Shish Kebab Origin, History and Family Recipes

Variations of Turkish shish kebabs are now found in many cultures

shish, kebabs, recipes, skewer, meat, receipts, brochettes, vegetables
Shish Kebabs. © 2009 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone

A shish kebab is a skewer with meat and vegetables and is usually grilled. It can contain lamb, beef, fish, or chicken, as well as vegetables like green peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Kebabs can also be made with fruit alone, and are usually referred to as fruit skewers, such as grapes, blueberries, watermelon cubes, pineapple chunks and strawberries. You might also find skewers made with meat only, such as with chicken satay or sate in Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian food.

You will often find this dish commonly misspelled as shish kabobs or shish kababs.

Shish Kebab Origin

The term shish kebab comes from Turkish words literally meaning "skewer" and "roast meat," and it is a signature Turkish meal. Kebabs were a natural solution for nomadic tribes. Unusual meats were marinated not only to tenderize, but also to get rid of some of the gamey flavor.

Today, shish kebabs have expanded into most cultures in some form or another. Oriental cultures have satay, which is roasted skewered meats served with a dipping sauce usually made with peanuts. Japan has yakitori, which is grilled skewered fowl. In France, they are called brochettes, meaning "skewer." Portuguese espetadas, are beef shish kebabs marinated in wine and roasted on an open fire.

Shish Kebab History

Shish kebab seem have a history connected to war. It is said that Turkish soldiers used their swords to grill meat in open field fires during their invasion of Anatolia.

This may not be the first use of cooking meat on an open fire, but it is how the name stuck. There is historical and artistic evidence that the Greeks of the Byzantine era cooked shish kebabs as well. Homer’s Odyssey mentions them as well. Lahm mishwy is the equivalent of shish kebab in Arabic. The meat of choice is usually lamb, and the meat is cooked over a fire on a skewer holder, making it so that the meat never touches the grill itself.

Meats used in shish kebabs are usually marinated prior to cooking. A basic marinade used may include olive oil, lemon juice an onions, while a more complex one would include marjoram, crumbled bay leaves, cinnamon, allspice, and other spices. The color added by vegetables, such as tomatoes, onion wedges, and green bell peppers used to separate the meat help kebabs appear more appetizing.

Varieties of Shish Kebabs

There are specific names for specific shish kebab recipes, including:

  • orman kebabi: whole roasted lamb
  • çoban kebabi: a shepherd’s-style roast of meat stuck through a stick that is driven into the ground before an open-field fire
  • hacci osman kebabi: a roast on a revolving spit
  • süt kebabi: meat parboiled in milk, then skewered and roasted
  • kushbashi kebabi: a skewered and roasted kebab
  • koyun kebabi: a whole lamb roasted in a covered pit
  • kabarma kebabi: a grilled fowl split open at the belly, kept whole, and flattened with a mallet
  • kefenli kebabi: roast meat wrapped in a “shroud” of bread

You can find shish kebab suggestions by looking for them in Turkish cookbooks under kebaplar.

More About Shish Kebabs and Shish Kebab Recipes

Shish Kebab Cooking Tips
• Shish Kebab Recipes


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