This lamb shish kebab is easy to prepare, deliciously tender from the yogurt marinade with a tasty, light spicing. You can pair these skewers with a range of sides for a flavorful summer meal.
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Summer is all about grilling and salads in our house, as I imagine may be true for a few people. Avoiding the oven and enjoying lighter foods definitely fits with the weather. Plus, there's something about the flavor you get from cooking on the grill that's so good.
Kebabs or other skewers are always fun to make as well, and we have a few firm favorites like lamb sosaties (with curry and apricot) and chicken satay with peanut sauce. These tasty kebabs are another firm favorite and just as easy.
For me, being able to prepare things ahead for the grill fits in really well for summer when we are often out a good chunk of the day. Marinating either the night before or in the morning cuts down on prep time right before cooking.
Especially when paired with simple salads and sauces, it makes dinner time pretty quick to get on the table. And we all enjoy the delicious mix of flavors.
Origins of shish kebabs
Putting meat on a stick is probably almost as old as cooking over a fire. Apparently evidence has been found of stones with cut out marks to support skewers over a fire from Minoan and Akrotiri periods on the Greek islands before the 17th century BC and there's other examples around the Middle East.
These days, you'll find kebabs of one kind or another around the globe. Skewers make a popular street food as they are easy to eat with your fingers. In many cases, it's a great way to use up lesser cuts of meat since the chunks tend to be small. Many use marinades to help tenderize the meat, too.
In Turkish şiş (shish) means a sword or skewers. Traditional stories go that the dish was invented by Medieval soldiers who used their swords to grill meat. In Turkey you'll find many variations of shish, like tavuk şiş made with chicken and lamb, like these. Lamb is also popular in similar skewers like shashlik found in the Caucasus and beyond.
What cut of lamb is best?
For these, you are looking for a good balance of relatively tender but also not too lean. Shoulder or leg meat is best, and as you dice it, trim back larger chunks of fat but leave some as it adds flavor as the meat cooks.
You'll find a number of variations in the seasoning, with some including red pepper paste (either sweet or spicy Aleppo pepper) and others yogurt. Some combine tomato paste with one or the other. Most include garlic and oil and a lot have cumin. Other spices vary, although the flavorings are generally relatively simple.
Here I've gone for a mix that both tenderizes and adds flavor but is family-friendly too. It's a tasty mix to start from and adjust as the mood takes you.
How to serve these skewers
Despite the popular image of serving kebabs in a sandwich, that's actually a relatively recent invention, particularly popularized by Turkish immigrants in Germany in the 1970s.
In Turkey, you will more typically find kebabs, both these skewers and döner meat, served on a plate with various sides like rice and/or vegetables. It may include bread, but often as a base or on the side. You don't generally put vegetables on the skewers with the meat but grill them separately.
At home, of course, you can make whatever works for you. We sometimes have a simple tomato and cucumber salad, or red cabbage salad. Breads may be pita or Turkish bread. A simple green salad would also be good, as would some grilled vegetables or salads like kisir.
We always have some form of sauce, though, whether that's cacik (as in my Persian marinated fish, similar to tzatziki), baba ghanoush or tahini sauce. You can drizzle them on top or keep to the side for dipping.
I also often go against tradition and add onion in with the meat on the skewer, especially if the meat has less fat as I feel it helps (and even if I'm wrong, it tastes good).
These lamb shish kebabs are easy to make with a simple, tasty marinade that also gives deliciously tender meat. They're great for busy nights being prepared ahead and are easy to pair with a range of sides for a tasty summer's meal.
Try these other tasty skewers:
- Tandoori shrimp (yogurt and spice-marinated)
- Anticuchos (Peruvian beef skewers with a chili-vinegar marinade)
- Chicken yakitori (simple Japanese skewers with a soy-based glaze)
- Plus get more Turkish recipes and summer recipes including grilling, salads and cold drinks in the archives.
Lamb shish kebab
- 1 lb lamb shoulder or leg (or a little more)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoon plain yogurt eg Greek style yogurt
- ½ tablespoon crushed garlic
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon sumac (see notes)
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- Dice the lamb into roughly bite-sized pieces, removing large pieces of fat and sinew as you go but don't over-trim - you want some fat left on to help add flavor as it cooks.
- Place the lamb in a freezer bag or dish along with the rest of the ingredients - oil, lemon, yogurt, cumin, paprika, sumac and oregano. Mix all together well then seal or cover and refrigerate. Leave to marinate for at least two hours but overnight even better.
- When ready to cook, warm up the grill/barbecue then thread the meat onto skewers. If using wooden skewers, make sure you soak in water in advance. While not traditional, I sometimes use some chunks of onion every few chunks of meat.
- Cook over a hot grill a few minutes each side (exact time depends on grill heat and thickness of meat) until meat is just cooked through. Serve with eg bread and salads.
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