Spring & Shami Kabab
It’s wonderful to enjoy the long awaited spring season these days. Everything is blooming. Trees, bushes, weeds, every patch and nook and cranny. Atlanta is not just a green city. There’s an… unstoppable… growth! The only comparison I can think of is a tropical rain forest.
The greenery comes in layers. The tall, tall trees, thick with foliage, choking with vines and creepers stealthily climbing up, closely clustered bushes lining the roads, covered with flowers, and all kinds of plants peeking out from behind them, like a crowd gathered for a parade, and the ground covered with grasses, tiny, colorful wild flowers, weeds and tons of different kinds of mushrooms sprouting here and there.
There’s room for everyone. Everything is growing, branching out, spreading, enjoying the sunshine and the abundant rain. Plants cover, climb, hover and embrace other plants. Yet each one survives. I just love seeing that. There’s a bursting, breathing, vitality in the air, and that can only mean one thing- POLLEN!
But no! Not even pollen causing the incessant sneezing, stuffy nose and burning throat can stop us from enjoying evening strolls, hide and seek in the yard and garden tea parties! Time to have fun with the family, have friends over and laze around enjoying the perfect harmony of warm sunshine filtering through the foliage and cool breezes heavily laden with the honey sweet scent of blossoms.
And with tea time, we have to talk about the perfect accompaniments- shami kababs and cutlets. Most people like to have them in the freezer year round for a quick fix for guests dropping in. (Great idea.) You can bump up a meal by serving them at it, or for tea, they’re great at any time, all the time.
I’m not sure where the name comes from, whether it’s shami, as in of the evening (sham) because they’re usually served in the evening, or whether they come from the country Sham, (Syria). Incidentally, my husband’s nickname is Shami, and so my 3 year old gets very tickled by the idea of ‘Shami kabab’ and insists in between infectious giggles that they’re not Shami Kabab, they’re Meriam Kabab.
So, my recipe for Meriam Kabab comes from my mother, who makes yummy and absolutely equal sized kababs, which I can never do. I remember when I was a kid, I would eat handfuls of the keema while she was shaping it into kababs. (It’s cooked.) Funnily enough, about 20 years later, when she was making shami kabab at my brother’s house, his son did the exact same thing, chugging in handfuls as she made them. They’re good.
All the spices are added to the meat in ‘whole’ form. Afterwards, everything is ground to make a smooth mixture.
Shami kababs are made with beef, but I also use ground beef sometimes, as you can see in the pictures. I usually double this recipe, and sometimes I use 1 lb ground beef and 1 lb beef cubes. They’re all good, but the ones made with beef cubes have more of a robust ‘meaty’ flavor.
- 1 lb boneless beef cubes
- ½ cup chana daal (gram)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 small piece of ginger root
- ¼ tsp whole black pepper corns
- ¼ tsp cinnamon powder
- 3-4 cloves
- 2-3 black cardamoms, crushed
- 2 whole dried red chilies or ½ tsp crushed red chilies
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 heaped tsp whole corriander seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tbsp yogurt
- ½ medium onion
- 1 large handful cilantro
- a few sprigs of fresh mint
- 3 green onions
- 1 egg
- 1-2 green chilies (optional- to taste)
- 2 eggs, beaten, for dipping (optional)
- Oil for frying
Put the meat, daal, salt (if you don’t have an idea about how much salt to use, then start with 1 tsp and adjust it later), onion, pepper corns, chilies, bay leaf, cumin, corriander seeds, cinnamon, cloves, black cardamom, garlic, ginger and yogurt in a pot and give it a few stirs. Add enough water to cover it all. Bring to a light simmer and cover and cook on medium low-low heat.
When the meat and daal are very tender and all the water has evaporated, turn the heat off. Discard the cardamom and onion.
Put the mixture in a food processor with the green onion, green chilies, mint and cilantro, working in batches to make sure it is processed well. Process until the mixture is completely smooth and forms a ball.
Adjust the seasoning. Add the egg and mix it in with your hand. Divide into equal sized balls and form kababs, wetting your hands a little to keep the mixture from sticking. Place on a flat platter and put them in the freezer. After a few hours, when the kababs are frozen, take them out of the platter and place in a ziplock bag for easy storage. Return to the freezer until ready to use.
To use: Thaw the frozen kababs a little in the microwave. Don’t thaw them so much that they become too soft and difficult to handle. Heat the oil in a frying pan; I just pour enough so that a thin film forms on the base of the frying pan.
Dip each kabab into the beaten eggs before placing in the frying pan. This helps the kababs to retain their shape and gives them a nice golden crust. It is, however, optional. You can also fry the kababs as they are, without any coating. Fry for a few minutes on each side, turning carefully so that they don’t break, on medium heat until golden brown, or reddish brown if not using a coating. Serve immediately with ketchup or mint chutney.
Shami kabab made with ground beef are slightly ‘mild’ compared to those made with beef cubes, which have more of a robust ‘meaty’ flavor. I like to double this recipe and use 1 pound ground beef and 1 pound beef cubes, which works out really well!
All the water should have completely and absolutely evaporated out of the mixture before you take it off the heat. This is very important. If there is water in it, then the kababs will completely dissolve into a bubbling mixture when you fry them (don’t ask me how I know that). If you do end up with some water in the mixture, then you might be able to salvage them by dipping them in an egg mixture before frying. This will hold them together, forming a coating over them and keep them from turning into mush.
Make sure to process the mixture into a really smooth ball. It is really key to making good kababs. The daal should not be discernible.
I can never make even sized kababs by guestimation, so I either use an ice cream scoop to measure out each ball, or I roll the mixture out between two layers of cling wrap and use a cookie cutter to cut out kababs in all kinds of shapes! Everyone has their own shape and size of kababs. I think mine are very ‘medium’ in terms of size and thickness. Some people make really cute small and thick kababs. I’ve tried to make that size many times but my hands simply refuse to do it.
Either thaw the frozen kababs a little before frying, or fry them on low heat for a good long while before serving them. There is nothing worse than biting into a kabab that is warm on the outside and still cold from the freezer on the inside.
An interesting tidbit: I heard about someone who used to make nargisi koftay using the shami kabab mixture! How about that?!
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