Chelo Kebab: Persian Iconic Grilled Meat & Saffron Rice

Persian cuisine, also known as Iranian cuisine, is renowned for its rich flavours, aromatic spices, and diverse culinary traditions. It reflects the country's ancient history and cultural influences from the Silk Road and neighbouring regions. Among the many beloved Persian dishes, chelo kebab holds a prominent place. This traditional Persian delicacy features succulent grilled meat, typically lamb or chicken, served with fragrant saffron-infused rice and various accompaniments. Its irresistible taste, tender textures, and skillful blending of flavours have made chelo kebab a beloved culinary icon in Iran and a popular dish enjoyed by food enthusiasts around the world. 

Chelo Kebab is a traditional Persian dish that consists of grilled meat served with saffron-infused rice and accompanying side dishes. The dish typically features tender and flavorful skewered meat, commonly lamb or chicken, that is marinated with a blend of spices and grilled to perfection. The meat is served alongside a mound of aromatic saffron rice, which is long-grained, fluffy, and infused with the vibrant golden hues of saffron threads. Chelo Kebab is often accompanied by grilled tomatoes, butter, sumac, and a side of yoghurt, creating a harmonious combination of flavours and textures that make this dish a true delight for the senses.

Chelo kebab is an Iranian dish consisting of steamed rice and various types of Iranian kebab. It is considered Iran's national dish and is believed to have originated during the Qajar dynasty. Accompaniments such as butter, sumac powder, basil, onions, and grilled tomatoes are served with chelo kebab. The traditional beverage paired with this dish is doogh, a yoghurt-based drink. In the traditional bazaar style, the rice and accompaniments are served first, followed immediately by the skewered kebabs. A piece of flatbread is used to hold the kabab down on the rice while the skewer is quickly pulled out.

Chelo Kebab's roots can be traced back to ancient Persia, reflecting the culinary heritage of the region. Historical references to similar dishes can be found in Persian literature and culinary traditions. One such reference is found in the 10th-century Persian epic poem Shahnameh, which describes a grilled meat dish called "Sikbaj." This dish consisted of marinated meat cooked over open flames. Additionally, in the mediaeval culinary book "Manasir al-Hajj," written in the 13th century, there are mentions of grilled meat dishes served with rice.

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Regional Variations

Within Iran, Chelo Kebab exhibits regional variations, each with its own unique twist on the traditional dish. In the northern regions, such as Gilan and Mazandaran, chelo kebab is often accompanied by a flavorful fish kebab known as "Mahi Kebab," reflecting the proximity to the Caspian Sea and the availability of fresh seafood. In the southern coastal areas, particularly in the Persian Gulf region, chelo kebab may feature grilled shrimp or skewered fish, highlighting the abundance of seafood in those regions. These variations incorporate the local flavours of spices, herbs, and marinades used in coastal cuisine.

In Kerman and Yazd, located in central Iran, a distinct regional variation called "Soltani Kebab" is popular. It consists of two types of kebabs served side by side, typically a skewer of tender lamb or beef and a skewer of ground meat kebab, accompanied by saffron rice and grilled tomatoes. Furthermore, in the Kurdish regions of Iran, Chelo Kebab is often prepared with lamb or chicken marinated in a unique blend of spices, reflecting the culinary traditions of the Kurdish people.

Popular Accompaniments and Side Dishes

Chelo kebab is often served with a variety of delicious side dishes and accompaniments that complement the flavours of the dish. Grilled tomatoes are a common accompaniment, providing a burst of tanginess and juiciness that balances the richness of the meat. Yoghurt, in the form of Mast-o-Khiar, a refreshing cucumber and yoghurt dip, is another popular side dish that adds a cool and creamy element to the meal.

Sumac, a tangy and citrusy spice, is often sprinkled over the rice or meat, enhancing the overall flavour profile. Additionally, fresh herbs such as mint and parsley are commonly served alongside chelo kebab, adding a vibrant and aromatic element to the dish. These side dishes and accompaniments add depth and complexity, elevating the overall dining experience of chelo kebab.

Recipe For Traditional Chelo Kebab


For the kebab:

500 grams of lamb or beef, finely minced or ground

1 medium-sized onion, finely grated or minced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon of ground sumac

1 teaspoon of ground turmeric

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

1 teaspoon of paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

Skewers (metal or wooden, soaked in water if using wooden skewers)

For the rice:

2 cups of long-grain Basmati rice

3 cups of water

2 tablespoons of butter

1/2 teaspoon of saffron threads, dissolved in 2 tablespoons of hot water

Salt to taste

For the accompaniments:

Grilled tomatoes

Yoghurt or Mast-o-Khiar (cucumber and yoghurt dip)

Sumac for sprinkling

Fresh herbs like mint and parsley


In a mixing bowl, combine the minced meat, grated onion, minced garlic, parsley, sumac, turmeric, cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper. Mix well to ensure all the ingredients are evenly incorporated. 

Take a handful of the meat mixture and mould it onto a skewer, shaping it into a long and flat kebab. Repeat the process with the remaining meat mixture. 

Preheat a grill or a grill pan over medium-high heat. Cook the kebabs for about 4-5 minutes on each side, or until they are cooked through and slightly charred. Ensure the meat is cooked to your desired level of doneness. 

While the kebabs are cooking, rinse the rice under cold water until the water runs clear. This helps remove excess starch. 

In a large pot, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add salt to taste. Add the rinsed rice to the boiling water and cook it until it is parboiled, meaning the rice is partially cooked but still has a firm texture. This usually takes about 5-7 minutes. Drain the rice and set it aside. 

In the same pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the drained rice back to the pot and drizzle the dissolved saffron over the rice. Gently mix the saffron into the rice, ensuring an even distribution of colour. 

Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and cook the rice on low heat for about 20–25 minutes, or until it is fully cooked and the grains are tender and fluffy. 

Once the kebabs and rice are ready, assemble the dish. Place a generous portion of saffron rice on a plate, then add one or two kebabs on top. Serve with grilled tomatoes, yoghurt, or Mast-o-Khiar, and sprinkle sumac over the rice. Garnish with fresh herbs.