This is an authentic recipe for Turkish chicken kebabs or tavuk şiş (tah-VOOK’ SHEESH’) because kebabs originated in Turkey. How much more authentic can you get than that?
There are many versions of traditional chicken kebabs and this one features a simple marinade made from plain yogurt or milk, onion, garlic and spices that transforms plain white or dark meat chicken into succulent, flavorful kebabs that don’t need much else.
You can adjust the ingredients to your taste and add hot red pepper in place of sweet paprika to spice things up. You also can add vegetables like cherry tomatoes if you wish.
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 4 to 5 boneless, skinless thighs)
- For the Marinade:
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt (or milk)
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Garnish: oregano, sumac, and paprika
- Heat a grill to medium.
- Wash the chicken in very cold water for several minutes. Blot the meat dry on paper towels. Cut the meat into bite-sized cubes about the size of large dice.
Make the Marinade
- Using the finest grater possible, grate the onion and garlic cloves. Pour the pulp and juice into a very fine mesh strainer and using a wooden spoon, press out the juice into a separate bowl. Discard the onion and garlic pulp.
- In a glass or ceramic bowl, combine the onion/garlic juice, yogurt or milk, oil, tomato paste, black pepper, paprika, and salt. Add the cubed chicken and toss to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours, or overnight for the best results.
Cook the Kebabs
- When you are ready to cook the chicken, remove the pieces from the marinade and thread them onto small metal or bamboo kebab skewers. If using bamboo skewers, soak them in water for a few hours so they don't ignite on the grill. The chunks of chicken can touch each other, but don’t put them too closely together. Discard any remaining marinade.
- Sprinkle the kebabs with salt and put them on the grill. Grill them evenly on all sides, about 12 minutes total. You can sprinkle Turkish spices like oregano, sumac, and paprika over the hot kebabs to add extra flavor.
- Serve with bulgur and summer vegetable salad or rice pilaf with orzo for a starch and okra with tomato and olive oil or eggplant and vegetable ragout as your vegetable, and a bread like lavash.
The Origins of Kebabs
The method of cooking meats on a skewer over an open fire originated on the steppes of central Asia. In Turkey, it’s said the descendants of Ghengiz Khan himself skewered their daily catch on their swords and cooked it over an open flame. This concept was refined over time and was brought to the world with the westward migration of Turkic peoples.
When it comes to modern kebabs, you’ll be surprised to learn that authentic Turkish shish kebab is actually very plain.
The key to great authentic Turkish kebab is in the quality of the meat and the flavor imparted by the marinade.
Most kebabs, with the exception of certain combination dishes like patlıcanlı kebabı (pot-LUH’-john-LUH’ keh-BOB’-uh) or eggplant kebab, are simply marinated meat—they usually don’t include vegetables on the same skewer. While the meat and chicken are skewered and grilled, vegetables like tomatoes and hot green peppers are put directly on the grill and served with the kebab as a garnish.
In a typically hospitable Turkish way, chicken kebabs are often served alongside grilled beef and lamb to offer an alternative for diners.