Iskender Kebab

Iskender Kebab


Well, Spring is upon us! *gazes out window at snow-blanketed wonderland*  No, really.

Anyhoo – this recipe is perfect for tender spring lamb, even if it’s not quite the weather for barbecuing.

I’ve not recommended an entire plate of food before, but the flavour in this particular combination of ingredients is so fantastic, I really do recommend  you try it this way at least once.

Iskender Kebab was created by Iskender Efendi in Bursa, Turkey in the 1860s. Looking for a way to invigorate business at his father’s restaurant, Iskender came up with the idea of roasting lamb on a vertical spit. Trimming the meat of all bone and sinew, it was marinated and then threaded onto a giant skewer and slowly rotated in front of a vertical fire. Sliced vertically when cooked, the meat was tender and juicy and a delight to eat. It was served over Turkish bread, drizzled with yogurt sauce, tomato sauce and melted butter. The toasted bread soaks up the three sauces and the meat juices and the combination is astonishing.

Leg of lamb is the best cut of meat for this recipe. Buy when it’s ‘on special’ for extra value, and ask the butcher to bone it for you. In the UK, Morrison’s butchery department is manned by real butchers, so don’t be afraid to grab something from the chiller and present it to them with your request. You can use the extra lamb for another recipe, but to be honest, I marinate the whole thing and we have it two days running, because it’s that good. 😀

This is definitely a plan-ahead meal – the meat should marinate for at least 24 hours – but on the second day, if everything else (bread, sauces, salad) is ready to go, the meal comes together very quickly, because the meat takes only 6-7 minutes to cook. I’ve adapted this for cooking the lamb on a grill, because I don’t personally own a vertical kebab grill – Tch! I know, right? I’m living like an ANIMAL! You could also thread the meat onto skewers and cook over a barbecue – once you’ve brushed all the snow off it, that is.

Iskender Kebab

Day 1

Lamb Marinade
4 large onions
80ml olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp salt
1 tsp coarse ground black pepper

500g lamb leg, trimmed of all fat and sinew[1]

  • Puree the onions and extract the juice either by pressing the pulp through a fine sieve, or by putting it into a muslin square and squeezing. If it’s a little difficult to get the onions liquid enough, add the lemon juice to the onions to make it pureeing easier. Alternately, mix the salt into the pureed onions and leave for 30 minutes, then pour the puree into a sieve over a bowl and allow to drain. The salt will help draw out the juice.
  • Mix in the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
  • Cut the meat into large cubes and add to the marinade.
  • Cover with cling film, or pour into a ziplock bag and seal, and leave in the fridge to tenderise for at least 24 hours.

Tomato Sauce
400ml chopped tomatoes
paprika to taste
chili powder to taste
honey to taste

  • Puree the chopped tomatoes.
  • Pour the tomatoes into a small pan and add the spices to taste. Personally, I don’t add that much, just enough to give a little warmth.
  • Add a little honey if the tomatoes are a little too acidic.
  • Simmer until thickened slightly, then cover and chill overnight.

Yogurt Sauce
1 clove garlic
0.5 tsp salt
250ml plain yogurt

  • Mash the garlic with the salt. A pestle and mortar is useful here. Otherwise, use the flat of a knife to make the paste.
  • Mix the garlic paste with the yogurt, cover and chill.

Turkish Bread
To the purist, this won’t be a traditional Turkish bread, but it’s quick, has a fantastic flavour and the fabulous open texture that suits this recipe well.

2 sachets fast action dried yeast
1 tsp caster sugar
500 g strong white flour
1 teaspoon salt
60 ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 free-range eggs
50 ml milk
375 ml warm water

  • Mix the yeast, sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.
  • Whisk the rest of the ingredients together and add to the bowl.
  • Mix thoroughly to combine. I use the dough hook on my mixer, but you can also do this by hand. NB Be warned – this is a VERY wet dough – as in, impossible to knead. That’s fine. It’ll make for a wonderfully open-textured loaf.
  • When thoroughly mixed, cover and set to rise for 1 hour.
  • Tip out the dough and fold into an elongated loaf shape. A dough scraper will prove useful here.
  • Oil a piece of baking parchment and place the shaped dough onto it.
  • Leave to rise again for 30 minutes.
  • Put a baking sheet into the oven and preheat to it’s highest setting.
  • When the oven is hot, remove the heated baking sheet, slide it underneath the parchment and return to the oven for 8-10 minutes, until the loaf is risen and browned.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Day 2

  • Cut 2-3 wide (10cm) slices of bread. Cut through the middle as if making a sandwich, then toast both sides of each slice under the grill until nicely browned. Cut into chunky cubes and arrange on the plates
  • Warm the tomato sauce.
  • Melt 75g butter.
  • With the grill on its hottest setting, lay the lamb pieces into the grill pan and cook for 6-7 minutes, until still pink in the middle.
  • While the lamb is cooking, drizzle the toasted bread cubes with melted butter and the yogurt sauce.
  • Lay the cooked lamb onto the bread, and spoon over the spicy tomato sauce.
  • Serve with salad and enjoy!

[1] This will serve four generously – but add as much meat as you like/want.