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Mangal Recipes for Your Summer Celebration - By Debra Eckerling

Bulgarian Lamb Kebabs

Bulgarian Lamb Kebabs

Summer means many things. Fun, family and mangal, aka Israeli barbecue! 

The word mangal (which means “portable”) refers to a long, narrow charcoal grill. In the early days of the Jewish state, a mangal was also used as a small indoor heater. This vessel, filled with charcoal, could be moved from room to room for heating as well as for cooking and warming food. 

Heaters have evolved over the years, as have grills. However, the love of barbecue, especially mangal-style endures … especially in Israel. 

In fact, mangal has become synonymous with celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, in Israel. However, grilling in the open is a wonderful way for families to gather, celebrate and honor their roots any time of year. 

Chef Alon Shaya is cofounder of Pomegranate Hospitality and author of “Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel.” 

“Mangal is about cooking it over coals (al ha’esh) on skewers,” Shaya says in describing how lamb kebabs are typically cooked in the Bulgarian neighborhoods of Israel. “The effect of the charcoal adds a distinctive flavor and caramelization to the meat that gas can’t do.” 

Shaya says his Bulgarian lamb kebabs combine the best qualities of meatballs, burgers and dumplings. 

“The most special thing about them is their impossibly so, almost springy texture in the center — not dry and crumbly the way so many meatballs are,” he explains. “With texture this good, the flavors of the spices shine through. I remember the smell of cumin and paprika permeating the entire house as my saa cooked them.”

Bulgarian Lamb Kebabs

Courtesy of Alon Shaya


3 slices soft white or whole wheat bread 

1/2 cup buttermilk 

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb 

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped 

1 1/2 teaspoons Morton kosher salt 

1 tablespoon smoked paprika 

1 tablespoon ground cumin 

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

1/8 teaspoon baking soda 

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons lightly packed fresh parsley leaves, divided 

1/2 cup milk powder 

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 

2 tablespoons lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves


Cut the bread into ½-inch pieces and toss it with the buttermilk in a large bowl until each piece is moistened. Add the lamb, onion, salt, spices and baking soda; chop ½ cup parsley leaves and add them as well. Sift the powdered milk evenly over the mixture, and combine it all with your hands, a potato masher or a spatula, mixing it thoroughly but taking care not to manhandle the mixture.

Scoop the mixture into 1/2 cup mounds and shape into logs that are 4 or 5 inches long (you’ll have 8 to 10 kebabs). Place them on a plate, cover loosely in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes; this gives the fat in the lamb a chance to warm up before it cooks, so it keeps its integrity.

Heat the grill until the fire has burned out but the coals are whitehot. (The fire needs to die down before you cook, or else the fat from the kebabs could melt and make it are up.) Place each kebab directly on the grill and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until they’re deeply golden with a nice crust, then turn and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Cut into one; it should be cooked through but still very juicy.

Move the kebabs to a serving platter and drizzle the olive oil over them. Chop the cilantro and remaining 2 tablespoons parsley and scatter them over the tops.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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