I read somewhere that there are as many Seekh Kebab recipes as there are kebab vendors in India. I suspect that is a very large number. My online research confirmed this, as nearly every recipe starts with a few common ingredients, but almost always ends with a unique twist. Some use cream, others chickpea flour, mango powder, fresh chilies or nuts. Some even suggest “brown food colour”, which I’ve never heard of. What it all makes, though, is something like a Pakistani/Indian skewered sausage, roasted over charcoal.
Anyway, I’m not sure what cream does in a meat kebab, and my lovely girlfriend (who took the above photograph) dislikes the sourness of mango powder, so I’m sticking to a relatively basic mix of ingredients. All the usual suspects are here: onion, garlic and ginger in abundance, cumin, garam masala rich with cinnamon, cayenne for heat and fresh herbs. I’m going to use ground cashews for a rich nuttiness. Not to mention the meat itself, roasted to perfection (hopefully) and basted with butter for added finger-licking flavour. You can use beef if you’d like, but lamb is best. Ground lamb is out there in many places (Loblaws seem to carry it most often in Toronto) and is worth the extra expense if you want to get fancy with your BBQ.
Note: I am going to list some of the ingredients as a range (like 1 – 2 tbsp) and you can decide how much you’d like to add of each. For reference, I’ve made this recipe using the lower numbers and it tasted just fine (well, great, actually). But a little extra kick never hurt anyone, right?
- 1 kg ground lamb or beef (medium or lean – since much of the fat will cook off, do not get extra-lean or it will dry out on the grill)
- 1 medium-sized onion, chopped very fine (I consider “medium-sized” to mean a bit larger than a tennis ball)
- 1/2 cup of finely-chopped cilantro leaves and stems
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 – 2 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
- 1 – 2 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
- 1 – 2 tbsp lime juice
- 2 – 4 tbsp ground cashews, finely chopped or processed into a meal
- 2 – 4 tsp ground cumin
- 1 – 2 tsp garam masala (still using this one)
- 1 – 1 1/2 tsp cayenne powder
- 1 – 1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp kosher/coarse salt (or 1 1/2 tsp of fine table salt)
- oil/butter/ghee to baste (about 1/4 cup’s worth)
- approx. 10 skewers, metal or bamboo
Serve with: mint or cilantro chutney, naan, lime slices
What you will need: large glass mixing bowl, plastic wrap, knife and cutting board, measuring cups and spoons, small bowl (to beat the egg in), a grill (preferably charcoal), mini food processor if you have one (and why don’t you, by now? They save so much time!), basting brush
- Prepare all your ingredients: chop or process the cilantro, onion, garlic, ginger and cashews, then add them to the mixing bowl. Measure the lime juice, cumin, garam masala, cayenne, pepper and salt into the mixing bowl. In the small bowl, beat the egg then add it to the large bowl. Stir it all together.
- Add the ground meat to the bowl and using your hands, knead the ingredients into the meat. You’ll need (no pun intended) to do this for about 5 minutes to get everything mixed fairly evenly. At the same time, what you’re also doing is breaking down the ground meat into a finer consistency (minced). Ground meat out of the package is still made up of discrete pieces that will tend to fall apart or separate from one another when cooked. After you smash the meat around for a few minutes though, it turns into a more smoother paste-like texture. This, combined with the egg, will hold up on a grill much better.
- Now that the mixture is done, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight, or for an hour or two at minimum. There’s 2 reasons for this: to let the flavours mingle and to chill the meat and egg mixture. Chilled meat packs easier, and that is crucial to the next step.
- Now we start making the sausages and putting them on skewers. I’ve found the best way is to grab a ball of meat approximately 1/2 cup in size and roll it roughly into a cylinder about 1″ thick. Then slide a skewer through the length of it, as close to the middle of the meat as you can. Next, continue shaping the meat on the length of the skewer until you get a nice kebab, about 3/4″ to 1″ thick. Repeat this process until you run out of meat.
- You are ready to grill now. Are you feeling butterflies in your stomach? I am.
- If you’ve got a gas-type bbq, turn it up to high. We use high heat because it’s beef (slow-grilling beef usually just dries it out) and because Seekh kebab is traditionally cooked in a Tandoor and high heat is as close as we’re going to get to the 700 F intensity of a Tandoor. If using charcoal, get the charcoal lit, and wait until there’s some white around the edges of the pieces.
- Get a brush and a bowl of melted butter or ghee for basting ready.
- Add the skewers directly onto the hottest part of the grill. Baste it lightly with the butter to begin. This will probably cause some flare-ups from the grill, so be very careful.
- The kebab is a tube shape, so once the underside is cooked, you can roll it a 1/4 revolution and cook it on 4 sides, so to speak. Each side should probably take about 3 minutes to brown and get some nice dark edges, and do remember to baste the meat once or twice during this process. Keep an eye on it, though, if one side is getting blackened, turn it over. The kebabs are fairly thin, so the meat will cook through just fine. The other thing to note is that the meat might stick a little bit in the beginning (before the outer surface is seared) so be gentle at first.
- Once the meat is cooked and nicely coloured, remove them from the grill, let them sit a minute or two to cool down, then enjoy! Or maybe throw a few pre-cooked naan on the grill too. Mmm.
After you’ve got them on your plate, with a piece of naan, spoon some mint chutney over the meat and dig in.