Ground Lamb Kebabs with Turkish Hot Peppers

Adana Kebab

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    4

Appears in

Planet Barbecue

Planet Barbecue

By Steven Raichlen

Published 2010

  • About

It’s war in Turkish barbecue and Adana has fired the first salvo. The grill masters of Turkey’s fourth largest city have trademarked their spicy ground lamb kebab that’s flavored with the blood-red flakes of a local chile pepper named for a town in nearby Syria, Aleppo. The move outraged grill masters in the rival city of Gaziantep, an ancient Silk Road trading post equally renowned for its grilled ground lamb kebabs—one version flavored with local hot peppers, others made with the surreally green local pistachio nuts or a variety of fragrant seasonal fruits. Of course, these are just two barbecue hot spots in a country where grilling is a national obsession and ancient art, not to mention the birthplace, linguistically speaking at least, of shish kebab, which takes its name from the Turkish words for sword, shish, and meat, kebab.

The basic recipe for all Turkish ground lamb kebabs starts with chopped meat from the shoulder, leg, or breast, depending on the preference of the grill master, and waxy white tail fat; the flavorings are custom mixed. Each type of kebab goes on its own skewer—a narrow metal strip, a wide metal strip, a square bar, and so on—so the grill master can tell the cooked kebabs apart. If you like your lamb crusty on the outside, spice-blasted and succulent inside, and served sizzling hot off the coals, these kebabs have your name on them.

Ingredients

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper, or 1 to 3 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • pounds finely chopped ground lamb
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon sweet or hot paprika, preferably Turkish
  • teaspoons Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • ½ teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large or 4 small pieces of lavash
  • Onion Relish

You’ll also Need

  • Flat metal skewers

Method

Advance Preparation

None

  1. Place the Aleppo pepper in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of hot water. Let stand until pastelike, about 5 minutes.
  2. Place the ground lamb in a mixing bowl. Add the pepper paste, parsley, paprika, salt, and black pepper. After lightly wetting your hands with cold water, knead the lamb mixture together by hand, squeezing out any air bubbles.
  3. Divide the lamb mixture into 4 equal portions. Mold the lamb mixture onto the skewers to make flat skinless sausages that are about 7 inches long, 1 inch wide, and ½ inch thick, pinching the meat with your thumb, middle finger, and ring finger. Place the kebabs on a baking dish with raised sides, or on a platter lined with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the kebabs, covered, until you are ready to grill.
  4. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat it to high. Or, set up the grill for grateless grilling, following the instructions here.
  5. When ready to cook, brush and generously oil the grill grate, if using. Arrange the kebabs over the heat and grill them until browned outside and cooked to taste, 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium. (Turks prefer their meat well-cooked.)
  6. Using the lavash to protect your hands, slide the grilled kebabs off the skewers onto a platter or plates. Blot the lamb fat off the kebabs onto the lavash, then grill it until lightly toasted, 1 to 2 minutes per side, turning with tongs. Watch the lavash; it can burn quickly. Cut the toasted lavash into 4-inch squares for serving with the lamb, and serve at once with the onion relish on the side.

Variations

Once you have mastered the basics of Turkish ground lamb kebabs—the ratio of meat to fat, how to mold the meat on the skewer, grateless grilling, and so on—you can make an almost endless variety of skewers. This is exactly what Mustafa Demircan did for me on a recent visit to Istanbul. Demircan owns what may be the most highfalutin grill restaurant in Turkey—Mabeyin—housed in a nineteenth century sultanic mansion (you can read more about him and the restaurant here). Here are some of the classic kebabs. Serve them with lavash and the Onion Relish.