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Lamb Kabab Recipe (Shammi Kabab)

Lamb Shammi Kabab
Lamb Shammi Kabab pictures (1 of 8)

Even though I grew up eating lots of Indian food—my late parents were huge Indian food fans, especially Malaysian-Indian food—I suck at making Indian food. I like Indian cuisine, but I could hardly tell the difference between fennel and cumin seeds without a magnifying glass, let alone cooking an authentic dish! So, when I found Cheeky Chilli, I knew I had to invite Sharmila to guest post an Indian recipe here. And here she is, sharing with us her fabulous lamb shammi kabab recipe, step-by-step photos, plus her beautiful writing! Please give your warmest welcome to Cheeky Chilli and do pay her blog a visit.

There I was dreading the inevitable demise of yet another weekend when I received an unexpected message. It was Bee of the amazing Rasa Malaysia asking if I’d like to write a guest post for her wonderful blog. Oh my! Are potatoes my favourite vegetable? (Or something else to which the answer is a more obvious YES!) What an honour! After a quick discussion, we decided my post would be on kababs.

Kababs were the way I first ate any meat as a child. Not because that’s how my mom wanted it, but because up to that point I had steadfastly refused to eat meat. The smoky flavours and spicy one-bite poppers were what convinced me to try my first chicken tikka. (This was tikka as a kabab, simply unadorned & roasted meat, without any of the gravy that makes it chicken tikka masala), I was hooked from the first bite and have never looked back. I grew from strength to strength with lamb botis and mutton seekh. A smorgasbord of kababs that then taught me to enjoy meat in other forms.

Kababs originated among the Persians and Arabs and were probably introduced to India during various conquests that are part of India’s history. They were assimilated with the indigenous aplomb that all foreign influences always are in India and refined to create our own unique take on them. Different regions of India spawned several variations, incorporating spices and techniques to give us the variety we see today.

A kabab in the Indian context could be any of a wide range of bite-size pieces that are mostly eaten as appetisers, wonderful spice-filled precursors to the gastronomical delights to follow. They are sometimes folded in roti wraps to create what we call kathi rolls, but mostly enjoyed on their own. Then there are the kababs that are a meal in themselves, stuffed and delicious treats that require no accompaniment other than a few squeezes of lemon, some chutney and maybe some slivered onions and/or tomatoes. These are, I think, the royalty of the kabab kingdom. (Yes, there is a kingdom to which I’m a willing serf. There’s great food to be had in servitude!) There is the coy nargisi Kabab and the cheeky hara-bhara kabab. And then there is the king, the gracious, rich yet gentle monarch, the shammi kabab.

Shammi kababs are made of ground meat, usually mutton or lamb. The origin of the name has various theories, my favourite being one that states that they were called so because they were quick to make for an evening snack, ‘sham’ meaning evening in Hindi. Shammi was also my nickname growing up. I hated the name but the only consolation of carrying it around was the fact that my favourite kabab was called the same. In a unusual twist, the ground meat is mixed with Bengal gram or chana dal, (a lentil that is almost chickpea-like but much smaller and split) which gives it a subtle earthiness and a melting texture. The mixture is elevated with warmth of spices like cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, stuffed with onion and coriander, rolled into thickish patties, dipped in egg and fried in ghee (clarified butter) to create a meal that is exquisite, both on your dish and to your palette.

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23 COMMENTS... read them below or add one

  1. Wow, an authentic Indian Lamb Kebab recipe1 I’d like to try this, what can I use in place of Bengal gram? MI don’t have the individual spices, may I use meat masala for the kebab seasoning?

    • Momgateway – Regarding the meat masala, yes go for it. The flavour will change depending on the mixture of spices in your masala but it should still taste good.
      Regarding replacing the bengal gram, I’m not sure, but here’s a suggestion (it’s what I’d do if I didn’t have chana dal). you could try using an eighth of a cup of chickpea flour instead. There will be a diffence in texture, but I think it will come together well. Please bear in mind, I’m only a home cook, so this isn’t professional advice. Good luck!

  2. Kate

    I agree with you, Indian food is delicious but very hard to make. Just the different spices alone are enough to confuse me! This lamb kabab recipe looks AWESOME. I am hungry at the thought of the taste and the spices in it. Drool. Good job Cheeky Chilli.

  3. momgateway – sure, you can use a meat masala blend for the spices. It won’t exactly taste the same but should still be pretty tasty. I wouldn’t recommend substituting the Bengal gram though. The mixture of meat and Bengal gram is what makes this a shammi kabab. It should be very easy to find at any Indian store.

    Kate – Thank you for the kudos! I know the number of spices in Indian food can seem like a lot but the procedures are often very simple. This recipe took about 45 minutes (plus half hour to soak the dal). Also often you can get away with not having one or two of the spices that the recipe calls for. Their nuanced flavour is then absent from the completed dish but it will still taste great. Whole spices are available in smaller amounts in Indian stores and will often last into the next Ice Age! They bring amazing layers of flavour to all kinds of food. I do hope you will give Indian food a try :)

  4. These do sound good! I’m honestly somewhat scared to cook Indian food, only because I can’t figure out what all the ingredients are. Perhaps I just need to write them down and head to my nearest Indian grocery (we have several around) and dive in! I love to eat it – I just don’t always know what’s in everything! Shame on me for being so timid about it – I’m all embracing of so many other dishes.

  5. You’ve just reminded me to cook Indian food more often as I’m not too good at it … I think …

    Anyhow, Happy Thanksgiving … though we’re both Malaysian LOL!


  6. Ainee

    Hi Bee & Sharmila,

    Thanks for the recipe on lamb kebabs. I will certainly try making some real soon.

    And Bee;

    Thank you very much for sharing the numerous recipes with all of us. While i love cooking, I must admit I’m more a pastry and cake person. However, I will certainly try some of the recipes you shared so far;the most immediate would be the fried wanton; its my hubby’s favourite.


  7. Stew

    i made this for thanksgiving, the flavor was great, but the texture seemed off as the kebabs were a little “flaky” and didnt stay together as a patty. any suggestions?

  8. Hi Stew,
    Glad you liked them. Sorry you had a problem with the texture, especially since this happened at a meal as crucial as the one at Thanksgiving. These kababs are a bit soft and will not be as firm as burger patties or meat balls would be. They are of a melting texture. However they should still stay whole. Here’s a couple of things that may work to keep them together.
    1. Grind the meat and dal thoroughly together to form a homogeneous, almost a grainy paste-like mixture. This reduces the chance of elements separating in the heat of cooking.
    2. Put in just about a scant teaspoon of filling to make sure the kababs aren’t overstuffed. Cover over evenly to seal in the filling.
    3. Press the finished patty firmly then coat it evenly with egg. This is about the only binding agent in this recipe.
    4. Be gentle while handling them to turn over. This will prevent them breaking apart under pressure.
    I do hope these help with the issue. I do hope it didn’t dissuade you from trying them again. Happy Thanksgiving!

  9. Ger Sexton

    That’s a really nice recipe but I would definately put more spices… at least 5ml cumin and coriander (freshly ground)… use freshly made garam masala and u could then sub the cinnamon with ground (about 1/2 tea spoon each) and the cloves for gound… and buckets more cardamoms… that’s if u like curries :-), p.s. no need to roast the spices b4 u grind… and i’d defo use cayenne pepper instead of chilli powder. O’h and crush the garlic and grate the ginger. So much hard work :-)

  10. Iza

    I just want to drop a few words. I have to say that this website is ONE OF THE BEST websites I have ever seen in my life!!!! Seriously!!!! I have always found all the greatest recipes in here. I really admire your work and effort into this. The recipes are great and yummy….
    You are definitely the best source of inspiration to me when it comes for cooking!

    Thank you so much for this awesome website.

    Keep it up!


  11. Julien

    Hi, love your website! It’s my favorite kind of food.
    Shammi means Damascus, Syria style. Sham is the other name for Damascus.
    Thik of it, this recipe is like falafel(Syria’s favorite food)with meat added to it.

  12. Julien

    haven’t finished yet:
    please correct “thik” to be think
    Also I wouldn’t precook the meat, only the chana dal and incorporate the egg in the mixture to avoid any break up during the frying.
    Thanks anyway.

  13. abang jelan


    Actually Sham or ‘Bilad As-Sham’ in arabic is ancient name of area today includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Isreal.

    Shammi is arabic way of naming the thing related to its place of origin.

    Sham is also sometime referred to as ‘Levant’ in Judeo-Christian literature.

    Damascus is Damascus. it was the part of Sham but it not Sham by itself.

  14. I found this recipe today and made this fabulous dish tonight and I found myself actually saying that this is one of the best meat dishes I’ve ever had. It was absolutely divine! So delicate and delicious. I served it with amaranth and cucumbers with a mint kefir dressing. The whole thing together was just incredible! I’ll be making it again and posting tony site as well! Thank you for such a fabulous recipe!

  15. Hi, I made these for some guests today, I didn’t boil the lamb mince , I boiled the bengal gram with cinnamon stick, cardamom and cloves then when that was cooked, I blended in a food processor the rest of the spices and raw lamb made and filled my patties fried them in ghee and topped them with a small omelette with a small teaspoon of the mint onion and coriander mix in the omelette, they went down a storm, I would definitely say raw mixture was easier to handle ..
    Thanks gorgeous receipe though ..

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