Improvised Kebabs with Tahini Sauce

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Our freezer is full of zip-loc bags, filled with ominous, icy shapes; a salmon head here, a knobbly mass of chicken ankles and wingtips there and, buried somewhere, a mysterious grab-bag of minced meat. Basically, every time I make a recipe that leaves some remainder of stuff unused, into the relevant bag it goes, and the minced meat bag contains a mixed selection of surplus; pork shoulder, brisket, lean beef cuts and, really anything edible and minced.

When I tried to decide what to make for dinner this evening, it looked bulging enough to make a meal for the four of us, so I whipped it out to defrost and got thinking.

One thing I really, really miss from living in London, specifically in the East End as we did for a decade, is the easy availability of really spectacular Turkish food, cooked over coals. It felt like there was an Ocakbaşı on every corner, smoke, lamb and cumin smells pouring from their doors, with teams of serious looking white-shirted men stood at the enormous grills, raking the fire and tending to rows and rows of skewers, breads and earthenware dishes, each itemised on what must have been a complex mental list of timings and tables as it was removed from the heat at exactly the correct moment and plated up beside a heap of fat fluffy rice and bright, crunchy salad. What that area of London has, in its tradition of very good, affordable-to-all Turkish food is a wonderful thing, and I’m glad we appreciated it as much as we did whilst we were there.

This recipe is not only a pale imitation of the kind of Kofte kebab found in those restaurants, but also rather sacrilegious, containing as it does a third-portion of pork, so let’s call it ‘inspired by’ rather than an homage. It’s also a template more than a strict set of instructions, so I’ve included a more general recipe at the bottom which is, I feel, more in the spirit of this kind of family meal.

For the Kebabs

  • 500g minced beef (with a good high fat content)
  • 300g minced pork
  • A very finely chopped onion
  • A medium bunch of parsley, tough stalks trimmed and finely chopped*
  • 1½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • A small handful of pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
  • Salt, to taste

And for the Tahini Sauce

  • 3 parts tahini
  • 2 parts water
  • Crushed garlic
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt

Put all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl or a stand mixer (I used a Kitchen Aid with the paddle attachment) and mix until evenly combined. Set aside in the fridge for no less than an hour. Overnight would do no harm at all.

Whisk together the tahini sauce ingredients to taste (for four people, 150g tahini, 100ml water, a clove of garlic, the juice of half a lemon and a ¼ tsp of fine salt serves well) and set aside.

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Now, either squeeze the meat mixture around skewers or form into tight sausage shapes an inch in diameter. You can either cook them under a grill, in a pan or, best of all, on a charcoal barbecue. Pressed for time as I was, I made these under the grill but I wouldn’t hesitate to cook them over coal given a little more notice. Give them 3 to 5 minutes per side, until they’re just cooked to the middle. It doesn’t need split second timing, especially if you’ve used nice, fatty meat, but don’t just forget about them either.

We ate them in the garden, alongside the sauce, some green vegetables, a well dressed salad and some plain brown rice, and they were delicious, just like that.

Here’s a more general version of the recipe, in the spirit of digging around the fridge, freezer and cupboard to make a nice dinner, whatever you happen to have in the house.

  • 750g of any minced meat you like, preferably from a fatty portion of the animal
  • A finely chopped onion, a couple of biggish finely chopped shallots or three very finely chopped spring onions
  • A large handful of finely chopped soft herbs that suit the meat; thyme for pork, coriander, mint and parsley for lamb, tarragon for chicken, rosemary and parsley for beef. You know what you like
  • 3 x 1½ tsp of dry ground spices that suit the meat. Again, you know what you like, but specific things like fennel, cumin and pork, smoked paprika and beef, cinnamon and lamb or chilli and chicken make sense
  • Some chopped nuts if you like. Pine nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or anything really. They’re optional, but provide a nice bit of something extra

This should be a frugal, surprising and delicious meal, and it needn’t be the same every time you make it. Get hold of some meat, dig around for some things that go well with it, and have a nice time.

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