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What is a Shami Kebab?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By stoltzfus — On Mar 14, 2011

nice...I'll have to try that one. Thanks!

By serenesurface — On Mar 14, 2011

I have never been a big fan of lamb. My family did not eat much lamb as I was growing up so when I encountered lamb at friend's house or restaurants, I couldn't bear the smell of it, let alone taste it. This was until I saw lamb shami kabab of course. The spices and lentils are such a great addition to the lamb that it smells and tastes like a different meat altogether. And I love that it can be eaten with different sauces.

I've tried several different types of shami kabab, some which were dipped in egg before being fried and others which used rice instead of lentils. But I have loved every single one. This is definitely my favorite appetizer.

By bear78 — On Mar 14, 2011

I heard that Shami kebab was introduced to the Indian subcontinent during the Mughal rule of India. Apparently, since the Mughal emperors were Muslim and enjoyed Middle Eastern food, they had cooks from all over the Middle East come and cook for them. It is said that Shami Kebab was one of the Middle Eastern dishes that was made often.

I don't know if there is any truth behind this but I think that Shami Kebab might have been adapted when many Persians migrated and settled in India. Do Parsis in India cook Shami kebab? If they do, it might be evidence that it came with the Persians also.

By ddljohn — On Mar 13, 2011

I've been looking for a simple shami kebab recipe for a long time and I finally found it!

You need one pound of minced meat, 2/3 cup split yellow lentils, 2 tablespoons of garam masala, coriander powder, garlic paste each, 1 tablespoon cumin powder, a couple of dry red chilies and salt to your liking.

All you have to do is boil everything until it's completely cooked and run it through a food processor until it is paste-like. I take some of the mix in my hand and shape it like a hamburger and cook it until brown in a pan with oil. It's done! I serve it with chutneys that I buy ready made. Easy right?

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