Mother-in-Law’s Recipe for Tas Kebab

Tas kebab is one of those funny recipes that rumbles around the kitchens of the Middle East with no-one quite knowing whence it came. It is a popular and homely dish in countries from Bulgaria all the way round to the Levant, with a small detour to Iran. Even the name is a puzzle: although ancient Persian warriors may well have invented the concept of cooking meat on sticks (well, swords), back in the (medieval, Persian) day, kabab denoted fried chunks of meat with a sauce, which was kind of casserole-ish. And tas kebab is just that: a juicy baked meat dish bearing little resemblance to the the shish or doner kebabs we know and love/despise*.

Every country/province/village/household makes it differently, but the principles are the same: meat or chicken is layered with vegetables and fruit and baked in a fragrant tomatoey sauce. In Turkey ‘tas’ means bowl, and tas kebab is usually prepared contained within an inverted bowl in the oven: the Persian version we offer here is much simpler. Unlike most of the khoreshts (stews) of Iran, Tas Kebab is usually eaten with bread (although we have it with rice, as per the photo, otherwise there are clamours that it is ‘not a proper meal’). It is hearty fare, but economical, as the ingredients are usually varied according to season and market price. I usually make it with the left over bits of veg in the bottom of the fridge hydrator (you know, that stick of celery, the soggy carrot, the slightly squidged tomato….). It is really lovely with cooking apples or quince when they are available. My mother-in-law normally uses chicken (as below) as it is ‘better for us’ (she watches far too many health programmes on Persian satellite telly), but occasionally she will prepare it with baby lamb kufteh. It’s a complete doddle to make.

*that’ll be the former for Mr. Shopkeeper, and the latter for Mrs. S.

Ingredients (to feed 4-6)**:

  • 1 chicken, skinned and cut into 8
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 leek, washed and roughly chopped
  • 3 sticks celery, washed and cut into fat chunks
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon lime powder
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 carrots, scraped and cut into fat sticks
  • 1 green pepper, washed and chunked
  • 6-8 mushrooms, wiped
  • 1/2 small butternut squash, peeled and chunked
  • 3 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into slabs
  • 200g prunes (soaked if necessary)
  • 1 large aubergine, washed and cut into 2cm cubes
  • 2 tablespoons good tomato puree
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil for cooking

My this is easy. But we might have mentioned that already. Rinse the chicken and pat it dry. Layer the onion, leek and celery into the bottom of a fairly deep oven tray. Arrange the chicken on top, and sprinkle it with the spices and seasoning. Dot the rest of the vegetables and the prunes evenly around and on top of the chicken.

Mix the tomato puree, tomatoes and olive oil together, and add around one glass of cold water. Pour the liquid over the chicken and veg, cover the tray properly with tin foil and bake in a pre-heated oven (gas mark 5, 190C) for around an hour and ten minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables tender. Serve with warm bread. Or rice.

**As in the ingredients we used on this occasion. Experiment. Go on. Let us know how you get on.