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Turkish Minced-Meat Kebabs
1¼ hours plus chilling and grill prep
Turkish Adana kebabs are minced-meat kebabs (typically lamb) seasoned with enough finely chopped fresh sweet peppers and pepper flakes that the meat is tinted a deeper shade of red. Formed into thick, undulating ribbon-like shapes onto large, sword-like skewers and cooked over a live fire, the fatty meat takes on a light charring. We loved the Adana kebabs at Yirmibir Ocakbaşı restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey, but re-creating them was no easy task. To mimic the coarse, hand-minced texture of the meat, we learned we needed to grind our own using a food processor, processing half until of it until finely chopped and half until roughly chopped, then combining the two batches. And to get the right degree of succulence and richness, we borrowed the restaurant’s technique of incorporating ghee (a type of clarified butter used in Indian cooking) into the meat mix (salted butter works, too). This may sound extravagant, but the added fat greatly improved both the flavor and texture of the kebabs. For seasoning the meat, we use the food processor to grind tomato paste, red bell pepper, sweet paprika and Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes) to approximate the intensity of flavor and color of Turkish kapya peppers and pepper flakes. You can use either lamb (boneless leg) or beef (boneless short ribs) to make these kebabs. If grinding your own meat isn’t an option, store-bought ground meat will work (see the directions below), though the kebabs will cook up a little tougher and finer in texture. Flat metal skewers work better here than slender square or round ones because they give the meat, which is soft and quite sticky, a better surface to grip on to. But even so, the kebabs are quite delicate, so handle them carefully until cooked. Moistening your hands with water when forming the meat mixture on the skewers helps prevent sticking and a wide metal spatula is useful for transferring the kebabs to the grill and flipping them on the grate. For accompanying the kebabs, we make cumin salt and a yogurt sauce, and also offer lavash, sliced tomato and sliced onion alongside.
pounds boneless leg of lamb or boneless beef short ribs, trimmed of silver skin and cut into 1-inch chunks
cup plain whole-milk yogurt
01Place the meat in a single layer on a large plate and freeze, uncovered, until firm but not fully frozen, 30 to 40 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, mint, lemon juice, garlic and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. In another small bowl, stir together 2 teaspoons of the cumin and ½ teaspoon salt; set aside until ready to serve.
I made this twice. First time, I have followed the recipe exactly and the second time just using ground meat. Both came out really good. The first time I made it, I cooked it on high grill. They burned fast so the meat was a little dry (600 degrees). They were charred. You need to stay on top of them or it will burn quick. The second time I cooked it on the less hot grill and it was not dry. The meat will be hard to turn on the grill and when putting it on the skewers it may fall off. The yogurt sauce was very delicious and it went very well with the meat. It also the same sauce that you can use for dolma. This entire dish reminded me when I lived in Baku, Azerbaijan. Thank you for the recipe!
Hi Michael -
You can used pre-ground meat from the market or butcher shop (a butcher might be able to grind it less fine) and follow step 7 in the recipe for pre-ground meat. Instead of using a food processor to chop the peppers you will have to very finely chop them and then mix with the tomato paste, cumin, and paprika before continuing with the rest of the steps.
The Milk Street Team
Wonderful flavors and great prep. I made this vegetarian by subbing out ground lamb/beef for a mix of 1/2 lentils and 1/2 beyond beef. Delicious and just the right amount of richness.