There was a time, before the unhealthy invasion of McDonald’s and such fast food international chains, when traditional and regional street foods and good quality grilled meats used to be the main attraction in Middle Eastern, South Asian and South East Asian countries if you needed a quick bite or wanted to hang out with friends for a casual meal. Personally I still prefer this food prepared by passionate individual cooks that has a lot more character and defined taste to something churned out in bulk that tastes of plastic.
Traditionally Shish Tawouk when sold by street vendors is simply served without skewers over pita bread for easy handling, the restaurant version is served with skewers over a bed of rice, grilled vegetables or tabouli salad and topped with garlic sauce or hummus.
There are many variations of the recipe for Shish Tawouk in the entire Middle East but the prominent flavour is always garlicky, sweet and sour with generous use of garlic, lemon and paprika in the dish. Yogurt is added to keep the meat tender and juicy. It’s best to use metal grills as they get hot on fire and help cook meat from inside more quickly. Wooden skewers work fine too but they should be soaked in water before grilling to prevent them from burning.
A signature Shish Tawouk dish is not complete without the creamy garlic dipping sauce -toum, which consists of four basic ingredients: garlic, salt, lemon juice and olive oil minced together into a smooth and light paste in mortar and pestle or a food processor.
You can make the skewers without onions and tomatoes too, but the chicken cubes sandwiched between vegetable slices stay more moist and are a lot more flavourful. No matter how you cook them, just don’t overcook or they will end up tough and dry.
1 cup thick yogurt
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons white vinegar
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/2 teaspoon thyme
A pinch nutmeg
Salt to taste
a few fresh mint leaves
This Is What You Do:
Mix yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, minced garlic, ginger powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, paprika, red chilli powder, turmeric, cinnamon, thyme and nutmeg in a big mixing bowl. Stir in salt and fresh mint leaves.
Marinate chicken cubes in the yogurt mix for 4 hours or overnight for juicier kebobs.
Cut onions and tomatoes into cubes. To assemble, thread a piece of onion, then a tomato and then a marinated chicken cube onto the skewer, repeat two more times to have three kebobs on each skewer. Will make 6-7 skewers.
Heat an outdoor or indoor grill, skillet or nonstick frying pan. Lightly grease the grill or pan surface to stop the kebobs from sticking. Grill 6 minutes on each side.
Serve hot with more grilled vegetables, like green chilli peppers, zucchini, cucumber, bell peppers, lemons or anything else that you fancy. Other than toum (garlic sauce) yogurt based dips also go great with Shish Tawouk.