Throughout the world, kebab has become a ubiquitous word to define skewers of grilled meat, as well as vegetables. Today, we are continuing our Persian journey with one of the most popular kebabs: joojeh kabob.
Joojeh kabob, also spelled jūjeh kabāb or joojay kebob (جوجهکباب), consists of pieces of chicken that are marinated in lemon juice as well as saffron and minced onion, that are then skewered ahead of time to be grilled on demand.
Today, joojeh kabob literally means grilled chicken. However, kebab originally meant fried meat, and not grilled meat. It is believed that the Arabic word may derive from Aramaic kabbābā, which probably has its origins in Akkadian kabābu which means “to burn” or “to char”.
This Persian chicken kebab is often served on basmati rice or wrapped in lavash bread. The type of Persian rice that is served with chicken is often zereshk polo (rice with barberries). Zereshk is this very unique sour berry, called barberry in English, that is used in a number of dishes including the Uzbek plov I made a couple years ago, as well as tahchin, a delicious sweet and sour Persian rice cake.
Other sides traditionally served with joojeh kabob and Persian kebab in general include grilled tomatoes, peppers, onions, as well as fresh lemons or other vegetables. Yogurt is sometimes added to the marinade, and although it tends to make the meat more tender, it is not a required ingredient.
The practice of cooking meat on a stick, a skewer or even sometimes a sword is obviously not recent, as it originates in prehistoric times, when early humans began cooking with fire.
Dishes that are prepared in a similar way to kebab, are popular around the world. Remember the anticucho from Peru, the cevapi from the Balkans, the shashlik from Central Asia or the satay from Southeast Asia that we already featured on 196 flavors?
But there is a plethora of other meat skewer specialties from various regions and cultures, including yakitori in Japan, chuan in China, pinchitos in Spain, espetada in Portugal, espetinho in Brazil, kalmi in India, mtsvadi in Georgia, souvlaki (Σουβλάκι) in Greece, kebakko in Finland, rablóhús in Hungary, frigărui in Romania, spiedino in Italy, suya in Nigeria, kkochi in Korea, sosatie in South Africa, or banderilla in Mexico.
Kebabs, along with stews (khoresh) are really what define traditional Persian cuisine. This is the second Persian kebab recipe we feature on 196 flavors, after koobideh, the other very popular kebab, this time prepared with ground meat. But there are a multitude of Persian kabobs, including: kabab barg (barbecued pieces of lamb, beef, or chicken), kabob soltani (combination of 1 kabab barg and 1 kabab koobideh), kabab torsh (sirloin or tenderloin marinated in a paste made with crushed walnuts, pomegranate juice or paste, chopped parsley, olive oil, and crushed garlic from the province of Gilan), kabab torki (Persian version of Turkish doner kabob), kabab bolghari (combination of joojeh kabob and kabab barg in a decussate form), kabab chenjeh (pure meat very similar to western steaks), mahi kabab (barbecued fish particularly popular in Caspian sea and Persian Gulf regions),
Preparing kebab is not the most difficult thing. However, there is one mistake you should absolutely avoid: do not cook vegetables and meat on the same skewer! Simply because meat and vegetables do not require the same amount of time to cook. This is why you always see tomatoes and onions served separately from the meat skewers in any kebab dishes.
I have the chance to live in Los Angeles. Not only do we have enough sunshine throughout the year to host BBQs quite often, but with the largest Persian population in the world outside of Tehran living here, we also have access to very authentic Persian restaurants. Joojeh kabob and zereshk polo is often my go-to dish at Persian eateries around town.
Now that you have the secrets behind tasty and juicy joojeh kabob, this delicious Persian chicken kebab should be on the menu of your next BBQ this summer. Enjoy!
- 2 lb skinless and boneless chicken breast
- 1 onion , finely chopped
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ½ teaspoon ground saffron powder , dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
In a bowl, combine onion, olive oil, lemon juice, saffron, salt and pepper. Blend well.
Pour the mixture over the chicken in a large flatter bowl or pan, and make sure that all the chicken pieces are fully covered with the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours.
Thread the chicken pieces onto narrow flat metal skewers. Place the skewers on a hot gril. Cook the chicken at least 5 to 7 minutes on each side. Check the doneness of the joojeh kabob by cutting through one piece of chicken with a knife. If it is white and juicy, it is ready to eat.
Serve with grilled vegetables, Persian rice or lavash bread.