Lamb shish kebab; meet me at the grill
I can think of no better summer meal than Lebanese lamb shish kebab–the grilled combination of lamb and onion is utterly mouth-watering. No marinade is needed. The key to proper grilling of the meat is to bring it to room temperature for a couple of hours before cooking. This ensures even cooking and prevents the exterior of the meat from burning before the interior is cooked.
I was always someone who was bothered by the division of labor in our house growing up. Boys mowed the lawn. Girls changed the beds. But the gathering of men at the barbeque—that one never bothered me. Instead it just beckoned me, and I followed. I understood from early on that when the grill was lit and the raw meats of all kinds laid out in their pan to be seasoned with copious salt and pepper, something important was happening. Something I did not want to miss.
From the very far reaches of what seemed like our endless backyard when I was small, back in the corner where the monkey bars were cemented into the ground so they could stand firm against our play and call children from across the yards like a lighthouse, I had my first awareness of the grill and what it meant. Our cousins the Nakfoors were over, likely on a Sunday afternoon. Many kids were scattered in the yard, screaming and laughing. Adults were on the patio hovering and talking and laughing, and from the center of that hover were my father and uncles, manning the grill (all older men were and are “uncle,” regardless of their precise familial connection. It’s a sign of Lebanese love and respect).
Like the monkey bars, the grill too was cemented into the ground in its own message of stability, another expression that we were here to stay. Solid grill, solid family. A waft of the most luscious, smokey scent curled up into the air. I caught it, as did the other children, and one by one we found our way through the yard to the grill to get a closer look.
The grill lid was closed and the adults were doing what they do, and I was listening as though I understood, as though I was one of them. I stretched out my hand to get a little closer to everything, to get more comfortable and lean against the grill, having no idea of its heat (I was very young, ok?, not older than five). The burn was swift, as was my shock. Once the scene calmed down I was given a cold bowl of water at the picnic table to keep my hand in. The icy cold numbed my hand and made me think it was healed, so I would run away into the depths of the yard, only to discover I was still burned and had to run back to the ice water again. I tried again and again but finally knew I had to remain there at the table.
My father came by and took me over to the grill. He showed me where I could touch, and where I couldn’t. He cut off a little piece of the laham mishweh, lamb shish kebab, and gave us both a bite that is seared on my memory as clearly as the burn on my hand. The meat was tender and pink on the inside, smokey, salty and charred on the outside. I think this was the first time I noticed my father eating, the way he chewed and licked his full lips and ate what seemed like the most succulent bite of his life. In retrospect, the psychotherapist in me wonders if it’s possible that I burned my hand just so I could get my father’s attention in the crowd, and get a first bite of that meat from him.
I’m not inclined to take on a burn for the laham mishweh now, and the grill these days is manned quite competently by the ladies too. But the ritual never changes. The moment someone says I’ll light the grill, something important starts happening, and one by one the family makes its way from the far reaches of wherever we might be, simply to stand there, remembering and talking and laughing and tasting under a smokey halo.
Lamb Shish Kebab
- 2 pounds leg of lamb, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 large sweet red onions, cut into 2-inch chunks
- 1 red, yellow, orange or green bell pepper, cut into 2-inch pieces
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Season the meat generously with salt and pepper, then let it rest and come to room temperature.
- Heat the gas or charcoal grill to a level of medium high heat. Thread the skewers, preferably stainless steel, with a pattern of 2 pieces of meat, 1 chunk of onion, and one pepper, repeated. Or any pattern you like. Or no pattern at all. Just be sure not to thread the meat and vegetables too tightly, to give them room to cook fully and to enjoy more the grilled surface area.
- Brush the meat and vegetables with olive oil. Place on the grill and for medium-rare meat, cook for 10 minutes with the top on, then flip with tongs and grill another 10 minutes, top on. Remove from the heat and let the skewers rest for 10 minutes.
- Remove the hot meat and vegetables from the skewers by pushing them off with a fork. Best not to serve the skewers, even small ones--it's awkward and difficult to remove the meat on the plate.
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I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!
Good Morning Sweetheart, my mouth is watering! I’ve been blessed with the taste of laham many times and am excited for the next time we have it. By the way, the same experience can be realized when grilling chops cut from rack of lamb. And you are so right, no marinating is necessary; in fact, doing so affects the overall taste, in my opinion, not for the better. Lots of love, Uncle Dick
This is so nastalgic for me. I remember attending many of these backyard “feasts” at my Lebanese friend’s house. The only difference is that I was a German-Dutch kid among all those “aunts and Uncles.” I can even smell it now! So wonderful!!!
Your cooking tips are the closest thing to my Mother’s which I’ve yet to encounter. Her maiden name is also Abood. Her Mother came from Zahli and my Father’s from Fitzul (not far from there) My earliest recollections of lamb on the grill are so similar to yours it brought back many fond memories of Summer with my Father and “Uncles” around the grill. It was indeed, the only time my Father did any cooking yet somehow he always managed to get it just right. You’ve inspired me to get my grill out and cook in their memory. Love your site and look forward to future recipes.
Thank you so much for this recipe. I simply love lamb and finding different ways to prepare it is very welcoming.
Uncle Dick could not have said it any better Maureen. Nothing more to say on this subject.
Looks delicious and I’d love it if someone else did the grilling too!
Oh my Gosh… Those look so YUMMY!!!!
I just LOVE reading your daily blogs!!!!
And, your photo’s are amazing!!!!
Yes, ‘thread the skewers’ and ‘push off with a fork’–thank you Maureen for evoking so many wonderful, wonderful memories
I loved it
I too have memories of my dad cooking lamb shish kebob (no authentic Lebanese names for us…we were too Americanized by then). I would always be there to help him season and cook as a young girl and would help cut the meat as I grew older. Just reading your story caused me to immediately be transported to our porch in my childhood home. Great memories and always, always great food.
Ohhhh how i love lahem Mishweh or as my Aussie friends say kebabs. Its always the best bbqing that meat with all the sides of tabouli, hummus, garlic and dot forget the potatoe slices smeared with Toum. yummmm
I just bought a wonderful boneless leg of lamb and cannot wait to try this recipe! I am introducing my friends here in Southern Florida to your fabulous spices; and, I cannot wait to bring these spices to Boyne City next summer. Oh, how I WISH you would do a cooking class while you summer in Harbor Springs! I could definitely and easily ensure at least a class of 8-10 of our friends who frequently do cooking classes together at Fustini’s in Petoskey. Wouldn’t that be fun?????
Ahhhh that’s so so nice and yes, that sure would be fun to cook and eat Lebanese with your crew! If cooking classes are on my agenda, I’ll be sure to let everyone know!
Great story associated with your childhood memory of enjoying this grilled classic! There is a special magic that happens with outdoorBBQ grilling parties . Delicious recipes!
Just discovered your website and enjoying going through all your recipes. I am from Michigan as well, but live in Georgia now. I wish I knew of of the wonderful Lebanese restaurants in East Lansing back when I was at MSU in the 80’s! Will need to check some of them out when I’m back there for the holidays.
We always called this mishweh – and my syrian grandmother would take hours to cut a leg of lamb to prepare it. Still one of my favorite meals ever. Tata used to use a piece of syrian bread to push the meat of the skewers 🙂
I love this, thank you!!
I love this, thank you!
My mom would use a loaf of Syrian bread to push the meat off the skewers. That was the best piece of bread.
Hi Maureen, oh my, brings back the best memories. Our church in Syracuse, NY would have a festival every summer and the men would bbq the laham mishweh and I can still smell and taste it wrapped in khubz. It’s been ages since I’ve made laham with lamb. Think I might have to try it again.
Love your website and your stories. Your recipes are very close to what my Sitto’s and mother made. My parents had a grocery store and my mom and dad would cut the leg of lamb together, making whatever they needed from the leg.
Thank you Sharon…oh you’ll so enjoy cooking with lamb again!
Best memories of our church festival – all the men bbqing the meat and eating it in khubz. Also great memories of my parents cutting the lamb into pieces. My parents had a family grocery store and dad was the butcher. Thanks for that!
How great is that! I want to go to that church festival of yesteryear!