Sizzling Turkish Lamb and Eggplant Kebabs
Husband-and-wife chefs Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer like to play with fire.
And the after-effects are sure to make your mouth-water.
After honing their craft at Yotam Ottolenghi’s acclaimed London restaurants, the couple opened the popular Israeli-influenced cafe, Honey & Co. in London, in 2012. That was followed in short succession by Honey & Smoke, and the Honey & Spice deli.
Their first cookbook, “Honey & Co: At Home: Middle Eastern Recipes From Our Kitchen” (Pavilion) was named “Cookbook of the Year” in 2015 by The Sunday Times in the United Kingdom.
Now comes their follow-up, “Honey & Co: Chasing Smoke: Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant” (Pavilion), of which I received a review copy.
As the title implies, this book is all about grilling, smoking and imparting coveted char in dishes. Join Packer and Srulovich as they take you on a journey to discover the most delicious live-fire-cooking through Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, and Greece. Photographs of market stalls, desert landscapes, seashores, and all manner of blazing grills transport you to these evocative places. So much so, that you’ll swear you can feel the heat and smell the smoke right off the pages.
Discover delights such as “Ash-Baked Beetroot, Lentil and Feta Salad,” “Sardines Grilled in Vine Leaves,” “Beer-Braised Smoky Pork Ribs,” and ‘Grilled Stone Fruits with Rosemary and Rose Syrup.”
I was drawn to the recipe for “Patlican Kebabs (Lamb and Aubergine Kebabs)” because of the striking image of the long metal skewers threaded completely with lamb meatballs and large segments of eggplant. Yes, for anyone who has never watched a British cooking show, you will want to know that aubergines are indeed just another name for eggplants.
In this case, you’ll want to choose long, slender ones, such as Italian or Japanese varieties rather than the bulging round ones often referred to as Italian or globe.
Ground lamb gets mixed with grated onion, which adds moisture, and flavored with the warmth of paprika, cumin and allspice. You’ll end up with a fairly sticky and wet mixture, but once you bookend each meatball on either side with the big pieces of eggplants, there’s no worry that any will fall off the skewers.
The recipe didn’t call for the use of them, but my husband, the grill-meister in our house, decided to use fire bricks to prop the skewers slightly above the grill grate. That not only insured that the kebabs wouldn’t stick to the grate but also allowed them to cook more gently so that their exteriors didn’t burn before they were cooked through. If you don’t have fire bricks, just be sure to oil your grate well beforehand. And if you don’t have a backyard grill, the recipe also includes alternate instructions for cooking the kebabs in the oven.
This is a simple Turkish kebab recipe, but definitely a showy one with the sizeable metal skewers filled to capacity and sizzling over flames, with a crackle sputtering now and again from the drip of fatty juices. The delicious meaty aroma is thoroughly intoxicating, too.
The lamb meatballs cook up so tender and luscious with haunting Middle Eastern spices. The eggplant nearly collapses into softness, as a natural sweetness is brought to the forefront.
Serve with grilled flatbread or rice. And embrace the sizzle.
Lamb and Aubergine Kebabs
2 to 3 long black eggplants or aubergines (use the longest, thinnest ones you can find)
Olive oil for brushing
For the meat patties:
21 ounces minced fatty lamb (about 20 percent fat)
1 onion, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon flaky sea salt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Combine all the ingredients for the patties and knead well to form a homogeneous mixture. Divide into 12 balls of about 2 1/4 ounces each.
Cut each eggplant into slices of about 1 1/2 inches thick. (Depending upon the size of your eggplants, you may need to cut each slice in half again. Or you may need to use three eggplants instead of two. You need to end up with 16 slices.) Brush the cut surfaces with olive oil.
Thread four slices of aubergine and three meatballs alternately onto each long metal skewer, starting and finishing with a slice of aubergine. Push to compress the meatballs between the pieces of aubergines as you go.
Prepare a barbecue grill for medium-high heat. Make sure the grate is clean, then oiled well. If you have fire bricks that can be used to elevate the skewers slightly above the grill grate, this is a perfect time to use them. Place the skewers of eggplant and lamb on the barbecue and cook for about 5 minutes, then rotate the skewers and leave for a further 5 minutes. Continue turning and grilling the kebabs until they are cooked all over and the eggplant starts to feel soft — about 20 minutes. It is important to cook these on a medium-high grill to allow time for them to cook through without burning the exterior.
Alternate Method: To cook without a barbecue grill, place the skewers on a baking sheet in a preheated 450-degree oven for 12 minutes. Turn them over and cook for another 12 minutes or until the eggplant is nice and soft.
Adapted from “Honey & Co.: Chasing Smoke” by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich
Another Recipe From Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich: Chicken in Plums with Sweet Spice