Liver Kebaps

Cartlak Kebabi

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You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to catch Ali Haydar. Around 6 am should do it. If you wait till 8, you might find he has sold out of his speciality and gone home. This speciality is lamb liver kebaps —another breakfast tradition of southeastern Anatolia that baffles visitors from Istanbul.

Ali opens his little kebap shop, just down the hill from Gaziantep Castle, immediately after the dawn prayer, which means around 5 am in the summer and around 6 am in the winter. Gradually the customers arrive to sit on the tiny stools outside the shop. Some sit at an angle that suggests they are on the way home from a night of drinking. Others are straight-backed and alert, suggesting they are just out of the nearby mosque and on their way to work.

Inside the shop, Ali, in a light-blue butcher’s jacket, risks setting fire to his moustache as he uses a sheet of cardboard to fan the coals of his charcoal grill. He closely watches his skewers and, at the moment the exterior turns crunchy while the inside stays pink, he lifts them away from the coals and wipes them into a mitten of flatbread. When all his livers (and his hearts, lungs and kidneys) have been cooked and consumed by customers, he heads home. In the afternoon he visits the offal market (distinguished by a large sign announcing ‘Cleaned Heads’) and collects the ingredients to be prepared overnight for the next morning’s feast.

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Ingredients

Kebaps

  • 2 lamb livers, about 300 g (10½ oz)
  • 250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) milk
  • 4 mild green or red chillies
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 250 g (9 oz) butter, softened

Parsley Salad

  • 1 bunch flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses (to make your own)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 store-bought pita breads (or make a lahmacun base and fold it over), to serve

Method

Soak the lamb livers in milk overnight, covered, in the fridge.

Remove the bowl of livers from the fridge and set aside.

To make the parsley salad, pick the leaves off the parsley and roughly chop. Discard the stems. Finely slice the red onion and place in a salad bowl. Add the parsley, sumac, chilli flakes, molasses and olive oil, and mix well.

When you’re ready to cook the livers, remove them from the bowl, pat dry with paper towel and clean off the membrane and sinews. Roughly cut each of the cleaned livers into 16 cubes about 2 cm (¾ in) across—the size of a bird’s head, as we say in Turkey.

Preheat the barbecue grill to very high. If using bamboo skewers, soak in water for 15 minutes.

Slit down one side of each chilli and remove the seeds. Slice across each chilli to make six pieces about 1 cm (½ in) wide. Mix the cumin, paprika, chilli flakes and salt in a bowl, then stir in the softened butter. Using your hands, rub the pieces of lamb liver in the spiced butter to coat well.

Next, make the kebaps by alternately threading four pieces of liver and three chilli chunks onto each skewer—with the chilli keeping the liver pieces apart. Repeat to make eight kebaps.

Put the skewers on the grill and cook for 2 minutes on each side, turning the skewers once. The livers are ready when they start to form a crust.

Partly slit through the pita bread so that it can open like jaws. Spread any leftover spiced butter inside the bread. Next, holding a skewer in your left hand and a pita in your right hand, use the pita like a baseball mitten to wrap round the skewer and pull the row of liver and chilli pieces off. Repeat so each pita contains the liver from two skewers. Open the bread again and add a heaped tablespoon of salad between the two strips of liver. Close the bread and serve immediately.