This recipe has a special place in my heart. I called my Dad in for this joojeh kabob recipe because he knows it like the back of his hand.
To give you some context, my maiden name is Shahinfar. My Dad moved from Iran to Canada with my Shahinfar family when he was 16 years old. Even though we were born in Canada, my Dad made it a point to keep our heritage and our traditions.
I have memories of growing up eating the most delicious Persian cuisine and my Dad’s flavor-packed joojeh kabob recipe was always one of my favorites. My cousins and I would drop whatever we were playing as soon as Dad yelled, “Kabobs are ready!” When they were fresh off the grill, the chicken kabobs would be so tender and so juicy.
Being half Iranian has given me a deep appreciation for the absolutely unique Persian cuisine. I finally learned how to make Persian chicken kabobs from the master himself, so I hope you enjoy this one as much as I do!
What is Joojeh Kabob?
Joojeh means chicken in the Farsi language, so a joojeh kabob means charred or grilled chicken.
What sets this recipe apart from other kebabs is the marinade. The chicken breasts are marinated for 12 hours in Greek yogurt, onions, lemon juice, olive oil, and the most fragrant saffron spices. Like any kabob, the meat is cut into bite-sized chunks on a skewer and then grilled over a steady flame until tender and juicy.
- Pro Tip: To make it an authentic Persian meal, complete the dish with grilled tomato skewers, basmati rice with saffron, and Shirazi salad.
Joojeh kabob is usually grilled over fire, but it can also be cooked on a skillet or in the oven. This recipe is great for people who want to enjoy some charred kebabs indoors, especially when the weather doesn’t permit going outside.
Here are the ingredients for the joojeh kabob marinade:
- Chicken breasts – Boneless and skinless chicken breasts are the best choice for kabobs since it helps when we want to cut them evenly for the skewers.
- Pro Tip: Cut 2 pounds of chicken breasts (approximately 6 breasts) into 1.5-inch pieces. This will make about 8-10 skewers, with 4-5 pieces of chicken on each skewer.
- Onion – Dice one large onion to be mixed into the marinade.
- Pro Tip: I always get teary-eyed when cutting onions, but soaking the onion in a bowl of water for 10 minutes always does the trick.
- Lemon juice – Squeeze ⅓ cup of lemon juice or lime juice.
- Saffron threads – Saffron is the most important spice in this marinade and really sets it apart from other kebab recipes.
- Pro Tip: Real saffron threads have a sweet and floral aroma. Avoid fake saffron that has hints of a bitter and metallic taste.
- Plain Greek yogurt – Greek yogurt makes up the base of the marinade and will help to tenderize the chicken meat.
- Olive oil – For brushing the grill with.
- Salt and pepper – For seasoning.
We will also make grilled tomato skewers as a side:
- Roma tomatoes – 8 small to medium firm, ripe tomatoes. They should not be overly ripe or they will fall apart when you grill them.
- Olive oil – To help oil the tomatoes and prevent them from burning.
- Kosher salt and black pepper – For seasoning.
Make the marinade.
Step One: In a mortar and pestle, grind saffron until powdered. No mortar and pestle? Just grind the saffron in a small bowl using the back of a small spoon or crush them with your fingers. Dissolve the crushed saffron threads in 1 tablespoon of hot water for 15 to 20 minutes.
Step Two: Puree the diced onion and lemon juice into a smooth paste.
Step Three: Combine the marinade ingredients – saffron water, onion and lemon puree, yogurt, olive oil, pepper, and salt. Mix well.
Step Four: Add the marinade to the cubed chicken breast in either a zip lock bag or a bowl and allow the chicken cubes to marinate for a minimum of 12 hours (preferably up to 24 hours for the best tasting kebabs).
- Pro Tip: I have marinated mine before for up to 48 hours. It’s a real test of patience, but the longer they marinate, the more tender and juicy they will be.
Skewer meat and arrange the skewers on the grill.
Step Five: Thread the marinated chicken onto metal skewers (½ inch wide metal skewers are the authentic Persian skewers, but any metal skewers work well). Make sure to pass the skewer through the thick portion of the meat.
Step Six: Lightly brush olive oil over the barbecue grill. Preheat the grill over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. You will notice the oil shimmer and sizzle when it’s hot and ready.
Step Seven: Place the skewers evenly apart on the grill pan and grill for 8 to 10 minutes on each side or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165°F. Do not overlap the skewers at any time to ensure all the skewers cook evenly.
- To grill kabobs on a skillet – On medium heat, drizzle some olive oil on the skillet and cook the chicken pieces for about 8 minutes on each side.
- To cook kabobs in the oven – Preheat the oven to 400°F and place the skewers on a baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes, flipping the skewers halfway through.
Step Eight: Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the kebabs when done and serve.
Make the tomato skewers.
Step Nine: Slide each tomato along the metal skewers and brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
Step Ten: Place the tomato skewers on the opposite side of the grill as the chicken skewers and cook, turning occasionally, until tomatoes are charred and blistered.
When done, remove from the grill and set aside on a platter. I like to serve joojeh kebabs and roma tomatoes with a portion of saffron basmati rice. I hope you enjoy your kabobs!
Persian Chicken Joojeh Kebabs
PERSIAN CHICKEN KEBABS
- 6 chicken breasts about 2 lbs, boneless and skinless, cut into 1.5-inch pieces
- 1 large onion diced
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads crushed & dissolved in 1 tablespoon of hot water
- 1/3 Cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 small to medium firm Roma tomatoes ripe tomatoes (not overly ripe or they will fall apart when you grill them)
- extra-virgin olive oil
- kosher salt + Freshly ground black pepper
- Cut your chicken into 1 ½ inch pieces, set aside.
- In a mortar and pestle (If you don't have one of those, just grind it in a small bowl using the back of a small spoon or crush with your fingers) grind saffron until powdered.
- Dissolve the crushed saffron threads in 1 tablespoon of hot water in a bowl for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Add the diced onion and lemon juice to a blender and puree into a smooth paste.
- Combine the marinade ingredients — saffron water, onion-lemon juice paste, yogurt, pepper, salt and mix well.
- Add the marinade to the cubed chicken breast in either a zip lock bag or a bowl and allow the chicken cubes to marinate for a minimum of 12 hours but preferably up to 24 hours to overnight for the best tasting kebabs. (PRO TIP: I have marinated mine before for up to 48 hours! The longer they marinate, the more tender and juicy they will be.).
SKEWER MEAT AND ARRANGE ON GRILL
- After your chicken has marinated. Thread the chicken onto metal skewers (½ inch wide metal skewers are authentic persian skewers but any metal skewers work well) making sure to pass the skewer through the thick portion of the meat.
- Grill the skewers. Lightly brush olive oil over the barbeque grill. Preheat the grill over medium high heat for 5 minutes. You will notice the oil shimmer and sizzle when it's hot and ready. Place the skewers evenly apart on the grill pan and grill for 8-10 minutes on each side or until the internal temperature for the chicken reaches 165 F. Do not overlap the skewers at any time to ensure even cooking for all the skewers.
- Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the kebabs when done and serve.
- Slide each tomato along the metal skewers and brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Place the tomato skewers on the opposite side of the grill as the chicken skewers and cook, turning occasionally, until tomatoes are charred and blistered.
- When done, remove from the grill and set aside on a platter.