Joojeh Kabob (Yogurt Saffron Chicken Kebabs) Recipe

Yogurt saffron chicken kebabs

The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Marinading Time: 12 hrs
Total: 12 hrs 30 mins
Servings: 6 Servings
Yield: 6 Kabob
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
497 Calories
33g Fat
6g Carbs
47g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 497
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 33g 43%
Saturated Fat 10g 50%
Cholesterol 249mg 83%
Sodium 902mg 39%
Total Carbohydrate 6g 2%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 47g
Vitamin C 6mg 29%
Calcium 99mg 8%
Iron 2mg 11%
Potassium 617mg 13%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Joojeh kabob is a traditional Persian chicken kebab that is easy prepare and offers remarkably flavorful and tender chicken. My fondest memories of Kebabs come from the restaurants along the side of the road on our way from Tehran to vacation by the Caspian Sea. On weekends at home in Tehran, my father would frequently grill kebabs on our small table-top gas grill. My mother would have already prepared a large pot of steamed basmati rice and all the various side dishes, and I would eagerly anticipate the completion of the grilling process to embark on a delicious feast!

Pieces of boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs are first marinated briefly in a vibrant mixture of bloomed saffron to give the chicken the signature color and flavor profile. Then, yogurt, onions, and lime juice are added for a longer marination period to gently tenderize the chicken pieces and layer in additional flavors. The end result is exceptionally tender pieces of brightly-colored, flavor-packed kebabs that are a reflection of the high-quality chosen ingredients of saffron and tart fresh citrus.

The traditional and preferred method of cooking kebab is to use long metal skewers and suspend them directly over hot charcoal without a grill grate, to prevent the meat from sticking to the grate. Smaller metal or soaked wooden skewers can also be used to prepare joojeh kabob. A sprinkling of sumac over the chicken pieces delivers that final touch. Sumac spice, a ground dried berry from the sumac shrub, is a true favorite in Persian and most middle eastern cultures and offers an enticingly deep red color along with a lemony-sharp, tart flavor.

Joojeh, sometimes spelled jujeh, is the Farsi word for young chicken. While it may be difficult to identify the age of the chicken at the grocery store, it is always best to use organically raised and fed chicken where possible.

"These kebabs were outstanding! The saffron added an exotic touch while beautifully coloring and flavoring the chicken. The kebabs were quite tender because of the overnight yogurt marinade. Once off the grill, I sprinkled the kebabs generously with sumac, as the author suggested, which lent a bright, tart hit of lemony flavor." —Diana Andrews

Joojeh Kabob (Yogurt Saffron Chicken Kebabs) Recipe/Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

For The Chicken:

  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads

  • 6 tablespoons warm water

  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breast, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces

  • 1 cup plain yogurt

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced

  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For Basting:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled

  • 2 tablespoons saffron water (reserved from soaking)

  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Steps to Make It

Prepare Chicken

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for preparing the chicken

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  2. Using a smooth mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads to a fine powder. 

    Saffron threads in a mortar and pestle

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  3. Stir the saffron powder and water together in a small bowl. Set aside to bloom, about 5 minutes.

    a bowl of water mixed with saffron powder

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  4. Combine the chicken and 4 tablespoons of the saffron water in a large bowl. Toss to coat, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. The chicken will infuse with saffron’s bright yellow-orange color, aroma, and flavor. Reserve the remaining 2 tablespoons of saffron water for basting.

    Pieces of chicken coated in saffron water

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  5. Combine the yogurt, onion, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. 

    A bowl with yogurt, onion, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  6. Transfer the yogurt mixture to the bowl with the chicken. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours, preferably overnight.

    Saffron chicken pieces marinating in yogurt mixture

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

Make Kebab

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Prepare a medium (350°F to 375°F) gas or charcoal grill fire.

    Ingredients for making the kebabs

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  2. Push the chicken pieces onto metal or previously soaked wooden skewers. The number of pieces on each skewer will depend on the length of your skewer.

    A good rule of thumb is to make sure the chicken pieces are not overcrowded on the skewer while also leaving some space at either end of the skewer. 

    Pieces of marinated chicken on skewers

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  3. Place the skewers on a large platter or a baking sheet. Gently tap the skewers against the tray to shake off any excess marinade. Discard the remaining marinade to avoid any risk of food contamination.

    Chicken skewers on a large baking sheet

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  4. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, the remaining 2 tablespoons of saffron water, and the lime juice.

    A small bowl with melted butter, saffron water, and lime juice

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  5. Grill the kebabs, basting frequently, until charred in places and the internal temperature reaches 165 F, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Grilling time will vary slightly depending on the temperature and strength of your grill. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

    Chicken skewers being basted on a grill

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

Tips

  • For best results, give yourself plenty of time to marinate the chicken as it continues to deepen its flavor while also tenderizing. If overnight marination is not feasible, marinate for at least 2 hours total time.
  • If using wooden skewers, be sure to soak them in water for at least 15 minutes before threading the chicken pieces. 
  • Oil the grill grates with neutral oil using a paper towel and a pair of tongs before adding the kebabs. This will decrease the likelihood of the chicken sticking to the grates.

How To Serve Kebabs

  • Joojeh kabob is often served over thin lavash bread or a sourdough-based flatbread called sangak, a Persian specialty that is cooked on hot pebbles. After soaking up the freshly grilled kebab juices, these flatbreads are incredibly tasty.
  • Joojeh kabob is often served with various grilled vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, or bell peppers along with heaping amounts of steamed basmati rice, an assortment of pickled vegetables, a handful of fresh herbs and yogurt. 
  • Yogurt, another favorite ingredient in Persian cuisine, is practically a mandatory item on any spread, served plain or mixed with cucumbers and mint, or with minced shallots and garlic. A traditional Persian yogurt-based drink called doogh is the most traditional companion for kebabs.

Recipe Variations

  • Extended marination with yogurt offers a much more tenderized texture, resulting in exceptionally moist and flavorful pieces of chicken. However, yogurt can be eliminated for a dairy-free version of joojeh kabob. 
  • Tender cuts of lamb or beef, cut into small pieces and tenderized with the back of a knife can be substituted for the chicken. These kebabs are called kabob barg.
  • While there are no substitutes for the flavor of saffron, for this recipe it can be replaced with the same amount of turmeric to develop the familiar yellow-orange coloring of the kebabs.
  • Alternatively, joojeh kabob can be cooked on a stovetop grill pan or in the oven, with or without skewers. For the stovetop grill, cook on medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes on each side until you see visible grill marks and searing. For the oven method, place the skewered kebabs on a baking sheet, and transfer them to a 400 F preheated oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, before finishing them off under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes, making sure the chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F.

How To Store and Reheat Kebabs

Leftover kebabs are best stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. They can be reheated on the stovetop or in the oven by adding a splash of water, covering, and heating until warmed through.

Saffron and Persian Cuisine

Persian cuisine is highly influenced by saffron, which is represented in many savory and sweet dishes, and particularly in sauces. Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, and Iran is one of the world’s largest saffron producers and exporters. It's harvested by hand from crocus flowers, a highly labor-intense process, which is why saffron is so expensive. Each flower produces 3 stigmas that are dried before packaging. The resulting deep red, trumpet-shaped thread offers a somewhat sweet, floral note with a slightly bitter flavor profile. 

What Are Kebabs?

Kebabs are ground meat or pieces of chicken, beef, lamb, or vegetables that are skewered and typically cooked on hot glowing charcoals. Marinating the kebabs with ingredients such as yogurt, fresh citrus, onions, and spices build flavor and tenderize the skewers.

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gohari AR, Saeidnia S, Mahmoodabadi MK. An overview on saffron, phytochemicals, and medicinal properties. Pharmacogn Rev. 2013;7(13):61-66. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.112850