Iskender Kebab: A Delicacy Of Sliced Meat, Bread, And Yoghurt

Iskender kebap or kebab, a delectable Turkish delicacy, traces its roots back to the 19th century and is named after its creator, Iskender Efendi. Legend has it that he skillfully combined sliced lamb, seasoned with aromatic spices, and cooked it over an open flame, inspired by the traditional döner kebab. The meat is served on a bed of fresh Turkish bread and generously doused with tomato sauce and melted butter, providing a delightful burst of flavour. Iskender Kebab holds immense cultural significance in Turkish cuisine, representing a harmonious fusion of textures and tastes that symbolise the country's rich culinary heritage and warm hospitality.

The story of Iskender Kebab revolves around a creative and skilled cook named Iskender Efendi, who lived in the northwestern Turkish city of Bursa during the 19th century. Drawing inspiration from the traditional döner kebab, Iskender Efendi sought to elevate the dish to new heights. He ingeniously sliced the lamb vertically, seasoned it with aromatic spices, and cooked it over an open flame to perfection.

To complement the tender meat, he served it on a bed of freshly baked Turkish bread, alongside tangy tomato sauce, and melted butter. The combination was an instant hit, captivating the locals' taste buds and earning widespread acclaim. In honour of his culinary ingenuity, the dish became known as Iskender Kebab, immortalising the legacy of Iskender Efendi in Turkish cuisine.

The Art of Slicing the Meat

The art of slicing the meat is a crucial aspect of crafting the delectable Iskender Kebab. Proper meat selection plays a vital role in ensuring a flavorful and tender dish. Typically, high-quality cuts of lamb or beef, with the right balance of lean meat and marbling, are preferred for their succulence. Equally important are the slicing techniques employed. The meat is vertically stacked on a large rotating spit, known as a doner, and slowly cooked, allowing the juices to infuse and create a delectable flavour profile.

As the outer layer cooks and becomes tender, the skilled chef carves thin slices using a long, sharp knife. The thickness and uniformity of the slices are essential in achieving the perfect texture: tender and juicy on the inside while acquiring a slightly crispy texture on the edges during grilling. This combination of meticulous meat selection and precise slicing techniques results in the mouthwatering experience that Iskender Kebab is known for.

Cooking Methods

 Iskender Kebab can be prepared using several cooking methods, each contributing to its unique taste and texture. The traditional method involves skewer grilling, where seasoned slices of meat are carefully stacked on a long, horizontal metal skewer and cooked over an open flame. As the outer layers become tender, the chef shaves off thin slices, adding to the kebab's succulence.

 Another popular method is the vertical rotisserie, where the meat is stacked in a cone shape and rotated vertically, allowing it to cook evenly while the outer layers develop a crispy texture. Regional variations abound, with different parts of Turkey adopting their own unique twists on preparation and cooking techniques. Some regions may marinate the meat differently or use additional spices and herbs, while others might experiment with alternative cooking equipment, like clay ovens, imparting distinct flavours and nuances to this beloved Turkish dish.

 Accompaniments and Side Dishes

 Iskender Kebab is traditionally served with a delightful array of accompaniments that enhance its flavours and textures. Freshly baked Turkish bread serves as the base, providing a soft and chewy platform for the tender meat. Creamy yoghurt complements the richness of the kebab, adding a tangy and refreshing element to each bite.

A generous drizzle of tomato sauce infuses the dish with a burst of sweet and savoury notes, while melted butter enriches the overall experience with its lusciousness. The harmonious interplay of these classic accompaniments transforms Iskender Kebab into a mouthwatering and unforgettable gastronomic adventure, celebrated for its diverse and satisfying taste profile.

 Regional Variations

 1. Bursa:

Bursa, the birthplace of Iskender Kebab, offers the most authentic version. Here, the lamb is marinated with a unique blend of spices, often including garlic and oregano. The meat is thinly sliced and served on a bed of pide bread, generously topped with tomato sauce, and drenched in melted butter.

 2. Istanbul:

In the bustling metropolis of Istanbul, the dish might feature a mix of lamb and beef, providing a subtle variation in taste. The presentation could be more refined, with decorative garnishes, such as fresh herbs or grilled vegetables, enhancing the visual appeal.

 3. Izmir:

In Izmir, seafood enthusiasts can savour an alternative version known as the "Iskender Fish Kebab." Instead of lamb, tender fish fillets are grilled and served similarly, accompanied by a medley of fresh coastal flavours.

 4. Antep:

The southeastern city of Antep adds a fiery twist to the classic dish. Expect spicier seasoning, incorporating red pepper flakes and sumac, and the use of local pistachios for added texture and flavour.

 5. Trabzon:

In the northern region of Trabzon, the kebab may feature a mix of lamb and chicken. It is often accompanied by a side of pickled vegetables and a dollop of creamy garlic yoghurt, infusing the dish with a distinct tangy note.

 6. Urfa:

In Urfa, near the Syrian border, Iskender Kebab may feature more intense smoky flavours, achieved through grilling over aromatic wood coals. The use of traditional Turkish Aleppo pepper adds a characteristic piquancy to the dish.

Recipe For Iskender Kebab 

                                               Video Credits: Turkish Food Travel/YouTube


 500g lamb or beef (thinly sliced)

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 cloves of garlic (minced)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

400g canned tomatoes (crushed or pureed)

2 tablespoons of tomato paste

2 tablespoons of butter

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh Turkish bread or pita

1 cup of plain yoghurt

2 tablespoons of melted butter

Fresh parsley (chopped)

Sumac (for sprinkling)

Grilled vegetables (such as tomatoes and peppers)


Marinate the Meat: 

In a bowl, combine the thinly sliced meat with olive oil, minced garlic, cumin, paprika, dried oregano, salt, and pepper. Mix well to coat the meat evenly with the marinade. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight for maximum flavour.

Prepare the Tomato Sauce: 

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute, stirring constantly.

Pour in the crushed or pureed tomatoes and add dried oregano, salt, and pepper. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then reduce the heat and let it cook for about 10–15 minutes until it thickens. Set aside.

Grill the Meat: 

Preheat your grill or skillet to high heat. Grill the marinated meat slices until they are cooked through and slightly charred, about 2–3 minutes per side. Remove from the heat and cover with foil to keep them warm.

Cut the Turkish bread or pita into bite-sized pieces and arrange them on a serving platter.

Place the grilled meat slices on top of the bread.

Generously drizzle the tomato sauce over the meat and bread, allowing it to soak into the bread.

Add Yoghurt and butter.

Spoon the plain yoghurt over the meat and sauce.

Finish by drizzling the melted butter over the yoghurt.

Sprinkle chopped fresh parsley and a pinch of sumac on top for added flavour and presentation.

Serve the Iskender Kebab immediately while it's still warm.

Enjoy the delicious mess of flavours in Iskender Kebab, savouring the tender meat, tangy yoghurt, rich tomato sauce, and buttery goodness. This homemade version will surely impress your family and friends with its authentic taste and delightful combination of textures.