Grilled, spiced beef kebab is a favorite in Israel, an indispensable summer dinner, and practically mandatory for your Yom haAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day) cookout. These grilled Israeli beef kebabs are easy to make and extra good when licked by flames.Yum
I have a Hebrew cookbook called "The Israeli Kitchen" that has a whole chapter devoted to al ha-esh, on the grill—that's how big a part grilling plays in Israeli food culture. And rather than burgers, dogs, and steak, it's kebabs (spiced ground meat or lamb patties) and shishlik (skewered chicken or beef) that rule the mangal (Israeli grill). (As I've mentioned, in Israel kebab means ground meat patties.) And unlike the big American backyard gas grill, the Israeli equivalent is much more likely to be portable, set up in the park like a camp stove.
Israeli beef kebabs couldn't be simpler to make, but they're magic when cooked over flame. Make the spiced meat mixture ahead of time, an hour or more, and leave the flavors to meld in the fridge. The only trick bit is getting the meat to adhere firmly around the skewer, but the chill time in the fridge makes it much easier. Then a few minutes on the grill and the kebabs are ready to be drizzled with tahini and served alongside pita and salad.
Preparing the kebab mixture
The spices used to flavor an Israeli-style kebab vary. Most recipes are fairly minimal; Pereg's kebab spice (which I love and use often for meatballs) includes paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, coriander, and cumin. I played around with a custom mix based on lots of recipes from around the Middle East, and came up with one that I think is a standout and very Israeli tasting to me. It includes paprika, allspice, sumac, cumin, and Aleppo pepper, which is optional but recommended. It's a fairly mild chili, and brings flavor moreso than heat.
Though some recipes skip this step and make the meat mixture as for meatballs, I've had the best results mincing the aromatics in the food processor, then blitzing them together with the meat, bread crumbs, and spices. The texture is more like restaurant-style kebabs and seems to cling better to the skewer.
Though you can skip it, I have an easier time getting the meat to cooperate on the skewers when I chill it for an hour in the fridge. As a bonus, the flavors meld. As you can see I usually stick it in there right in the food processor bowl.
Shaping the kebabs onto the skewers
I find it easiest to roughly shape the kebab, then finish the shaping around the skewer. Israeli kebabs are usually made like elongated spheres, although many of their Middle Eastern cousins are kneaded onto the skewer, leaving the imprints of the hand up and down the kebab.
Grilling the kebabs
These only need a few minutes on a hot grill, about 4 minutes on each side, until they're cooked through and beginning to char on the outside. If you don't have a grill mat, you may want to put them on a tray.
Grilled Israeli Beef Kebabs (meat)
- In a food processor, pulse the onion, garlic, and parsley. Add the spices and pulse to combine.
- Add the meat to the food processor and pulse until finely chopped and well combined, stopping to scrape down the bowl one or twice. Chill for an hour or more in the refrigerator.
- To shape the kebabs, take a handful of the meat mixture, compact using your hands, then mold around the skewers. Place flat on a platter or plate.
- Place the kebabs on a heated grill. Grill on medium-high heat for about 4 minutes on each side.
- Serve with prepared tahini.