How Madhur Jaffrey Simplifies Shami Kebabs

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Madhur Jaffrey, the Indian food expert and cookbook author, has had a long, storied career sharing her techniques for approachable-yet-authentic Indian dishes with cooks all over the world. Born in Delhi in 1933, according to Waterstones, Jaffrey moved to London in 1955 to pursue acting (via The Telegraph) — a calling that would eventually lead her to the U.S. and lead roles such as in 1965's "Shakespeare Wallah," per IMDb. But in a lifetime spent abroad, what Jaffrey really missed was the food of her homeland. "The food was horrible," she recalled the wan options served in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art's canteen. "I would dream of Indian food, of cauliflower and potatoes cooked with cumin and asafoetida, but there was nowhere to get it."

To satisfy her cravings for the food of her childhood, Jaffrey learned how to cook via snail mail, with her mother sending her "simple three-line recipes in the post," she told The Telegraph. According to The Guardian, Jaffrey honed her techniques cooking for friends and, years later, for New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne. That relationship eventually led to the U.S. publication of Jaffrey's first cookbook in 1973 called "An Invitation to Indian Cooking." With many more cookbooks and several cooking shows later, Jaffrey became known as "the woman who taught the West how to cook Indian food" (via BBC).

Just pat the meat into a baking dish

Much in the way that French-cooking icon Julia Child made haute cuisine more approachable for her readers and viewers (via Hypotheses), Indian-cooking authority Madhur Jaffrey has spent her career sharing recipes for Indian food that are unapologetically authentic yet streamlined for the home cook. This is, after all, a woman who published a collection of recipes for the Instant Pot, which range from Goan shrimp curry to Kerala lamb stew (per Amazon). So it makes sense that Jaffrey's version of shami kebabs, spiced ground lamb kebabs commonly prepared in India and Pakistan, calls for a helpful shortcut.

According to MasterClass, these kebabs, typically made of twice-ground beef, lamb, or mutton, are usually shaped into patties, fried in a pan, or molded around skewers and cooked in a tandoor oven. But Jaffrey's adaptation of the dish is way more hands-off, calling for mixing the ground lamb with a variety of fragrant spices as well as toasted ground nuts and seeds and then simply patting the meat mixture into a greased baking dish. After cooking through in a 350 F oven and then briefly getting broiled to produce a crispy top — the Indian meatloaf — as one could call it, is cut into 1-inch squares, placed on a platter, and garnished with chilled onion rings and fresh sprigs of mint. Jaffrey suggests that the kebab squares can be served as an appetizer or with green chutney and cucumber raita as part of a larger meal.