Cook the Book: Al Halabi Style Kebabs with Potato Moutabel

Cook the Book: Al Halabi Style Kebabs with Potato Moutabel

[Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin]

Before coming across this recipe for Al Halabi Style Kebabs with Potato Moutabel in Silvena Rowe's Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume, I had never really thought about meat and potatoes existing in Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. But these skewers of ground lamb mixed with finely chopped peppers, mushrooms, and nuts served over tahini and yogurt mashed potatoes are exactly that.

This recipe adapted from Mohamed Hussien, the chef of the Al Halabi restaurant in the Four Seasons in Damascus, is a two-parter. The first: super moist lamb kebabs filled with little bits of veggies and crunchy chopped nuts spiced with lively flecks of dried mint and shreds of mozzarella.

But it's the Potato Moutabel that really makes the plate. Instead of classical butter and cream mashed potatoes, these are made creamy with tahini and yogurt brightened up with lemon juice, cumin, and a sprinkling of hemp seeds (flax seeds also do the trick). Think of a hybrid of hummus and mashed potatoes with great background tartness that complements juicy, fatty lamb kebabs in a way that a plain old mash would never be able to.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume to give away this week.

Reprinted with permission from Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe, copyright © 2011. Published by Ecco.

  • Yield:4
  • Active time: 45 minutes
  • Total time:45 minutes


  • For the kebabs:
  • 18 ounces finely ground lamb
  • 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 cup finely chopped mushrooms
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • For the moutabel:
  • 2 large baking potatoes, scrubbed but unpeeled
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon hemp seeds


  1. 1.

    For the kebabs: Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Knead in the bowl for 10 minutes until it resembles a sticky dough.

  2. 2.

    Shape the kebabs onto flat metal skewers, using about 3 tablespoons for each, shaping the meat around the top end of the skewer. Freeze for 20 minutes.

  3. 3.

    Build a hot fire in an outdoor grill. Remove the kebabs from the freezer. Grill for 6–8 minutes, turning occasionally, until browned.

  4. 4.

    To make the moutabel: Cook the potatoes in a large saucepan of lightly salted water over medium heat until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Coarsely mash the potatoes with their skins. Add the lemon juice, tahini, yogurt and cumin. Season and sprinkle with the hemp seeds.

  5. 5.

    Slide the meat off the skewers and serve with the potato moutabel.