One thing Turkey is known for is its great kebabs. Or is it kabobs? Wait a minute, I thought it was kababs.
What about shawarma, shashlik, kawap, satay, souvlaki and cevaphi? These names and many others from around the globe all belong to similar dishes made of marinated meats on a skewer that are grilled over hot coals.
This style of cooking originated in central Asia, then took hold in cuisines throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean. From there, it's greatness spread throughout the world.
Whether it be fast food, fine dining or your home barbecue, Turkish-style 'kebab' has become the universal symbol of great grilling.
The Background Behind The Flavor
Did you know that the shish kebab we know and love today comes from an ancient central-Asian style of cooking believed to be brought westward by the tribes of Ghengiz Khan? Turkish legend has it that these warriors, out of necessity, discovered the concept of 'shish kebab' by cooking meats on their swords over an open fire.
In the modern Turkish language, 'sis' (SHISH') actually means 'skewer'. In Turkish cuisine, everything from red meats, poultry, fish and shellfish to vegetables and fruits are cooked on skewers.
When cooked this way, they're all considered to be a type of 'sis.' Skewers can be made of wood or metal. The best skewers for grilling large amounts of meat are metal and have wide, flat surfaces. This helps hold the meat in place and makes it easy to flip them quickly over the coals.
If you want to make really authentic 'sis' at home, you can find the best metal skewers at gourmet shops, Middle Eastern markets and on the internet.
'Kebab' Is The Word
Following 'sis,' the word 'kebab' is a much broader term that stands for the meat itself or other food which is cooked near a coal fire or other heat source.
Today, the concept of 'kebab' is so broad, many Turkish dishes are called 'kebab' even if they're not grilled or cooked on a stick. Dishes that are steamed, stewed, baked and fried can also be called 'kebab.'
There are endless 'sis' and 'kebab' dishes in modern Turkish cuisine. In fact, the 'shish kebab' we're so familiar with is only one variety of meat and vegetable kebab on a skewer.
Is it getting confusing? Don't worry, what ties all 'sis' and 'kebab' dishes together are their great flavors.
The Key Is A Good, Long Marinade
The key to making authentic, tender kebabs lies in the marinade sauce for the meat. Marinades vary greatly by region and recipe, but usually contain olive oil, an acidic component like lemon juice or crushed tomato, onion and garlic, generous amounts of salt and pepper and different mixes of popular Turkish spices such as paprika, hot red pepper flakes, cumin, oregano and sumac.
Meats are often left overnight or even for a few days in their marinades before grilling, leaving them succulent, tender and flavorful.
Southeastern Turkey Is Famous For Great Kebabs
Kebabs are Turkish regional cuisine at its finest. The best kebabs come from the southeastern regions of Turkey, especially the areas surrounding the cities of Sanliurfa and Adana. Here, kebab-making has been perfected over the centuries.
People travel from all over the world to enjoy the famous kebab dishes from this region. Often, the dishes are spicy. It's not surprising. After its kebabs, this region is famous for its production of spices made from hot red peppers.
To make things even tastier, kebabs from the southeast are traditionally served with an array of appetizers, better known as 'meze,' that go especially well with this spicy meat fare. Piping-hot flat bread, pungent goat cheese, and spicy tomato crush are only some of the delectable 'meze' served before a spicy kebab dinner.
If you're a meat-lover, or a fan of anything marinated and grilled, the world of Turkish kebab is the place for you. Get yourself a few good skewers and start to experiment with different meats and marinades. Before you know it, you'll be grilling kebabs the Turkish way.