Shami Kebabs

Growing up, my mum had a bi-monthly ritual of preparing gallon sized freezer bags of shami kebabs. The kebabs would be made over the course of a weekend, frozen on trays, and then packed and tucked away in the deep freeze to be used for daily lunches and as an accompaniment to our weekend nashta (breakfast).

As often as we had these kebabs growing up, I never found myself tiring of them.  Quite the opposite, actually.  I could happily eat these plain or sandwiched between a crusty kaiser roll with some lettuce and cheese (for the purists out there – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it).  And that’s the wonderful thing about shami kebabs – they’re absolutely versatile. 

In Pakistan, it’s fairly common to find shami kebabs rolled out on tea carts alongside papay (sweet cake rusks) or savoury samosas during tea time.  In Karachi, these kebabs reign amongst effervescent street stalls as the star of bun kebabs.  I’m partial to scooping the kebabs up with roghni roti (a multi-layered, flaky flatbread) for breakfast and guzzling it all down with a proper cuppa.

If you’re new to shami kebabs, making them may seem a bit labourious, but I assure you that the process itself is pretty easy.      

Firstly, you boil your meat of choice with lentils and spices and cook until the water dries off, and the meat and lentils have become soft and cooked through.   

The boiled mixture is then ground up either with a meat grinder or a food processor.

Combine the ground mixture with finely chopped onions, cilantro, mint, and an egg or two.  Shape your kebabs and fry ’em up.

Easy, right?  You’ve got this! 

Shami Kebabs

Silky soft kebabs made of boiled and ground up meat, lentils, and spices.
Author: Aroosa Akhtar


  • 1 lb. chicken (preferably drumsticks or thighs), beef, or mutton
  • 1/2 c. split yellow lentils (channa dal); rinsed and soaked for at least 4 hours
  • 6 button red chilies
  • 4-6 peppercorns
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 large black cardamom
  • 1 cinnamon stick (1" piece)
  • 4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 piece fresh ginger (1" inch knob), roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 small bunch fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced fine
  • 2-4 green chilies, diced fine
  • 1 - 1/2 " fresh ginger piece, grated
  • 1 large egg, beaten


  • Rinse meat and place into a heavy bottomed bottom. Add chana dal, button chilies, peppercorns, cloves, black cardamom, cinnamon, garlic, 1" inch piece of chopped ginger, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, salt, and just enough water to cover the meat (I used approximately 2 1/2 cups of water). 
  • Bring pot to a boil and continue to cook until meat and lentils are soft and most of the water has evaporated.
  • Allow the mixture to cool. If using cuts of meat with bone, shred meat and remove and discard bones.
  • Take the boiled mixture of remaining meat, lentil, and spices and grind until smooth either in a food processor or with a meat grinder.
  • Once the mixture has been ground, add the cilantro, mint, onion, green chilies, grated ginger, and egg and combine until mixture is smooth and holds together. If your mixture is dry or if it crumbles slightly, slowly add up to one more beaten egg.
  • Take approximately 2 tablespoons of the mixture and roll into round kebabs. Continue to shape and form the remaining mixture into kebabs. Shaped kebabs can either be frozen or fried at this point.

To Freeze:

  • Place shaped kebabs on a parchment lined baking sheet. Freeze the kebabs on the baking sheet for about 2 hours.
  • Remove the kebabs from the baking sheet and place into a plastic bag. Return bag to freezer and keep frozen until needed.

To Fry/Cook Immediately:

  • Heat approximately 2 T of a neutral oil (I use grapeseed) in a heavy-based frying pan on medium heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, fry kebabs in batches (either from from fresh or frozen) until golden brown, approximately 4 minutes on each side.
  • Garnish shami kebabs with thinly sliced red onions and serve with a green chutney. Enjoy!