Iskander Kebab

We are spoiled for choice in Vienna with lots of different ethnic shops, markets, and restaurants. This is especially true for all things Turkish as the city is home to a large population with Turkish background, many of whom are second and third generation immigrants whose parents and grandparents came to Austria as guest workers back in the 60′s and 70′s. Lucky for us, they have brought their delicious cuisine with them, and döner kebab has undoubtedly become one of the most popular fast foods in town.

I love visiting the Turkish bakeries with their trays full of rows of neat little squares of sticky baklava (which I can never resist), piles of lokum (Turkish delight) in different flavors, big blocks of helva, fluffy white bread in all shapes and sizes, and pide (Turkish pizza) with delicious toppings. There’s always a heavenly smell of yeast, flour, sugar, and nuts wafting around these bakeries that is at once comforting and exciting.

Last spring, we decided it was time to finally go to the source of all this culinary greatness and make a trip to Turkey. Unfortunately, the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano had other plans for us in store and forced us to cancel our trip the day before we were supposed to fly out. So I am even more excited that we’re giving it another try in April, and if all goes well, we’ll really make it to Istanbul this time!

To get us in the mood for our upcoming trip, I made one of my favorite Turkish dishes, Iskander Kebab. The little meatballs are much better if made the traditional way, flame broiled over an open fire. Since it’s still too cold for any outdoor BBQ activities, I put them under the grill in my oven. Not perfect, but still tasty! If you don’t like lamb, ground beef works equally well. This dish is usually served with a layer of pita bread at the bottom, but I prefer to serve it with Turkish bread on the side instead. It’s great for mopping up the sauce.

If any of you have been to Istanbul and have some tips or advice to share (food, sights, shopping, etc.), I’d love to hear from you! Given my weakness for ceramics and textiles, I’m afraid the luggage situation will get very ugly…

Iskander Kebab (serves 4)
2 cans finely chopped tomatoes
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
750g ground lamb or beef
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 onions, peeled and grated or very finely chopped
2 cups plain whole milk yogurt (Greek works best), at room temperature
1 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts
salt, pepper
extra parsley for garnish

1. Put the tomatoes, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sugar in a small pan. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and let simmer until the mixture starts to thicken and is slightly reduced.
2. Puree with a stick blender until you achieve a smooth consistency.
3. Put the ground meat, parsley, onions, salt, and pepper in a food processor and process until the mixture resembles a fine paste.
4. Shape the mix into little meatballs with your hands and grill to your liking.
5. In a small bowl, mix the remaining olive oil and paprika.
6. To serve, first put a layer of tomato sauce in each bowl, then add several spoonfuls of yogurt, drizzle with the paprika oil, sprinkle with pine nuts and top with the meatballs (kofta). Garnish with extra parsley.

Enjoy!

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