Ground lamb kebab (kubideh)
This kebab has a perfect oniony-meaty flavour, and a fantastic texture — a completely satisfying, kebab experience. Because of a dispiriting lack of decent Mediterranean street food in LA, we turn to this recipe to beat the doner kebab cravings. Kubideh is perfect served with rice, or in a wrap. It’s (of course) best done over charcoal, but it’s easy to make under a broiler, too.
— Brad, Eliseo
One key to this recipe is the texture of the kebab. The final texture should be tender and chewy, like good doner meat, and not like meat loaf or hamburger. You’ll need meat that’s not too lean (think 80% fat), and you’ll need to double-grind it. You can start with chilled ground lamb or beef, and process it in batches, in a food processor. Or, if you have a meat grinder (like the KitchenAid attachment), you can do it yourself. We just bought lamb shoulder, and ground it twice in our KitchenAid, starting at a big grind, and moving to small grind. Regardless, keep the meat constantly cold, while grinding and processing. Otherwise the fat will turn to goop, stick to everything, and the texture will be off.
If saffron and rosewater scare, you can substitute 1/2 tsp of ground turmeric without any problems. But the rose scent doesn’t overpower the meat at all, and together with the lime, imparts a slightly fresh fragrance that works will with the intense flavour of lamb.
This recipe is taken, pretty much exactly, from the wonderful “Food of Life” by Najmieh Batmanglij.
– 4 lbs (1.5 kilos) ground lamb or beef (or a slightly fatty cut, like shoulder)
– 1 tbsp (15ml) salt
– 1tbsp (15ml) ground black pepper
– 1/2 tsp (3ml) ground saffron
– 2 tbsp (30ml) rosewater
– 4 tbsp (60ml) ground sumac
– 1 tsp (5ml) baking soda (not baking powder)
– 4 medium onions
– 5 cloves garlic
– zest of 2 limes
– 1 cup (200g) butter or olive oil
– 1tbsp (15ml) lime juice
Take the onions. You can either finely grate them, and squeeze out the excess moisture, or process them together with the meat. If you opt to process them with the meat, just chop the onion to a small dice.
If you’re not using pre-ground meat, chop the meat into pieces, and grind it once at coarse (big) grind. Add the onions, and process the meat again at fine (small grind). If you don’t have a meat grinder, put batches of onion and meat together into a food processor, and blend it until it’s a sticky paste.
Combine the meat with the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, and knead it (well, bash it about), with your hands for about five minutes, until it’s smooth, squishy, and uniform. At this point, it can keep in the fridge for a day.
Make the baste, by warming the butter, and mixing it (or the olive oil) with the lime juice.
If you’re making the kebab over the fire, light the charcoal around 30-45 mins in advance. You’ll want the coals to be very high, but not actively burning. You’re also going to want the meat to be close to the coals (app 3-4 in, or 10cm). The easiest way to do this, is to have some bricks in the barbecue, and arrange them so that the skewers will rest on them, above the coals at an appropriate height.
While the coals are getting hot, take flat, 3/4 inch skewers (the ones that look like swords). Divide the meat paste into balls the size of oranges (with wet hands, so it doesn’t all stick to you, and everything else). Mold the meat like a sausage over the sword. Make sure the meat is uniform, and sealed all around. Make an obligatory “meat sword” joke.
Keep the meat swords on cold baking trays, in the fridge until they’re ready. Arrange the skewers over the hot coals on the bricks. Cook for a few seconds on one side, then flip them — you want the meat to get a bit cooked all over, so that it’s hardened slightly, and won’t slide into the fire. Grill it for 3-5 minutes. It should be browning and crispy in bits on the outside, but chewy and juicy on the inside.
Heat the oven (broiler) to hot. Take the meat, and pull off orange sized pieces. Shape it into long, flattish meat topedoes. Make an obligatory “meat torpedo” joke. Put the meat torpedoes onto a grill on top of a baking tray. Place them under the broiler, about 3 or 4 inches (10cm) away from the flame. When they get brown on one side, flip them.
Check to see that they’re done through. If they are still a bit raw, put them away from the heat to finish cooking in the hot oven.
Kubideh is typically served with rice, and a combination of lemon basil, halved-limes, and sumac. Even better — make a wrap!
Make a spread with flatbread (lavash, pita, or even tortillas), and fixings like tabouli, harissa, tzatziki, tahina, hummous, pickled turnips — or pretty much anything. Make the wraps to suit yourself. Eat. It.