I’m from Peshawar. And it would be safe to say that undeniably, Peshawar stands absolutely unrivaled in its famous chapli kabab (annoyingly called chappal kabab by some non Peshawaris). I don’t know why they are called chapli kabab, but I do know that their flavor is beyond compare.
I grew up in Lahore, and on every trip that we took to Peshawar, we were served chapli kabab by most of our relatives. Most people will be familiar with the sliced tomato in the center of each kabab, but my favorite were the ones with mikh (marrow) in the center, (compare the idea to the super special nalli nihari).
Another little known gem of Peshawar is the citrus fruit, narinj. It lies in the happy space between a lemon and an orange, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to chapli kabab. In the famous Islamia College in Peshawar, where my grandfather was the librarian and where my mother grew up, narinj trees lined the entire campus. And let me tell you that if there is one scent on Earth that feels like it came straight from heaven, then it is that of the orange blossom.
My parents loved and missed the narinj so much that my father planted 2 narinj trees in our front yard, and I was the luckiest person in the world this year because when I went to visit Pakistan in March, the blossoms were in full bloom! The air was so laden with their scent that I felt like I could squeeze it out of the air and collect it in my hands. It spreads through your entire being with every breath that you take and fills you with joy.
Now, about chapli kabab.
Let me be straight with you. I have good news and bad news.
The bad news is, and I hate to say this, but in all my life, no one I know or heard of, has ever been able to even remotely duplicate the taste of the authentic chapli kabab served on the streets of Peshawar. No one makes them at home in Peshawar, they just order them, of course, since they have easy access to this specialty. And outside of Peshawar, no one even knows what a real chapli kabab is, so I mean, just forgetaboutit.
I also know through reliable sources, and of course, we all know that restaurants have some ‘secret ingredients,’ including certain ‘spare parts’ that are used as flavor enhancers, because of which their flavor cannot be replicated at home. Moreover, they are fried in tallow, which adds to their distinct flavor.
Having said that, the good news is that the recipe that I have for chapli kabab is pretty awesome. I’m not making tall claims here about giving you that other worldly, unmatched flavor, but I always get asked for the recipe when I make these, so I decided that it was time that I finally shared it.
You will love it .
You can make this recipe dairy-free and gluten-free, (both of which I often do), and they still come out perfect.
Grind the onion, tomato, green chilies, garlic, ginger and cilantro.
Add it to the ground beef along with the rest of the ingredients.
Heat the oil in a 12″ frying pan. (Or whichever size you have. It just takes less time to fry it all in a bigger pan.)
I measure out equal balls with an ice cream scoop. Shape them into kababs.
Fry them on medium heat for about 5-7 minutes.
Flip them over and fry them on the other side until cooked through and nicely browned.
Drain on paper towels and serve hot.
- 1 lb ground beef (lean)
- 1 medium-large onion
- 1 roma tomato
- 2 green chilies
- good handful cilantro
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 1 inch ginger root
- 1 rounded tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1 heaped tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp red chili powder
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp masa flour
- a nice dash of heavy cream/olive oil
- Oil for pan frying
- In a food processor, coarsely pulse the onion, tomato, garlic, ginger, green chilies and cilantro.
- Add to the ground beef along with all the spices, masa and cream.
- Heat about a tbsp of oil in a frying pan and add the egg.
- Scramble it until half cooked and quickly add to the ground beef.
- Mix it all up with your hands, but don't over mix.
- Heat the oil in a 12 inch frying pan.
- Fry about a teaspoon full of the mixture and taste to make sure that the seasoning is to your liking.
- Measure out the kabab mixture with an ice cream scoop and flatten and shape them with your hands.
- Fry in the oil (about 1/3 cup oil) for about 5-7 minutes each side on medium heat until browned on both sides.
- Drain on paper towels and serve hot.
- I have also made these kabab with non-lean ground beef. In that case, I leave out the heavy cream.
- You can substitute the masa flour with breadcrumbs.
- Over mixing causes the kababs to become tough. (I'm just saying this because all the pro chefs say it. But honestly, the pro chapli kabab makers only very lightly mix all the masala in at the last second before frying.)
- Chapli kabab are flat and about the size of the palm of your hand. However, this is my go-to quick-fix meal, so when I'm in a hurry, I make small, thick kababs so the entire mixture fits into the pan in a single go, and in 10 minutes, my meal is ready. Otherwise, the bigger kababs cook 3 at a time, and you might have to replenish the oil as you cook them too.
- If you don't want to half cook the egg like the pros, just throw in a raw egg. Hakuna matata.
- I didn't mention this before, but I grind my own spices. Technically, you should use whole spices, like the cumin, coriander, garam masala and chilies, then grind them and then mix them in to bring out the best flavor.
- Optional: I slice a roma tomato and/or an onion into rings, and after frying the kababs, I stir fry the onion and tomato all in the same oil for a few minutes and top the kababs with it.
- handful mint leaves
- handful cilantro leaves
- 1 cup yogurt, thinned with water
- 1 green chili
- salt to taste
- Grind the herbs and green chili.
- Mix it in the yogurt and season with the salt.
- I'm not too particular about picking each and every leaf from the stem. I throw parts of the stem into the grinder along with the leaves.
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