The ageless taste of Pakistani cuisine: Shami Kebab

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The ageless taste of Pakistani cuisine: Shami Kebab

Today we publish the first of our ‘Food Memories’ series. Sadık Pakdil, an educationist who formerly worked at the PakTurk Schools, wrote the history and recipe of Shami Kebab, an ageless street delicacy in Pakistan while generally made at home.

Not only a special holiday treat in Pakistan, Shami Kebab also has an important place among street delicacies. Besides adding flavour to local delicacies like chicken rice or biryani, it is served at home for dinner or as an aperitif to guests.

Notwithstanding several rumours about the origin of the title ‘Shami’, the generally accepted notion is that it was coined from the word ‘shaam‘ meaning ‘evening’ in Urdu and Persian, or that it was an invention of the cooks who migrated to the geography ruled by the Mughal Empire established in Afghanistan in the early 1500s.  According to some legends, Shami Kebab is an “easy-to-eat unique taste” solution offered by a palace chef to the overweight Nawab of Awadh, who had lost his teeth due to overeating, in Lucknow…

The preparation and presentation of Shami Kebab, which is inseparably included in the sub-continent culinary tradition with the conquest of India by the Mughals, shows slight differences according to the regions. In some regions, it is eaten wrapped in ‘roti’, tandoori bread made from whole wheat flour, with tomatoes and onions. On street stalls, it is mashed in ‘aanda walla bargar’ (egg burger) or dipped in battered eggs and fried on a tin sheet, sided with onions, coleslaw and ketchup. Shami Kebab is also served with chilli garlic sauce, yoghurt sauce with mint or cumin (raita) or pickles (chutney/achaar).

Boiled into fibre or ground beef or mutton with mashed chickpeas, salt and various spices (garam masala, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, coriander, ginger, turmeric, chilies, mint, etc.) Shami Kebab is prepared by kneading and forming flat round meatballs and is dipped in egg batter, deep fried, served with fillings and flavoured with lemon juice in some regions.

We share the ingredients and recipe for those who wish to try this Pakistani flavour at home:

Ingredients (for 15 pieces)

500 g boneless beef or mutton (minced or medium-diced)
1 cup (250 g) pre-soaked split chickpeas (daal chana)
1 teaspoon crushed fresh root ginger (adraak)
8 cloves of crushed garlic (leson)
6 cloves (loong)
Half a teaspoon of unground cumin seeds (zeera)
1 stick of cinnamon (daarcheeni)
4 green peppers (saabz mirch)
1 large cardamom (elaichi)
2 eggs (andaa)
1.5 tablespoons of flour (maida)
Half a bunch of chopped fresh coriander (dhania)
1 large chopped medium onion (piyaaz)
8 red peppers (laal mirch)
10 unground black pepper (kaali mirch)
1 pinch of hot spice mix (garam masala)
1 teaspoon salt (namak)
Cooking oil (teyl)

Filling (Optional)

1 medium finely-chopped red onion
Juice from 1 lime
1 finely-chopped fresh green pepper
A handful of finely-chopped mint leaves
¼ teaspoon of sugar
¼ teaspoon of salt


Sliced lime or lemon
Ring-sliced red onion
Pakistan pickle (achaar)


30-45 minutes

Cooking Time

1-2 hours


  • Drain the softened chickpeas and put aside.
  • Blend the onion, garlic, ginger and two tablespoons of water in the food processor until it turns into paste.
  • Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add the crushed ingredients and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the meat and chickpeas. Add enough water (about 2 cups) to cover the meat and half a teaspoon of salt. Cover with a lid so steam can escape and let it boil. After 20 minutes of cooking, continue cooking without the lid for another 5-10 minutes or until the meat turns brown and is about to stick to the pan. Evaporation of excess water is crucial. Transfer the cooked mixture to a plate and let it cool for about 15 minutes.
  • Blend the mixture in a food processor into a smooth paste. Add the green pepper, coriander, hot spice mix, ground paprika, cumin, remaining salt and lemon juice and blend again. Add the egg batter gradually and without diluting much until the mixture acquires consistency. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the flour.
  • Mix all the filling materials in a separate bowl and drain the excess water.
  • To shape the kebabs, wet your hands and divide the mixture into 15 parts. If the mixture is too soft to form patties, add another tablespoon of flour. Shape each patty to about 4cm in diameter and 5mm thick. Put a teaspoon of filling in the patty. Shape inward from the sides to seal the filling and form a firm patty. Flatten it into right thickness. Place the patties on a tray and leave to cool for an hour.
  • Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a pan over medium heat. Fry the patties in batches for 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden-brown and fully-cooked. Remove the patties from the pan and let them cool. Drizzle lemon juice over them (if you wish).
  • Sprinkle some salt on the kebabs and serve them with sliced lemon, ring-sliced onions and mint sauce (chutney).

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