How to make ali nazik kebap (Turkish kebabs)

Just meat on a stick? Hardly. With a few pointers from Turkish chef Somer Sivrioglu, of Sydney's Efendy restaurant, the humble kebab becomes so much more.
Rob Shaw

Just about every culture has some kind of skewered meat cooked over charcoal, from Japanese yakitori to Portuguese espetadas – pretty much anyone who had meat, fire and a stick gave it a go. In Turkey, where we call them kebaps, there are more than a hundred versions, from the familiar doner kebap (often misrepresented here in Australia) and the Adana kebap to lesserknown types using chicken, livers, sweetbreads, and small fish.

Every city has its own version, but Adana in the south and nearby Gaziantep each claim to be the capital of kebaps. I don’t side with either rival – I love both cities and visit them frequently – so the recipe here uses Adana-style meat in a Gaziantep-style dish.

In Gaziantep, the ali nazik kebap, refined over centuries, combines four Turkish staples: lamb, eggplant, peppers and yoghurt.

The classic Adana kebap, meanwhile, uses five parts lamb belly or rib meat and one part tail fat, from a male lamb, with sweet red bullhorn peppers, paprika and salt. I’ve found just one butcher in Sydney who sells lamb tail fat, and I travel quite a distance – like most good Middle Eastern ingredients in Sydney, it’s found in the outer western suburbs – to buy his product to use in our kebabs at Efendy. So, since it’s next to impossible to find tail fat, I’ve used fatty lamb belly here, removing just the fat cap.

In traditional kebap houses, the meat is hand-cut with a sword-like knife called a zirh. And yet it’s a delicate skill. When choosing an apprentice, a kebap master would put a piece of paper between the chopping board and the lamb and ask the candidate to mince the meat using a zirh.

If there were no cuts in the paper, the candidate had the job. An easier alternative is to get your butcher to mince it for you.

Step 3.

You’ll need large, wide metal skewers, available from Middle Eastern and Turkish grocers. Otherwise, simply make köfte, with no need for skewers, forming the meat into small sausages. Or make even smaller balls and cook them on bamboo skewers to serve as an appetiser.

It’s important to get the consistency of the meat right so it stays on the skewers. Chop the meat as finely as you can so you have even marbling of fat and meat, then knead the mixture (which aids binding) until you can pick it up in one giant ball; being quite forceful helps the meat glue together. If you’re making köfte, work the meat even further by slapping it against the bowl; this can also be done in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

Step 4.

When shaping the kebaps, press the meat firmly around the skewer to seal it, particularly at the ends. I make a chilli water to dampen my hands while doing this (it also adds extra seasoning). As the meat cooks, when you see it lifting from the skewer, gently turn the skewer over. The first two turns are the most important; once the meat has started cooking evenly it will be more stable.

Step 6.

We serve our kebaps with an eggplant yoghurt purée. I use pot-set yoghurt.

Contrary to popular belief, a good yoghurt should not be shiny, and the whey should be visible. For this dish I hang the yoghurt overnight to strain out the whey for a denser, creamier yoghurt.

Barbecue the kebaps over low embers, not flames; light the barbecue at least an hour beforehand and put the kebabs on once the charcoal is coated with ash. Dripping fat can cause the embers to flare up; just throw a bit of salt on the fire to contain the flames.

The translation of ali nazik is “gentle Ali”, as though it were made by a kebap master named Ali. It’s more likely a corruption of “eli nazik”, or gentle hands. Regardless, it’s one of the best kebaps I’ve had and it has been a favourite on our menu at Efendy since 2012, so enjoy and bon appétit – or, as we say in Turkey, afiyet olsun.

The recipe

30 mins preparation | 25 mins cooking

Serves 6

Start this recipe a day ahead to hang the yoghurt.


Aleppo pepper butter
Smoked eggplant purée


1.For smoked eggplant purée, place yoghurt in a sieve lined\ with muslin, place over a bowl and refrigerate overnight to thicken.
2.Meanwhile, process banana chillies in a blender to a purée. Place in muslin and squeeze juice into a bowl. Reserve pulp. Add garlic and ½ cup water to the juice, and set aside (this is for wetting your hands when working with the meat).
3.Dice, then finely chop lamb belly using a large knife or cleaver.
4.Place mince in a bowl and add chilli pulp, paprika, chilli flakes and 1 tsp salt. Knead the mixture, occasionally wetting your hands with the chilli water, until smooth and thoroughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to marinate (4 hours).
5.Divide meat mixture evenly into 6 balls, or 18 small balls if you’re making köfte (see note).
6.Press each ball of meat around a skewer, wetting your hands with the chilli water and leaving space at the ends where the skewers can be rested on the grill. It’s important to press the meat particularly tightly at the top and bottom to create a seal to help prevent the meat from falling off while cooking. Refrigerate the skewers to rest for 1½-2 hours.
7.Meanwhile, light a charcoal barbecue and allow charcoal to burn down to embers (about 1 hour) and make the Aleppo pepper butter. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, add chilli and Aleppo pepper and heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and chilli softens (3-4 minutes). Keep warm.
8.For smoked eggplant purée, char eggplants directly on coals or on a grill, turning occasionally, until collapsed and blackened (20-25 minutes). Cut a slit in each eggplant and stand them upright in a colander to drain (5 minutes), then scoop out flesh, drizzle with lemon juice to coat and drain in colander again (10 minutes). Chop eggplant and add garlic and 1 tsp salt, then mix in the strained yoghurt.
9.Grill kebaps, gently turning when the meat starts to lift from skewers, then every 2 minutes, until charred and cooked (10-12 minutes). A little flame from dripping fat is okay, adding extra smoky flavour; to reduce flame, scatter embers with salt. When the kebaps are done, use a piece of pita bread to gently grip the meat and pull kebaps from the skewers, retaining their shape, then serve with eggplant purée and Aleppo pepper butter.

Note Aleppo pepper is available from Turkish grocers and Herbie’s Spices (; if it’s unavailable substitute another ground chilli. Large flat skewers, ideally 2cm wide, are available from Turkish grocers. If you’re making köfte, roll the meatballs into small sausages in the palm of your hand and flatten slightly; grill on a rack or the flat-top of your barbecue. Small rectangular barbecues, available from Turkish and Middle Eastern grocers, are designed for holding skewers on the sides; if you have a large conventional barbecue, place bricks on the sides as rests for the skewers.


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