one heavenly meal: chelo-kabob {persian style steamed basmati rice with grilled beef kabobs & tomatoes}

kabobs on the grill (manghal)

chelo kabob tablechelo-kabob (iran’s semi-official national dish)  is single handedly responsible for bringing me back from being a vegetarian to (mildly) eating meat again.  years ago, shortly before leaving home for college, a family friend shared a book with me that changed the way i ate and looked at food forever. i became acutely aware of how our food consumption directly affects our health and well being, and much to my parents amusement,   became a vegetarian. i began questioning the quality and source of the foods we were eating, and consumed endless amounts of the delicious lentil patties my mom invented in order to add some form of protein to my diet.tomatoes and peppers on the grill

living in southern france at the time, we were exposed to an abundance of seasonally fresh produce in the local markets. oh how we loved those morning farmers markets! my sister and i spent so many hours wandering through the stalls (especially in the summer months) and taking it all in. with the smell of good cheese, melons, lavender, and juicy peaches in our nostrils, we ate warm chocolate croissants still oozing with soft chocolate (as well as the crusty  tops of the baguettes we were taking home to mom), and eventually carried our heavy basket loads back home. i remained a vegetarian for about two years until i broke down:

the smell of the grill at my uncle’s (after my grandma, the best kabob-maker i know) house in los angeles finally did me in! watching the family dig in while i “enjoyed” my rice, grilled tomatoes, and salad, and realizing i could never really give chela-kabob up for good because it was too much a part of me.  the smell of grilling kabob takes me right back to my childhood years and makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.  It makes me nostalgic for the lovely family gatherings at my grandmas: a beautifully set large round table covered with neatly lined up slices of butter, bowls of  sumac, fresh herbs, and raw egg yolks in their half shells, all waiting for the piping hot fragrant steamed rice (see recipe-omit all spices but saffron) and glistening kabobs my grandma had so lovingly prepared.taking kabobs off the skewer with lavash bread

it was one of my favorite thing to do; watching her skewer the tender beef with her skilled hands, lining them up in perfect rows on trays going out to the grill, or “manghal” (more of a charcoal tray than a grill-the meat should not sit on the grill, but directly above the fire) as we call it. i could’nt be happier when my sister sent a text this past sunday saying “last minute chelo-kabob at our house-moms coming to help-be there at 1:30”. i got dressed quickly, grabbed my camera, and practically ran out the door-i wanted to be there for the preparation, of course!

a nice plate of chelo-kabob!

a disclaimer of sorts: my mom and sister weren’t too happy i’d picked this particular day to take pictures for a post about chelo-kabob…they had decided to do it all very “last minute” and weren’t happy with the look of things-the filet kabob was not the typical “barg” (translates to leaf) flattened style we make but more of a “chengeh” or chunky style, and the koobideh (ground beef kabobs) were not as perfectly lined up (as in matching and all pretty looking) as my mom would have liked due to lack of time-but let me tell youdeliciously grilled kabob koobideh-it really didn’t matter…it was all way beyond delicious! we had quite a feast. the perfectly spicy  drinks my sister served while we waited? i’ll have to ask her for the recipe. {click on (CONTINUE READING) for recipes & inspiration…}

Leili's bloody mary

for the steamed basmati rice follow this recipe (omit all spices but the saffron). now, on to the grilled goodies~we made two types of kabobs: the koobideh (ground beef kabobs) and the barg (which in this case was more of a shish kabob because the beef was cut in chunkier pieces and not flattened out-if you want a real barg, it’s best to use a beef tenderloin cut in strips (not too thin), then flatten the pieces down with the sharp end of the knife (not cutting too deep).

serving the steamed basmati

for the barg (or chengeh): my sister used a  combination of tri-tip and  tenderloin (organic grass fed) although it is more typical to use tenderloin only or in many cases lamb meat. the kabob turns out exceptionally tender and delicious (less chewy) if you use filet mignon (best served medium rare). it is most important to marinate your beef of choice long enough (several hours and preferably overnight) in the following marinade:

kabobs ready and waiting for the grill

  • 1 medium onion per pound of beef (sliced very thinly or finely grated in food processor)
  • plenty of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 tbs vegetable oil  (per pound)
  • add about 2-3 tbs of yogurt to the marinade ONLY if not using filet mignon
  • add  (sea) salt to taste ONLY on the grill or just before grilling-do not add the salt to the marinade
  1. persian style skewers are wide, long, and flat, and can be found in most middle eastern stores (or online). skewer the (evenly sized cut) beef so that you have enough room at both ends of the skewer.
  2. flatten the beef down by hand or by lightly pressing down with your knife in a succession from left to right all along and up and down the skewer.
  3. grill the skewered kabobs according to the type of meat you use (time on the grill). run a chunk of sweet butter over the kabobs just before serving while still very hot (preferably on the grill if you can stand the heat)-see koobideh instructions below for removing skewers and serving instructions.grlled tomatoes and spring onions

koobideh kabobs lined up and ready for the grillfor the koobideh: the ground beef must contain 15% fat (again, we used grass fed organic beef), and must be double ground-so it really is best to go to the butcher shop and have them do it for you. for two pounds of ground beef or lamb you will need:

  • 2 medium sized (or 1 large) onions
  • 2-3 tsp sea salt
  • 2 lb ground beef (85% lean)
  • 2-3 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • lavash bread for serving
  • tomatoes & peppers (skewered and grilled on the side)
  1. grate the onion in the food processor until it becomes a puree consistency, then pour into a strainer over a bowl and drain the juice (set this aside).
  2. combine the double ground beef with the onion puree, salt and pepper and mix well, then knead the mixture-this will take some time and hand power (i suggest wearing gloves)-or use the food processor with the chopping blade.koobideh kabob in the making the meat mixture should have an almost stretchy consistency, and be somewhat light and airy but should not be sticking to your hands. if it is too hard, add the onion juice one bit at a time.
  3. cover the bowl and refrigerate (marinate) for at least 2-3 hours.
  4. you should preferably have long flat skewers like the ones pictured-the amount of meat you use depends on the thickness of your skewers. photo 3for the skewers shown here, you will need to make a ball (more like a football shaped)  just about the size of a baseball (or slightly less) per skewer.
  5. carefully pierce the middle of the meat ball and slide it down to the middle. with your hand start molding the beef into the shape of the kabob-streching it by pressing down and flattening at the same time, using water or onion juice on your (preferably gloved) hand so it doesn’t stick. make sure to leave enough room on both ends of the skewer.
  6. pinch the two ends of the kabob tight to the skewer and remove any excess beef-use two fingers to make the ridges at 1 inch or so intervals as pictured (do not go too deep).
  7. the skewers are ready for the manghal (grill)! as mentioned, the meat should not be hitting the grill plates and should cook directly (closely) over a very hot fire, about 10 minutes or so per side. make sure the beef is completely cooked through before serving. for an additional kick of flavor and shine, run a piece of butter over the kabobs just as they come off the grill.
  8. line the serving platter with a few large pieces of lavash bread to soak up the juices under the kabobs, and use lavash bread to help you gently remove  the skewers  by pressing down gently with one hand over the bread while pulling the skewers out with the other (keeping the kabobs hot underneath). serve immediately with steamed rice (it is traditional to put a small cube of butter in each plate before serving the hot rice over it and mixing the melted butter into the rice), grilled tomatoes & peppers, and a sprinkle of sumac. it is also traditional (for some) to add an egg yolk to their buttered rice (yes, just to make it thaaaat much richer)-you must do this when the rice is very hot so that it “cooks” the yolk when you mix it in.tah-deeg!
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6 comments on “one heavenly meal: chelo-kabob {persian style steamed basmati rice with grilled beef kabobs & tomatoes}

  1. Pingback: back to basics: homemade hummus with fresh cut vegetables | Cooking Minette

  2. Pingback: we {finally} got a grill: a deliciously easy grilled (london briol) dinner | Cooking Minette

  3. Iranian Husband – English wife. I can NEVER please him with what I cook 🙁

  4. Roxi on said:

    Oh my God…I love your grandmother for creating such wonderful childhood memories for you. I tried making the koobideh, but the meat fell off the skewers while on the grill. This has happened twice now and I was wondering if there’s some sort of trick to keeping the meat on the skewers. Thank you. Love your blog.

    • Thank you so much for your comment and sorry for the late response!
      It is important to make sure your onions are not too watery- as a matter of fact drain as much of it as you can- this should help. Also it helps if you beat the beef up with the onions until the mixture is more paste like and not grainy- one last thing, your fat content should be about 15%. I hope this is helpful…please let me know how it goes!

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