What’s in a Kabab?

Time for Entrées?
The Syrian cuisine is not complete without grilled meats, Mashawi in Arabic. Chicken, beef, and lamb are our common choices with the latter being the premier meat with a tender, fat-rich body and unique flavor.
Each of these meats are marinated in a special mixture of spices that accentuate meat flavors rather than masking it. Of note, Syrians spices are more about complimentary aromas rather than “heat”.
Finally, the smoky flavor of grilling does the rest. The type of meat and seasoning are what distinguish Syrian from other grilled meats collectively known in the US as Kebabs; it includes varieties from the Eastern-Mediterranean and the Middle-East going west to Greece and Balkans, east as far as India and China, and north reaching Russia.
Trivia, the word kebab is believed to be from Aramaic root of “Kab” meaning “to burn”, through Arabic to Turkish and Persian. Its geographical spread seems to follow Islamic influence through the vast territories of the Mongol and Ottoman empires.
The origination of this modality of grilling meats in small pieces is thought to have originated in the Near East. Culinary researchers believe this was favored, over grilling whole joints common in Europe for example, due to the prevalence of urban life.
Cities made larger fires needed to roast larger joints impractical favoring smaller char grills. In addition, the scarcity of wood in the region called for the efficient use of char’s heat. This was achieved by smaller meat cuts maximizing exposure to heat through increasing surface-to-volume ratio.
It is fascinating how practical solution to problems yield this beautiful diversity of cuisines.

Leave a comment