One of the most famous of Turkish meat dishes, this style of kebab is named after its 19th century inventor, Iskender Efendi. As a food, kebabs in general have their origins in Middle Eastern, Turkish, and Indian cultures. But while we tend to think of hunks of meat on a skewer, often alternating with pieces of vegetable when we hear the word kebab, it's actually a broader term that covers many grilled meat dishes.
Iskender is essentially a doner-style kebab, which is a traditional Turkish dish of seasoned meat that's stacked in the shape of an inverted cone and turned on a vertical rotisserie to slowly roast. The recipe and method dates back to the 19th century Ottoman Empire and is also the basis for Greek gyros and Middle Eastern shawarma dishes.
The different applications are served with different accompaniments, but all are common street sandwich fast-foods that are stuffed into a form of flatbread such as pita, naan or lavash and may contain vegetables such as tomato, lettuce, cabbage, onions, cucumbers or pickles. They're covered in a sauce which might be yogurt based, such as tzatziki or sesame-based such as tahini.
As the meat cooks, the outer layers are sliced or shaved off and served in a variety of ways. In the case of the Iskender, the thinly sliced lamb is served over some type of bread or pita along with a hot tomato sauce, melted butter and whipped yogurt.
It's obviously difficult to replicate the doner-style cooking at home unless you have a spit. But you can replicate the idea by using a cooked lamb shank or other roasted piece of lamb such as a leg. Since we want to slice the meat thinly, it's best to start with a cooked and refrigerated piece of lamb. The cold meat will allow for easier slicing and, once sliced, the lamb gets reheated in butter and then topped with the traditional warm tomato sauce of the Iskender.
- 2 rounds pita or naan bread
- 1/4 pound lamb shank (thinly sliced)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tomato (seeded and diced)
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
- Salt and ground black pepper (to taste)
- Slice the cooked lamb shank as thinly as possible.
- Add the butter to a large sauté pan or cast iron skillet. Sauté the lamb slices in the butter until warmed through.
- Place the warmed lamb over the pita or naan bread.
- Add the seeded and diced tomatoes to the pan with the butter and sauté for a minute.
- Stir in the tomato sauce until warmed through.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste
- Pour the tomato mixture over the lamb
- Top with Greek-style yogurt and serve warm.