Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fenugreek Lamb Kebab with Za'atar Khubz Arabi, Dates and Pickled Wild Cucumbers

Fenugreek flavored lamb skewers with Arabic za'atar spiced pita bread!

     Arabic kebabs are famous for having great flavor!   Kebabs are one of the best styles of food for dry arid desert cuisine, because only a fire is needed to cook them and water is not needed for cleaning pots and pans.  Even in the deserts of the American southwest, water is in limited supply.
     Fenugreek has a deep maple kind of flavor and it is a commonly used spice in middle eastern cuisine.  Fenugreek is often part of complex spice mixes.  On its own, fenugreek has a flavor that matches well with chicken and lamb.  
     Pickled wild cucumbers have a very crisp refreshing dill flavor.  Pickled condiments are served with many entrees in Iran and the middle east.  
     Khubz Arabi is also called pita pocket bread and it is available in common grocery stores.  The freshest and best pita bread is sold in Arabic markets.  Pita bread is not too difficult to make, but a hot stone slab is needed to good the bread on.  A single kebab that is placed on pita bread is the equivalent of a lunch sandwich in the western world.  The kebab meat is slid off of the skewer onto the pita bread, then the pita bread is folded and eaten like a sandwich.  Kebab and pita is a popular snack or lunch in the middle east.
     Za'atar spice mix is a very popular Persian, Arabic and Egyptian seasoning mix and is often mixed with oil and brushed on pita bread.  Za'atar or "zahtar" is a mixture of ground wild thyme, oregano, marjoram, savory, salt, sumac and toasted sesame seed.  Many more spices can be in a za'atar spice blend.  Za'tar recipes do vary from one region to another.
     It is best to purchase a pre-made za'atar spice mix and to get familiar with the flavor, before attempting to mix your own za'atar for the first time.  The flavor combination of za'atar is not easy to make correctly on a first attempt.  Most za'atar spice mix recipes are closely guarded secrets.  Za'atar has been around since the days of ancient Egypt.
     I got the idea to put this Arabic style kebab lunch platter together today after visiting a local Arabic market.  I bought a few spices and some Iranian pickle products while I was there.  At the register, I noticed fresh made Arabic pita bread that was still warm from baking.  It was some of the best pita bread I had seen in many years!
     I cannot say that I have Arabic cooking in my blood, but my step grandfather was a great chef from Syria and Lebanon.  I experienced the great flavors of his Arabic cooking at a young age.  Middle eastern food is never short on flavor!

     Fenugreek Marinade for Lamb Kebab:
     Mix these ingredients together in a mixing bowl:
     - 1/2 cup of olive oil
     - 2 cloves of minced garlic
     - 1 teaspoon of minced ginger
     -  sea salt and black pepper.
     - 1 pinch of ground hot red chile pepper
     - 1 tablespoon of powdered fenugreek
     - 1 tablespoon of honey
     - 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice.
     Fenugreek Lamb Kebab:
     Make a kebab with some cube shaped pieces of lamb, pearl onions, and small square pieces of green and red bell pepper.  It is best if all the ingredients of the kebab are cut the same size.  One small kebab, like the one in the pictures, is considered to be an appetizer or lunch portion.  The portion of lamb for a lunch or snack kebab should be a total of 5 to 8 ounces. 
     Marinate the lamb kebab with the fenugreek marinade in a pan for one hour in a refrigerator.
     Za'atar Khubz Arabi:
     Generously brush a pita bread with olive oil.
     Sprinkle a generous amount of za'atar spice mix on the bread.
     Bake the za'atar pita bread in a 350 degree oven, till the za'atar spices become aromatic and lightly toasted.  (Do not excessively brown the bread or spices!)
     Place the Za'atar Khubz Arabi on a serving platter.
     Fenugreek Lamb Kebab with Za'atar Khubz Arabi, Dates and Pickled Wild Cucumbers:
     Cook the lamb kebab under a broiler in an oven or cook it over a char grill.
     Brush the kebab with the marinade occasionally as it cooks.
     Do not let the kebab meat burn or char.  (Burnt charred meat is a bad thing in any language!)
     Cook the kebab, till the lamb becomes fully cooked and the vegetables become tender.
     Place the fenugreek lamb kebab on the za'atar khubz on the platter.
     Place a couple of pickled wild cucumbers on the plate.
     Place a few dried dates on the plate.
     Garnish with an Italian parsley sprig.

     This recipe is simple to make and it has some very impressive tasting Arabic flavors.

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