A shami kebab is a small patty of meat mixed with fillings and spices. This dish has an unspecified origin, but is commonly known as an Indian or Pakistani dish, though other regions also include this fare on local menus. The shami kebab is part of a larger category of kebabs that feature ground meats in various shapes, served with sides and garnishes, in traditional South Asian or Middle Eastern cuisine.
The meat most usually used for shami kebabs is either mutton or beef, with beef being a favorite for many cooks. This meat is ground and mixed with chickpeas, lentils or other fillers. A variety of spices are also included. Among the many spices used for shami kebab, cumin is a favorite, as well as cardamom, usually ground from the larger whole seed. Other spices, like peppercorns, ginger, or even cinnamon may also be used. The colorful regional spice made from turmeric root makes an appearance in a good number of recipes for this dish, as does the garam masala spice mix that is popular in Indian cooking.
Shami kebab may be served with a variety of sides, including rice. In some dishes, lemon juice and raw onions form complementary taste sensations to the meaty kebab. Some versions of this dish also call for a chutney or sauce that utilizes green herbs for more complex tastes. These additional sauces often feature mint or coriander for a fresh taste. The use of such herbs represents traditional elements of regional cooking in many places where shami kebab might be authentically served.
The shami kebab is not unique in its use of these ingredient combinations. A similar small patty called falafel uses only the chickpeas for a vegetarian alternative to this entre. Similarly, small vegetable balls called korma are also popular as exports of Indian cuisine in countries around the world.
The origin of the shami kebab is controversial. Experts point out that shami in Arabic is a reference to Syria or the Levant. Others speculate that word might have a South Asian meaning. Whatever the source of this dish, it has become a menu favorite wherever kebabs are offered, in a growing number of countries around the world where world cuisine is very much in demand. Large numbers of emigrant cooks operating authentic restaurants in foreign locations adds to the growing familiarity of these kinds of menu items in areas where they were not previously understood, for example, in the Americas. Understanding the precise ingredients for a specific kebab dish can help food aficionados learn more about general cuisine in places they may be wholly unfamiliar with.