I want to start off by saying that there is often a misperception that there is only one type of kebab, and that is the famous shish kebab. (In Turkey it is spelled sis kebab.) The basic ingredients of a kebab are much like what people will put on a plate – meat or fish, potatoes, and vegetables. One difference is a kebab should be grilled to be a true kebab. The second is a kebab is both about the taste and the appearance. You line up the ingredients on a skewer (which originally was a sword) and then cook them over an open flame (a.k.a. a barbeque). Though this preparation and method often is credited to the Turks, it actually has its culinary roots in Greece.
Now actually there are two main types, the shish and the doner. You don’t hear much about the doner, but the major difference is that it is cooked vertically rather than being placed on a grill. If you have ever seen gyros prepared you have a very good idea of what doner kebab is like. In either type, cooking over an open flame is essential.
For those who never had the pleasure of eating a kebab, you don’t know what you are missing. The thing is, you can mix and match so many varieties of foods that it is impossible not to find a combination that will please your palette. But when you want to take taste to the next level you need to find exactly the right types of meat and vegetables, and create a secret mix of herbs and spices to saturate and glaze your meat and veggie combo. Many of the best kebab combos have been handed down from one generation to another. When you think about the many journeys Israelis have experienced during their heritage, it is amazing how any more than two generational recipes have survived.
Those who have held on to these culinary treasures say that the most important part of a great kebab in the keeping to the exact order and process of the preparation. Anyone can throw some ingredients together, but it is the careful planning and timing of adding and mixing each ingredient that makes a recipe stand out above all the others. Creating a flavor that is slightly greasy, with the right amount of rich spices is something I prefer. After cooking I prefer the final result to be a bit on the crispy side, but I can appreciate a kebab that is also softer but well-done on the inside.
If you are interested in making kebabs on your own, my advice is to not be afraid to experiment. Start with the kind of outside texture you want, then focus on the ingredients and work to mix them in a process that will give you the flavor you want while maintaining the outer texture. What is most important, if the greatest kebab chefs are worth listening to, is make sure you write down every detail of the process. You may even want to note where you purchased your ingredients.
So that’s the basics of kebabs and how you can get started making your own. But if you are not a grillmeister, don’t worry. There are plenty of places where you can get kebabs prepared for you – exactly the way you like them.