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Kebabs : Tastes of Ancient Civilizations Served on Skewers in Istanbul

August 31, 1989|ROSE DOSTI | Times Staff Writer

ISTANBUL — "Do I have a place for you," my husband said when I arrived in Istanbul. He had been to this Turkish seaport on business and had already staked out places to eat.

We drove up the steep cobblestone streets in Etiler, a residential area, to Hacidan (pronounced haj-i-dan), a new restaurant serving only kebabs. Nothing but kebabs.

We sat at the 20-foot counter attached to a 20-foot grill and watched the kebab chef, whose authority is as sacrosanct as a master sushi chef's in Japan, wield skewers as if they were a Mongolian warrior's swords.

His orchestration, like the sushi chef, is a dance of hands, hopping from one kebab to another, turning, basting, unthreading skewers with the help of flat pita bread used as a mitt.

The grill winds across the floor like a snake, with a cap over it made of hammered copper. Kebabs line the grill in neat rows--vegetables, chiles, meats and poultry. The fires spark up, causing flecks of carbon to float over the grill like a shower of confetti.

It was interesting to me that vegetables were cooked separate from meats and not together as we often see them in the United States. Masses of long green chiles threaded crosswise on skewers, look like giant green spiders charring on the grill.

We ordered according to appetite, but if one left the menu to the chef, he'd seek to satisfy your wildest whim, lifting eyebrows with delight at the slightest indication of pleasure from the diner. A smile of satisfaction is his signal to continue to create, create, create, until you can eat no more. Then you signal or say, "NO MORE."

There are dozens of kebabs to choose from but among the most popular are, of course, shish kebab, meaning skewered meat, which was probably brought into the region by meat-eating civilizations from the northeast thousands of years ago.

Shish kebab is simply a skewer of cubes of meat (usually lamb) marinated in lemon marinade. Bejti kebab, another popular kebab named after a famous kebab restaurant in Istanbul by the same name, is ground lamb shaped like a sausage and threaded on skewers lengthwise. It is served with or without pita bread. Beyti kebabs are similar to Greek souvlaki or soutzoukakia and Moroccan kefta kabab, as well as Arabic kofte.

The kebab chef also prepared organ meat kebabs, which are actually a street food specialty found throughout Turkey and the Balkans. Kukurec or the Greek kokoretsi is a kebab made of bits and pieces of heart, kidney, sweetbreads and liver entwined with intestine of young lamb. The kebabs are served nestled in a French-type loaf with an onion-laden salad.

Then there are chicken kebabs, which are seasoned with an Arabic spice mix known as baharat, apparently introduced to the region by Arab cooks over the centuries of trade with countries around the Mediterranean. Baharat is an intriguing mixture of spices, including coriander, cloves, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon, which seem to blend remarkably well. Baharat is especially good with fish and poultry but cooks also use the spice mix with meats.

Tiny lamb chops, or medallions, cut out and encased in grape leaves were a treat, served over a flat saucer of lavash, a form of pliable giant-size crepe often used as an edible plate for foods throughout the Middle East.

Vegetables also do well as kebabs, and any group of quick-cooking vegetables such as squash, tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers (including chiles), mushrooms and eggplant may be used with great success.

Here are a few of the recipes inspired by our visit to Hacidan, plus another that seemed appropriate to add for shrimp lovers.


2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped mint leaves

Dash red pepper flakes

Salt, pepper

Place lamb in bowl. Add olive oil, vinegar, garlic, parsley, mint, red pepper flakes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss to coat meat well. Marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight.

Thread lamb cubes on long skewers, allowing about 6 pieces per skewer. Grill over medium coals or under broiler, turning and basting frequently with marinade, until cooked as desired. Makes 6 servings.


Lamb Chop Kebabs--Use lamb chops in lieu of lamb cubes, following same directions and threading horizontally through meatiest part of lamb chop.

Grape Leaf-Wrapped Loin Kebabs--Remove loin portion of lamb chop. Wrap loin medallion in large fresh or preserved grape leaf, using wood pick to secure. Thread 2 to skewer horizontally and grill over medium hot coals until done as desired. Unwrap to serve.

Lamb Riblet Kebabs--Use rib ends of rack of lamb. Follow instructions for marinating and grilling Lamb Kebabs.

BEYTI KEBABS (Ground Meat Kebabs)

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb, beef or veal

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped mint leaves

1 large onion, minced 2 cloves garlic, minced

Dash red pepper flakes

1 egg

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