provided a decent amount of fat to melt into the meat and keep it succulent. Next time, I will buy some meat that is appropriate for this and grind it myself.

Recipe : Kafta (Lebanese beef kebabs. Adapted from Saveur magazine, June 2011)
To make 22 small or 12 larger skewers (I made 12 - a mistake, I think, the smaller bite size are better)
8oz ground chuck beef (with a little fat)
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
2 tbsp finely chopped sun dried tomatoes or 1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped or 3/4 tsp dried mint
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 medium yellow onion, grated and squeezed of the juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together well in a large bowl.
Form 1 or 2 tbsp (depending on size you want) around the end of 12 or 22 skewers.
Grill on the barbecue, turning for about 4 - 6 minutes or broil for the same amount of time.

2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp chili powder

Mix together well

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