Shami kebabs were apparently invented by a highly skilled chef for a toothless Nawab of Lucknow. The Nawab was so fat from overindulgence that he couldn’t get on a horse, and his teeth were all gone, presumably for the same reason. So a kebab was made so fine that it required no teeth to eat it. When I hear stories like that I’m inclined to think, ‘If you believe that, you’ll believe anything.’ But then again, it’s a nice story, and so are the kebabs – silky smooth and stuffed with just a little finely chopped onion, mint and green chilli.
90g/3¼oz chana dal (Bengal gram or split yellow peas), soaked in cold water for about an hour
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
8 garlic cloves
60g/2¼oz fresh root ginger, roughly chopped
2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
500g/1lb 2oz lamb mince
1 tsp salt
3 fresh green chillies, roughly chopped
handful coriander leaves, chopped
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
½ tsp black cumin (shahi zeera) or regular cumin seeds
1 lime, juice only
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
about 2 tbsp plain flour, to bind
vegetable oil, for shallow-frying
For the filling
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 lime, juice only
1 fresh green chilli, finely chopped
handful mint leaves, finely shredded
¼ tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
2 limes, cut into quarters
1 red onion, cut into rings rings
5 tbsp green chutney (avaliable at Asian supermarkets)
Drain the split peas and put them aside.
Put the onions, garlic, ginger and two tablespoons of water in a mini food processor and blend to a paste.
Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, add the onion paste and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir in the lamb mince and split peas, pour over enough water to just cover the meat (roughly 400ml/14fl oz), add half a teaspoon of salt, partially cover with a lid and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes then remove the lid and cook for a further 5–10 minutes, or until the meat is just starting to brown and catch on the bottom. It’s important that any excess moisture has evaporated. Transfer to a plate and leave to cool for about 15 minutes.
Tip the mixture into a food processor and blend into a smooth paste. Add the green chillies, coriander, garam masala, chilli powder, cumin, the remaining salt and the lime juice to the lamb mixture and blend again, then gradually add enough of the egg to bind the mixture without making it too wet. Transfer the mix into a bowl and stir in the flour.
In a separate bowl, mix together all the filling ingredients and drain off any excess liquid.
To shape the kebabs, wet your hands and divide the mixture into about 16–20 portions. (If the mixture a little too wet to shape into patties, then add another tablespoon of flour.) Shape one portion into a patty about 4cm/1½in in diameter and 5mm thick. Spoon three-quarters of a teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the patty, and draw the edges around and over it to encase the filling and form a rough ball. Then, carefully, flatten it into a 5mm-thick patty. Place on a tray and repeat with the remaining mixture. Refrigerate for an hour.
Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat. Fry the patties in batches for 2–3 minutes on each side, or until golden-brown and cooked through. Remove the patties from the pan and add the lime quarters for 1–2 minutes until warm.
Sprinkle the kebabs with a little salt and serve with the lime wedges, red onion rings and green chutney on the side.