I have vivid memories from my childhood of walking by kebab stalls in my neighborhood in Kabul and being intoxicated by the delicious aroma of sizzling kebabs. I always wished I had 10 Afghani, (the Afghan currency) to buy a skewer. The kebabs were usually sold from simple shacks where the cooks would keep busy fanning the hot coals and showcasing their mouthwatering delicacies.
Most kebabs sold on the streets of Kabul are made of lamb and served on Afghan flat bread called lawausha or nan. You can buy a coke or a Fanta drink to wash down the savory meat. The kebab sellers, known as the kebabi, wrap the bread around the meat and pull it off the skewer. A few simple condiments such as salt, pepper, sumac and red pepper flakes are available to garnish the kebabs. Some kebabis have a few wooden tables and chairs to sit on, but most people take their kebabs to go, wrapped in a newspaper.
When I was in Kabul in 2006 I saw some very modern kebab shops with blindening fluorescent lighting, screened windows and loud, screechy Afghan pop music playing for our listening pleasure. Unfortunately my cousin Ghani Jan, who was our host, did not think it would be safe for us to eat in such public places. I found it strange that there were several kebab stalls right next to each other. I wondered if they all served the same thing or if each had their own delicacy.
To most Americans cooking kebabs usually involve a skewer. But that is not always the case with Afghan cooking. Kebabs can include meats that are cubed, on the bone or ground. They can be fried, grilled or cooked slow in an oven or tandoor. Though they can be served with rice, it is traditional to eat Afghan kebabs with bread.
Kebabs are served for special occasions in Afghanistan as well as for picnics and other family gatherings. My family rarely made the kebabs themselves, relying instead on one of the many kebab houses in Kabul. Things are different here in the U.S. and we’ve learned to adapt. My brother Tamim has become the master kebab maker in our family, always experimenting with various recipes and ingredients. Anytime we stop over for a visit he has the grill fired up and ready to go. This recipe is his. He recommends marinating the chicken overnight and using the thigh meat over any other cut because it turns out the most juicy and flavorful. Tamim always serves his kebabs with a big salad, pita bread or Afghan bread. We hope you will make this at your family barbeque.
Tamim’s Yogurt Marinated Chicken Kebab –
Kebab e Murgh
3 cups plain, whole milk yogurt
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepperdash garlic powder
3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Put all the ingredients except the chicken in a large bowl and mix well. Add the chicken and mix until all pieces are covered with yogurt. Pour the contents of the bowl in a sealable plastic bag or a container with a tight lid. Marinate for at least 24 hours.
Pull the chicken out of the fridge 30 minutes before you are going to grill. Get the barbecue good and hot. If you are using a gas grill, let it heat up for a good 10 minutes. In the meantime, pour the chicken into a colander and wipe the marinade off as best you can.
Grill the chicken over a medium-high flame about 7 minutes a side until it’s cooked through. Once cooked, wrap the chicken in aluminum foil and let it sit for 5 minutes. Serve warm.
Recipe by Tamim Ghilzai
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