Persian Chicken Kebabs with Saffron and Lemon
It’s fair to say that kebabs are probably my favourite dish in any cuisine. Whether it is the array of grilled meats from my own culture, ordering the mixed grill from a favourite Indian, Turkish or Lebanese restaurant; eating souvlaki in Greece; or asking for a doner after a few beverages while my friends ask for a pitta bread with hummus and chips. Basically, I love grilled meat!
My particular favourite is a chicken kebab and we Persians do an excellent job with our offering – Jujeh Kabab. Our version consists of grilled chunks of chicken, with or without bone, commonly marinated in onion, lemon juice and saffron. Often served on chelo rice or wrapped in lavash bread (a paper thin flatbread). Other optional components include grilled tomatoes, green chilli peppers, fresh lemons or limes, yoghurt and fresh herbs (as pictured in my spread below).
I love this part of Iranian cuisine for many reasons over and beyond the satisfaction it gives me when I eat them. Kababs signal the Summer with family parties (‘mehmoonis’) moving outside into gardens with us all soaking up the sun (or sheltering from the rain) and eating delicious appetisers while the meat cooks on our bbqs.
They represent my father’s favourite dish, particularly koobideh (the minced lamb kofte kababs cooked on long metal skewers). My father is no longer with us but when I think of him a lot of my memories are of him fanning the flames of the bbq getting it to the perfect heat for the kababs my mother had prepared for our guests, drinking shots of vodka and laughing with all the other men huddled round the epicentre of meat grilling – the mangal.
They represent the Iranian weddings I have been to and also all the wonderful Persian restaurants in or around London I have been lucky enough to have eaten at.
And of course they represent Iran. My travels around Iran with my maman over 20 years ago saw me eat a lot of grilled meat – dare I say it, but I nearly contemplated going vegetarian (for about 2 seconds) because of the amount of meat I consumed in a month!
I set out below my trusted recipe for Jujeh Kabab. Mine differs to my my mother’s by using yoghurt, a little turmeric and tomato purée. My mother is a pure saffron, lemon and onion lady but my view is that the yoghurt creates a buttermilk effect when mixed with all the ingredients allowing for a tender yet juicer kabab. This recipe does not need to only appear in the summer, when I have a jujeh craving I just cook mine under a grill or on a griddle pan.
- 4 to 5 large skinless chicken breasts (or approximately 1.2 kg)
- 1 large brown onion (finely sliced)
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- 5 tbsp Greek yoghurt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 50ml water)
- Juice from a whole large lemon
- Salt and Pepper (to season)
- 1 large garlic clove (crushed or minced)
- 1 to 2 tbsp butter (Melted - to baste the chicken while cooking)
- Chop your chicken into chunks (fairly large as they will shrink when cooking).
- Put the chicken pieces into a bowl and then add all the ingredients except the butter and massage into the chicken until all the marinade is mixed in and evenly distributed amongst the chicken pieces. It will be a yellow/orange colour. Cover and leave in the fridge for the flavours to develop for a minimum of 12 hrs. Take the chicken out of the fridge about 30 mins before you want to cook to bring up to room temperature.
- When you are ready to cook the chicken (either on your bbq or under the grill on the highest setting), divide the chicken on to about 4 skewers and cook, basting with the butter and turning the skewers until the chicken is a little charred. It takes roughly 15 to 25 minutes on a bbq (depending on how hot your bbq is).