My first job at age 16, not counting a brief stint at a burger joint from which I was "laid off" (who gets laid off at 16?), was working the cash register at a gourmet food store. The place was changing owners, my new boss having just arrived from Korea with little English and no experience in the retail food business. He grappled to understand this foreign concept called “gourmet”. His first day on the job was spent wandering the aisles, pulling food from the shelves, looking up, brows creased, and asking “is this gourmet?”Duck liver pate? (yes), canned tuna? (no), organic carrots? (sort of), caviar (definitely), and so on it went as he worked his way through the store’s inventory.
I felt a little like my kind-hearted Korean boss recently when I was trying to wrap my mind around the Afghan concept of a kebab. To me kebabs are one thing: skewered meat or chicken, sometimes threaded with onions or cherry tomatoes, cooked on a hot grill. In Afghanistan, it seems, kebabs can be virtually anything: meat or chicken, skewered or not, barbecued or oven baked or pan fried, cut into chunks or ground or eaten as a chop. Yikes. Having prepared and eaten a number of different varieties, I can only surmise that a kebab is some kind of cooked animal protein served with nan bread. Done.
This recipe here comes from Humaira’s sister Nabila, who is a talented home cook in her own right. It is distinctly un-kebab-like according to my Western definition. What’s important is that, kebab or not, it is divine. Sliced onions and hefty chunks of lamb marinate a good long while in Greek yogurt, fresh garlic and coriander, and then bake in the oven at a high heat until fork tender. The juicy results are sprinkled with cinnamon and served with nan bread and hopefully something crunchy like a crisp salad or sliced cucumbers. It’s a completely no-fuss dish that could very well be my new favorite on the Afghan food front (watch out Chicken Lawang!).
Tender Lamb Kebab with Cinnamon
½ cup Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. dried ground coriander
½ tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. Kosher salt
2 lbs. lamb stew meat, cut into 2-inch chunks
2 large onions, peeled, sliced thin
In a large bowl mix together the yogurt, oil, garlic, coriander, pepper and salt and stir well. Add the lamb and onions and coat evenly with the yogurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour, preferably overnight.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pull the lamb out a half hour before you a ready to cook. Put the lamb into large pot or Dutch oven and cover with a lid. Put it into the oven and cook until the lamb is very tender (about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours). Remove the lid, give it a stir, and continue to cook another 20 to 30 minutes until some of the liquid has reduced and you have a thick, oniony sauce.
Sprinkle the meat lightly with cinnamon and serve with warm nan bread and plain yogurt. You can season the yogurt with a little salt and stir in some grated cucumbers or chopped mint if you like.
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