Why It Works
- Processing onions and red peppers to a fine paste and then allowing the paste to drain (a classic technique in Armenian cooking) provides a deep base of flavor to the losh kebabs, without making them overly wet.
- Tomato paste, red pepper paste, and allspice further bump up the flavor of these ground meat patties.
- The addition of powdered gelatin and panko breadcrumbs keeps the meat patties juicy and tender.
- Dimpling the patties prevents ballooning as they cook over the heat of the grill.
While Armenian grilled meats—or khorovats, which just means “grilled” in Armenian—are most associated with the skewered chunks of meat called shish kebab, Armenians are equally enamored with ground or minced meat patties on the grill. Whether at church bazaars and picnics, or my own family’s backyard gatherings, you never really see one without the other.
These grilled, spiced ground meat kebabs go by a few different names, depending upon how they are formed and grilled (the meat mixture and seasonings are essentially the same, whatever the shape). Lula or lule kebabs—lule means “rolled”—are formed into sausage-shaped logs (skewered or freeform) or into long, flat patties by pressing them onto special flat, sword-like skewers. But in New England, where I grew up, Armenians instead make losh kebabs, which are round, freeform patties exactly like hamburgers, except with more zing to them.
Where shish kebab gets marinated and coated in a flavorful elixir made from onion, red wine, tomato paste, salt, and pepper, losh kebabs are seasoned (similarly) from the inside. Recipes of course vary from region to region and household to household; my own is based on one from the family grill chief, my dad. (He’s considered such a local authority on Armenian grilled meats that he’s long been the foreman of our church’s event kebab-making crew, even though he should have been allowed to retire from that position years ago.) My losh kebab making technique differs from my dad’s here and there, but the flavor and texture of the kebabs is 100% identical to his, since they are unrivaled.
Losh kebabs can be made from beef or lamb; the choice is up to you, depending upon your preference. (Armenians lion lamb, but they make losh kebab out of beef as often as lamb.) Although almost no home cooks do so nowadays, the traditional approach for making losh and lule kebabs was to painstakingly mince the meat with a knife, which divides it finely and evenly without bashing it into a paste. This creates the ideal texture in a ground-meat kebab. That said, the quality of the meat and the consistency of the grind make a difference in the result. So use the freshest, best-quality meat you can get here. And while it is not essential, if you can, get it freshly ground from your butcher, especially because that means it will be slightly coarser and closer to the ideal texture than most prepackaged ground meats.
Losh kebabs are almost always seasoned with onion, red bell pepper, parsley, tomato paste, salt, and pepper. My only additions to this lineup are a touch of allspice, a warm spice commonly used with Armenian meat dishes, and mild red pepper paste, which combines the depth of tomato paste with the fruity flavor of red chiles, often used in ground meat patties too . Red pepper paste can be found at Middle Eastern grocery stores or online and is often labeled ‘biber salçasi’, since most brands come from Turkey.
Some people simply mince or dice the onion and bell pepper and combine them with the meat, but, like my dad, I prefer to first process them to a paste and then drain the paste of excess water in a sieve, which seasons the meat throughout while also ensuring they don’t make the mixture overly soft.
Making Losh Kebabs
There are three ways in which my losh kebab recipe diverges from that of my dad and most others. I’ve been a recipe developer for many years now, and I’ve created numerous grilled ground meat patties and burgers during that time, so I have a bunch of tricks up my sleeve to make them as good as they can be. The first two are textural, while the third is purely a matter of aesthetics.
Losh kebabs, like other ground meat kebabs, are cooked until they are nicely charred on the exterior and fully-cooked within (meaning to a food-safe internal temperature of 160˚F or above). Because they are not left rare at the core, like burgers often are, they can sometimes dry out. To prevent this, I like to add two common pantry items to the meat mixture: powdered gelatin and panko breadcrumbs. Both function similarly, by absorbing and retaining moisture both before and during cooking, but they work better when used in tandem rather than singly. The breadcrumbs add a touch of bulk to the mixture, which helps keep the patties loose-textured rather than dense; the gelatin gets sticky once moist, which binds the mixture together while also increasing juiciness. A one hour or longer rest before grilling the losh kebabs gives both ingredients time to activate for maximum effect.
To my losh kebabs resembling burgers, flat on the top and bottom, I dimple them slightly during shaping so that they don’t inflate into footballs when grilled. Ground meat patties expand as they cook, since their fibers shrink when heated, which causes their lateral exterior to cinch up like a belt. Making a depression in the top of the patty before cooking ensures they end up flat, despite this effect.
Unlike shish kebabs, which require an intense, close-set fire for rapid charring without overcooking, losh kebabs can be cooked over any standard hot grill setup, like other burgers and meat patties. Flare-ups can be a problem, so be sure to move them around the grill if they occur, to avoid scorching.
Like shish kebabs, I recommend lining the vessel you place the cooked losh kebabs in with a pita or two, which will soak up the juices they shed as they rest before serving. Not only will that keep the exterior of the meat from softening, the breads make for an enhanced sort of wrapper for the patties, a treat for whoever gets dibs on them.