Shami kebabs were apparently invented by a highly skilled chef for a toothless Nawab of Lucknow. The Nawab was so fat from overindulgence that he couldn’t get on a horse, and his teeth were all gone, presumably for the same reason. So a kebab was made so fine that it required no teeth to eat it. When I hear stories like that I’m inclined to think, ‘If you believe that, you’ll believe anything.’ But then again, it’s a nice story, and so are the kebabs – silky smooth and stuffed with just a little finely chopped onion, mint and green chilli.
90g/3¼oz chana dal (Bengal gram or split yellow peas), soaked in cold water for about an hour
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
8 garlic cloves, peeled
60g/2¼oz fresh root ginger, roughly chopped
500g/1lb 2oz lamb mince
1 tsp salt
3 fresh green chillies, roughly chopped, with seeds
handful coriander leaves, chopped
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1 lime, juice only
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
about 2 tbsp plain flour, to bind
vegetable oil, for shallow-frying
lime wedges, red onion rings and green chutney
Drain the split peas and put them aside. Put the onions, garlic, ginger and two tablespoons of water in a mini food processor and blend to a paste.
Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, add the onion paste and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the lamb mince and split peas, pour over enough water to just cover the meat (about 400ml/14fl oz), add half a teaspoon of the salt, partially cover with a lid and bring to a simmer.
Cook for about 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove the lid and cook for a further 5-10 minutes, or until the meat is just starting to brown and catch on the bottom. It’s important that any excess moisture has evaporated. Transfer to a plate and leave to cool for about 15 minutes, then tip into a food processor and blend to a smooth paste.
Add the green chillies, coriander, garam masala, chilli powder, cumin, the remaining salt and the lime juice to the lamb mixture and blend again, then gradually add enough of the egg to bind the mixture without making it too wet. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the flour to create a mixture you can shape.
In a separate bowl, mix together all the filling ingredients. Drain off any liquid just before assembling.
To shape the kebabs, wet your hands and divide the mixture into about 16-20 portions. (If you find the mixture is still a little too wet to shape into patties, then add another tablespoon of flour.) Shape one portion into a patty about 4cm/1½in in diameter and 5mm thick. Put three-quarters of a teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the patty, and draw the edges around and over it to encase the filling and form a rough ball. Then flatten it into a 5mm-thick patty. Place on a tray, repeat with the remaining mixture, then chill in the fridge for an hour before cooking.
To fry the kebabs, heat a few tablespoons of oil in a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat. Fry the patties in batches for 2–3 minutes on each side, or until golden-brown and cooked through.
Sprinkle with a little extra salt, and serve warm with lime wedges, red onion rings and green chutney on the side.
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