First, the story. Way back in the summer of 1963, when I was just 18, I was invited to a picnic at a park in Yonkers, New York by my favorite cousin, Eugenia, and her husband of only a few years, Djafar Chafizadeh, or “Jaf,” as she referred to him. Joining us were a group of friends, most of whom were interns at the hospital in Mount Vernon, where Jaf was becoming a doctor specializing as an OBGYN. They, like Jaf, were all from the Middle Eastern country of Iran, which back then Jaf referred to as Persia. Jaf came from a large, affluent family in Tehran. He had many brothers, all of whom had emigrated from Iran to the United States, by way of France. His parents remained behind in Tehran. But I digress.
To get to the outing, I had to travel east along the highway from my home in suburban New Jersey until I reached the George Washington bridge at Fort Lee. I crossed the bridge and continued north along the other side the river until I arrived in Yonkers. The whole trip took about an hour on my Vespa motor scooter named “Big O.” (The genesis of that name is a story for another time.) It was a long, bumpy ride on the little two-wheeler, but I was young and fearless―and not particularly insightful. Today, I often look back upon such adventures with a marked sense of incredulity.
The activity of the day was soccer, which the men and I played while the women prepared the food for the picnic. The meal consisted of shish kebob, a lamb and vegetable dish, which was cooked on metal skewers over a charcoal fire, and served with a salad. At the time, I had never heard of shish kebob (now, it is a commonly served dish), but the memory of its exotic flavor remains with me today, as do the fond memories of that outing―including the long ride home in the dark.
Now, the recipe (as best I can recall it).
JAF’S SHISH KEBOB
- 2 pounds leg of lamb, cut into two-inch cubes
- 6 medium onions, quartered
- 6 green peppers, cut into two-inch pieces
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 1 pint plain yogurt
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 or 4 large bay leaves, broken into pieces
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cut up the lamb and place it in a large casserole dish. Combine the wine, yogurt, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and pour the mixture over the lamb. Cover, and allow the meat to marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Place the pieces of lamb, pepper, onion, and cherry tomatoes (the kebobs) on metal skewers (the shish) that have been coated with olive oil, alternating each component equally. Place the fully loaded skewers over the charcoal fire and cook for about 15 or 20 minutes, turning the shish frequently, until the meat is done. The key to this recipe is the yogurt, the enzymes of which help break down or “pre-digest” the meat, making it extremely tender and adding a unique, tangy flavor of its own.
Serve your shish kebob with your favorite salad and dressing. That’s it! What could be simpler? Oh, and play a little Middle Eastern music while you dine to set the mood. Perfect!
These days, my wife, Becky, likes to serve our Shish-Kebob over a bed of rice pilaf. This is a dish popular with those of Armenian descent like her (see her recipe below).
BECKY’S RICE PILAF
- 1 cup white rice
- 2 cups chicken broth (stock or bullion)
- Extra fine noodles – 1-2 lightly crushed angel hair nests or 1 cup fine noodles uncrushed)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons of chicken fat* or butter
- Another 2 tablespoons butter
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- In a 2 to 3 quart saucepan, heat chicken fat*/ butter on low heat — try not to brown or burn.
- Lightly crush the nest of noodles in your hand, add to the fat/butter. Fry at low to medium heat until noodles are light brown.
- Add the rice to pot and mix together.
- Add the chicken broth and one extra tsp. butter.
- Cover the pot and bring broth to a boil, then lower the heat to medium/low and cook for 20 minutes or until the rice is done** and turn off the heat. If the rice sticks together, take a terry towel, wrap it around the pot cover, put the cover back on the pot and let sit for 5-10 minutes, until the rice is fluffy. Enjoy!
*(Capture the fat from a roasted chicken and save for use, or cut the fat off chicken breasts and freeze it to use as needed. Put the fat in the pot you are using for the pilaf and remove the piece after it melts off the fat. If you don’t have the fat, brown the noodles in a tablespoon or two of butter.)
**Check to see if rice is cooked, if it’s still hard, add up to ¼ c water as needed.
FOOTNOTE: According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the word shish comes from the Turkish şişkebabı, from şiş spit + kebap roast meat. First known use: 1913.
I hope you’ll try Jaf’s Shish-Kebob and Becky’s Rice Pilaf. Share these recipes with your friends. I’d be interested to hear your comments.
Joe Perrone Jr is the author of the Matt Davis Mystery Series: As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day (a 2012 Indie B.R.A.G. medallion winner), Twice Bitten, and Broken Promises (also a B.R.A.G. medallion honoree). All four mysteries are available in paperback and E-book from Amazon.com. As the Twig is Bent and Opening Day are now in audiobook from Audible.com, with Twice Bitten and Broken Promises currently in production. If humor is your cup of tea, consider Joe’s rip-roaring, coming-of-age novel, Escaping Innocence: A Story of Awakening, set in the tumultuous Sixties, or A “Real” Man’s Guide to Divorce (First, you bend over and . . . ). Both are available in print, E-book, and audio book editions.
Note: If you’d like to follow my blog via email, just click on the “follow” button at the bottom righthand corner of the page. I only blog once per week, so don’t worry about being inundated (and I don’t share email addresses). Please don’t forget to tell a friend.