International Bites: Lamb & Eggplant Kebabs with Baharat

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Along with French, Chinese, and Italian, “Turkish cuisine is supposed to be one of the top four cuisines of the world,” write 19-time travelers Natalie and Tom Baran. They discovered the truth of this claim on our Crossroads of Turkey vacation, and their best meal was in an old caravanserai, a place traders from all over the globe once rested from their travels. The traditional meals served here were more humble in preparation than the ones being served to Ottoman sultans, but many of the ingredients—lamb, eggplant, and a heady array of spices—are the same. Whether home-cooked or haute cuisine, the foods of Turkey today still reveal the intersection of many worlds coming together.

Baharat refers to a spice paste used all over the Middle East for preparing grilled meats and vegetables, each culture refining the mixture to reflect its own traditions. Turkish baharat is distinct for its inclusion of mint, which adds brightness to the earthy flavors of the spices, and the hint of heat from the cayenne. To maximize the melding of the baharat flavors, make sure to marinate the lamb for at least a few hours, or—better still—overnight. It’s a recipe with centuries-old roots, so patience for one night is worth it.

Lamb and Eggplant Kebabs with Baharat

  • Difficulty: Involved
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Serves 6 – 8

Baharat spice pasteBaharat Spice Paste

  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. paprika (preferably Hungarian)
  • 1 tsp. dried mint
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice


  • 2 lbs. boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 Japanese or other small eggplant (about 1 1/4 lbs.), cut into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 medium red onions, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Lamb & Eggplant Kebabs with BaharatPreparation:

  1. Make the baharat spice paste, mixing the oil, lemon juice, tomato paste, garlic, salt and pepper, and all remaining spices in a medium-sized bowl. Reserve two tablespoons in a small bowl for later use.
  2. Add lamb to the medium bowl, coating the cubes thoroughly with the paste. Cover bowl and marinate the lamb, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours or up to a full day.
  3. Twenty minutes before forming the kebabs, lay the eggplant slices out flat on baking sheets or pans, and sprinkle with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Let stand for 15 minutes.
  4. Thread cubes of lamb onto the skewers, alternating with chunks of red onion. Set aside.
  5. Lightly rinse the salt off the eggplant, drying the slices with a paper towel. Make eggplant-only skewers, threading the skewer horizontally through the skin of each round (crossing the slice and exiting through the skin as well), so that the skewer will lie flat.
  6. Add ¼ cup oil to the reserved baharat paste to make a marinade. Brush the eggplant kebabs generously with the mixture.
  7. On a grill set to medium high, grill the lamb for 10-12 minutes, turning every 2 or 3 minutes, until the meat is browned on the outside but still faintly pink in the center; grill the eggplant kebabs for 9-11 minutes, turning once or twice until both sides are soft and browned. (If your grill has hotter and cooler areas, cook the lamb in the higher-heat area and the eggplant in the lower-heat area).
  8. Serve the kebabs on a large platter, with lemon wedges.

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