The Ancient BBQ
Persia, one of the oldest, continuous civilizations on earth was incredibly advanced in ancient times and has a history of dynasties that ruled the area throughout time. One constant among the rulers has been the celebration of good food. The people in this region have been eating well for millennia. Traditional Persian cuisine spread through the Middle East during ancient times which still holds true today. Excavations of the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri on the island of Thera (now Santorini) unearthed elaborate stone supports for skewers used before the 17th century BC. If you want to become a great BBQ cook, start at the beginning–cooking chunks of meat on a wooden stick is one of the first cooking techniques ever known to mankind.
Kofta, Kafta, Kufta, Koobideh which is it?
Kofta is widely known as a dish of seasoned ground beef, lamb or chicken, grilled over an open fire. In Persian, ‘kuftan’ means to beat or grind, or is simply a meatball. If you order Koobideh in Iran, it is very similar to Kofta, except the spice is heavier on the sumac or turmeric, but it’s the same idea: minced meat mixed with spices and thrown onto a skewer. The only real difference between Kafta, Kofta, Kufta or Koobideh are regional dialects and possibly and a favorite regional seasoning of one spice or herb over another. It really just depends on where you are geographically.
Gas or Wood Charcoal Grill
Undoubtedly, cooking over a wood fire adds depths of flavor to our foods. As with everywhere else, the wood readily available is what was used before shipping became an international pastime. Super traditional Persian kebabs use ash, maple, beech, oak, olive, walnut, plum, lilac, alder or fig. Any of these wood charcoals are great to use and certainly add flavor to the finished product. The trick is finding a rack to support steel skewers over the fire. Fortunately, there are dozens of inexpensive kebab racks specifically made for an outdoor grill.
While wood charcoal has its benefits, it’s hard to pass up the ease and efficiency of cooking over a gas grill. For this recipe, I cook the kebabs over a Weber grill with the grates removed, which gets the meat closer to the fire and eliminates any chance the meat will stick to the grates. If the grates can’t be removed, there are also plenty of inexpensive kebab skewer racks made for gas grills as well. Check out: Universal BBQ Skewer holder for gas or charcoal grill
Once you’ve settled on your grill, next set up your fire with three zones: A medium high-heat zone, a low-heat zone, and a holding or no-heat zone. Begin with the skewers over the high-heat zone until a light brown crust starts to form, then rotate the skewer to cook the opposite side. When the kebabs have cooked on each side, move to the low-heat zone and allow to gently finish cooking while you work the additional skewers. This method avoids over-cooking and allows the skewers to keep warm until they all can come off at the same time.
There are hundreds of skewers available. From bamboo, to thin, medium or thick stainless steel, and even flexible skewers. Having cooked for a very long time, I prefer skewers which have been successfully used for thousands of years. Flat skewers are a must. The flat skewers keep the meat from spinning when rotated on the stand. I use a thick, flat skewer for heavy meats, and a small, flat skewer for vegetables or seafood. I typically avoid skewers with wood handles (these inevitably break off) or weird handles that are difficult to grasp with a kitchen towel or hand. Koobideh Persian/Brazilian style 1 inch wide flat skewers are ideal. For a smaller gauge of skewer, I suggest Koobideh/Brazilian 1/2 inch wide flat skewers. Getting the right equipment will make your task easier and safer. The kebabs will be very hot, right off the grill so a firm grip is essential.
Koobideh - Persian BBQ Ground Beef Kabab
This is a staple, quick BBQ at our home. I hope you enjoy this as much as we do. Serve the kebabs with warm pita bread, homemade hummus, Salad-e Shirazi (tomato, cucumber, onion salad) and Maast o khiaar (cucumber dill yogurt sauce: see the recipe below).
- 3 lbs ground beef (super lean beef will not stick together over the fire) (preferably 60/40, but 70/30 grind will substitute)
- 1 whole white onion, grated small and drained (save the onion juice to for Barb Kebab or to baste over the Koobideh)
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 1 ½ tsp pepper, black coarse grind
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 ½ tsp saffron water
- 1 whole egg (1 egg is added since 60/40 beef is hard to find. The egg will help the 70/30 ground beef stick together.)
- 1 whole tomato, grilled
- 1 whole pepper, cored, seeded and grilled
- ½ whole onion, cored and grilled
- 1 whole eggplant, cut into large pieces and grilled
- 1 whole lemon, halved and grilled
- 1 cup Persian yogurt sauce (Maast-o khiar or Persian Tzatziki Sauce)
- 1 cup rice, cooked
Maast o khair Persian yogurt/cucumber sauce recipe
- 2 cup yogurt, plain greek style preferably
- 1 whole English cucumber, quartered and sliced
- 1 whole garlic, crushed and finely minced
- 1 whole shallot, peeled, cored and finely minced
- 1½ tbsp fresh dill, chopped
- 1 whole lemon, juiced
- 1 tsp (each) salt and pepper
- 1 tsp sumac sprinkled on top
Using a hand grater or food processor with a grating disc, grate one cored whole onion.
Once the onion has been grated, place in a cheese cloth or kitchen towel and squeeze out the onion juice. Reserve the onion juice for another purpose.
Add the 60/40 or 70/30 ground beef in a large mixing bowl. (Super lean ground beef will not stick together when it cooks over an open fire.) Add the onion and mix thoroughly with your hands to combine.
Add the egg, salt, coarse grind black pepper, ground turmeric, and saffron waters to the meat mixture. Using your hands, mix the beef mixture until well incorporated.
Cover the bowl with the meat mixture tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or 8-12 hours overnight. (Letting the meat mixture rest will allow the flavors to develop fully.) Reserve.
Preparing the Koobideh Skewers
Start the fire using Maple or Plum charcoal with a chimney starter or preferred method. Once the charcoal is ready, spread evenly over the center of the grill. Leave a small gap at the top and bottom of the grilling area. (You only need lit charcoal under the area that the meat will cook.) If cooking over a live charcoal fire, check to see if your skewers are long enough to rest over the width of the grill before lighting the fire. They will need to be supported in some fashion over the coals.
Alternatively, set up a gas grill by removing the grates and setting the heat on medium to medium-high.
Either way, arrange the heat for a low-heat area, medium to high-heat area and a no-heat or holding area. This offers options for you to adjust the heat by moving the skewers to the zones as needed.
(If you have to use a grill grate, make sure it is very well oiled before you add the meat so it won't stick.)
Pour clean water (or more onion juice) in a medium sized mixing bowl. Dip your hand in the water to prevent the marinated ground beef from sticking to your hand. Have this bowl next to the beef mixture bowl for easy access.
While holding the Koobideh skewer with one hand, start loading up the ground beef mixture onto the skewers. Make sure the meat mixture wraps around the skewer on all sides. Dip your meat hand in water before adding more ground meat. Repeat this process until the skewer is loaded up (2 large handfuls). Leave approximately 3-4 inches of the lead and bottom of the skewer free from the meat mixture.
Wet your hand and using a combination of your thumb while cupping your hand, leave indentations in the meat, all the way down the kebob. Rotate and do the same on the opposite side. This will help even out the meat mixture over the skewer. Continue doing this procedure until all the meat has been loaded on to the skewers (six in all).
Place the skewer over a gas grill or wood charcoal, 2-3 inches above the source of the heat. Cook over medium until the underside becomes golden brown (4-5 minutes). Turn the skewer over and cook the second side (4-5 minutes).
Test the top of the meat by poking with your finger. The meat should feel just firm when they are done. Avoid over-cooking and drying out the kebabs. If you have an instant read thermometer the kebabs should read 155°F/70°C to be sure they are cooked.
To remove the meat from the skewer, use a fork, tongs or another skewer and push on the top or leading edge of the kabab to loosen the meat. Once this has loosened, glide the meat off the skewer and onto the serving dish using your hand or using a kitchen towel (if the meat is too hot).
Serve the Koobideh with a mixture of grilled vegetables, rice and lemon wedges. Maast o khair or Persian yogurt sauce (Recipe above) is also essential.