While the type of kebab many people associate with Afghan cuisine is lamb or chicken threaded onto skewers and cooked over coals, there are in fact a number of different ways to prepare kebabs.
Some kebabs, such as kebabeh sikhi, are cooked over hot coals, some are cooked along with a selection of vegetables and spices, while others are shaped into round or oblong patties and fried. That said, all kebabs are commonly enjoyed with an array of chutneys, relishes, vegetables, and fresh, hot naans.
This recipe is for skewered lamb kebabs cooked over charcoal, the type my grandfather would make with meat from the qurbani, the animal sacrifice made for Eid al-Fitr. My mother recalls that during Eid (the celebration that follows Ramadan, the month of fasting observed by Muslims), her father would, after distributing meat to the needy, relatives, and friends, set some aside to make these kebabs for his family.
She remembers her father preparing the meat outdoors, skewering pieces to cook over hot coals in the garden. She remembers the sharp but warm aroma of the spices and meat crackling together and fusing with the scent of the coals, luring all the children out to take part. The joy of food for her father, she says, stemmed not only from melding ingredients and flavors, but also from his belief in the nurturing power of food, and how it became amplified when people came together to eat among the rows of lilacs, roses, and poplars so lovingly cultivated in his garden.
Begin preparing this dish the day before you would like to serve it, marinate the meat and soak wooden skewers in water, if you’re using them. Soaking the skewers prevents them from burning.–Durkhanai Ayubi
What is the best cut of lamb for kebabs?
Ideally, you want meat that has a decent amount of fat to keep your kebabs juicy and tender. Leg of lamb is a perfect choice because of that. But if you do need a substitution, boneless shoulder and sirloin will also do.
Kebabeh Sikhi (Lamb Skewers)
- Metal or pre-soaked
- 2 large (22 oz) onions, coarsely chopped
- 2 moderately hot fresh red chiles, such as Fresno, coarsely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup water
- Heaping 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, crushed
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 4 1/2 pounds lamb leg, cut into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces
- Naan flatbread, lime wedges, thinly sliced red onion, and fresh herbs, to serve
- Store-bought or homemade chutney, to serve (optional)
- In a food processor, combine the onion, chiles, garlic, and water, and blitz to a fine pulp.
- Lay a piece of cheesecloth over the top of a large bowl and strain the mixture through it, pressing to extract as much liquid as possible, and discarding the solids.
- Stir in the coriander, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and the oil. Add the lamb and mix well to coat the meat, cover, and marinate in the fridge overnight.
- This type of kebab is best grilled on a charcoal barbecue. When you are ready to cook the kebabeh sikhi, start by preheating the coals. The coals should be evenly glowing orange before you begin cooking.
☞ TESTER TIP: If you don’t have a grill, or your weather isn’t cooperating, these lamb skewers can also be cooked under the broiler.
- Thread the marinated lamb pieces closely onto metal or pre-soaked wooden skewers, leaving a little space between each piece. Depending on the size of your skewers, you should have between 8 and 16 skewers.
- Place them on the grill over the coals and cook, turning occasionally, until the lamb is cooked to your desired doneness, 8 to 10 minutes. Be careful not to let the meat dry out or become too crisp on the outside through overcooking. Test a piece of lamb to ensure it’s cooked through but tender.
- Serve with naan flatbread, lime wedges, thinly sliced red onion, and fresh herbs for brightness and crunch. Add some chutney on the side for a burst of acidity and heat.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
My guests and I found the kebabeh sikhi a little exotic and excellent. The recipe comes together quickly and almost all the prep can be done the previous day, so this recipe is a keeper for us.
As one family member dislikes lamb, I used about two pounds of lamb leg but I also used two pounds of boneless pork loin chops cut in much smaller chunks, about 1/3 ounce each – still easy to thread on wooden skewers.
These are the understated lamb skewers you order again and again at your favorite spot for kebabs. The onion-based marinade tenderizes the meat and the coriander gives it a subtle perfume, but most of all, this lamb tastes like lamb, which is all you want it to be.
I was going to make the kebabeh sikhi on a gas grill, but after all of the marinating, skewering, etc., I found that my tank wouldn’t seal. So, I finished these on a grill pan under a broiler. They were finished in 9 minutes. For those who don’t have a grill (or don’t want to brave the outdoors in January!), this was a perfectly serviceable way to finish the meat. It would have been much better on a grill, though. After 9 minutes they were cooked through. I’d prefer them a little closer to medium-rare, but of course under the broiler, they weren’t going to get any char earlier. I ate this with tahdig, saag, and cilantro-mint chutney.