Madhur Jaffrey’s Boti Kebab (Spiced Yogurt–Marinated Lamb Skewers)

Freshly ground warm spices form a flavorful crust around these juicy grilled lamb kebabs, while the lactic acid in the yogurt marinade tenderizes the meat.

Boti Kebab

Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Shell Royster

Active Time:
55 mins
Marinate Time:
4 hrs
Total Time:
5 hrs 15 mins
4 servings

Madhur Jaffrey, one of the greatest cookbook authors of all time (as well as an illustrator, television personality, writer, and actress), changed my life in a single meal. Jaffrey’s first book, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, was published in 1973, and her book World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking made its way into my family’s kitchen by 1981, an impulse Barnes & Noble purchase spurred by my dad’s lifelong fascination with the vast and faraway country. With two young children at home, it seemed unlikely that my dad could find time to make a trip to India himself, so this was the next best thing, especially since he was on the hook for weekly Sunday suppers while my mom taught at our parish.

One such Sunday, I walked into the house after church, and I found a new religion: food. Until then, only standard Midwest home ec recipes had been in regular rotation. In this meal, the tempering spices, which my dad had gone to great pains to find in pre-internet suburban Kentucky, changed not just the scent of the air but my senses themselves. Even more so when I tasted those first forkfuls of Spiced Rice with Nuts and Raisins; Very Spicy, Delicious Chickpeas; and the first yogurt I’d ever had that didn’t involve stirring a slurry of fruit from the bottom of a plastic cup.

The dinner bell could not be unrung, and it reverberated through my hunger from then on, especially after my dad bought An Invitation to Indian Cooking, where Jaffrey first published the recipe for Boti Kebab, grilled skewers of lamb tenderized in a spiced yogurt marinade, that ran in Food & Wine as part of her “Indian Barbecuing” feature in Summer 1980.

In the F&W story, Jaffrey shares the richly nuanced world of Indian barbecuing. She delves into the history of marinades, explaining that some Indian goat, lamb, and chicken can be tough, so cooks developed techniques to tenderize and flavor proteins at once. She contrasts the American ethos of barbecue (“a private summer pleasure”) with India, where, she says, “barbecuing is a serious, perennial business” and the domain of often tall-toqued professional chefs. Jaffrey further detailed the two schools of Indian barbecuing: one that calls for resting skewers over live charcoal, another where skewers are cooked inside a tandoor.

And then there are the recipes, which remain as vibrant today as they were 43 years ago. In addition to the Boti Kebab (see the retested recipe at right), Jaffrey shared recipes for swordfish cooked with fresh green chutney; a potato pilaf; and a chicken makhani that she casually mentions impressed James Beard.

Jaffrey’s recipes didn’t just give my family (and millions of others who didn’t grow up with these foods) an entrée into a vast and varied cuisine and the confidence to try them at home; they generously, explicitly invited us to more deeply explore the places we live, in pursuit of these flavors she’s taught us to love.

These days, I take a train to Jackson Heights for a spectacular dosa. I buy thickly fatted lamb at the halal butcher around the corner from my Brooklyn apartment. I wander the aisles of Kalustyan’s specialty market in Manhattan in search of asafoetida, and when I go to pay, Jaffrey’s face smiles out from the book jackets behind the counter. I grin right back. — Kat Kinsman


Garam Masala

  • 1 whole nutmeg

  • 1 (1-inch) cinnamon stick

  • 1 tablespoon green cardamom pods

  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns

  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds cumin

  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves


  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds

  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds

  • 1 tablespoon white poppy seeds (such as Rani)

  • 3/4 cup plain strained (Greek-style) yogurt

  • 1 small yellow onion, quartered

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste

  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled

  • 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced (about 1 tablespoon) 

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste

  • 1/4 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more to taste


  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 4 ounces unsalted butter (4 ounces), melted

  • Grilled lemon wedges (optional), for serving


Make the garam masala

  1. Cut off one-third of the whole nutmeg; reserve remaining nutmeg for another use. Grind nutmeg piece, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, peppercorns, nigella seeds, and cloves into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Set aside.

Make the marinade

  1. Toast coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and poppy seeds in a small skillet over medium, stirring constantly, until spices turn a shade or two darker and emit a pleasant roasted aroma, 1 to 2 minutes. Grind seeds into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Set aside.

  2. Process yogurt, onion, lemon juice, garlic, and ginger in a blender or food processor until smooth, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape down sides if necessary. Add vegetable oil, salt, cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon garam masala (reserve remaining garam masala for another use), and reserved ground seed mixture; process until just combined, about 15 seconds. Season with additional lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper to taste. Transfer marinade to a large bowl.

Make the lamb

  1. Prick lamb cubes using a fork. Add lamb cubes to marinade, and toss until thoroughly coated. Cover bowl, and marinate in refrigerator at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

  2. Open bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light charcoal chimney starter filled with briquettes. Thread lamb cubes loosely onto 8 (10-inch) metal skewers, leaving a small space (at least 1/4 inch) between pieces (about 6 to 7 cubes per skewer), reserving remaining marinade in bowl for basting. When briquettes are covered with gray ash, pour them onto bottom grate of grill.

  3. Adjust vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 450°F to 475°F. Lightly coat top grate with oil; place on grill. (If using a gas grill, preheat to high [450°F to 475°F].) Place skewers on oiled grates. Grill, uncovered, flipping occasionally and basting regularly with melted butter and remaining marinade for first 5 minutes of grilling, until lightly charred and cooked to desired degree of doneness, about 10 minutes for medium. Transfer kebabs to a platter, and serve hot with grilled lemon wedges, if desired.


Jaffrey offers a simple method for her cardamom-forward garam masala; the leftover spice blend can be used to add complexity to simple dishes like sweet potato fries or roast chicken. A good store-bought garam masala will also work, but the balance of spices and overarching flavor profile will vary depending on the brand. A hot charcoal grill imparts a pleasantly smoky flavor to the kebabs. Cooking indoors is possible but will yield subtler charring

To prepare kebabs indoors, preheat a cast-iron grill pan to medium-high until very hot. Cook lamb skewers in batches, basting and flipping as directed in step 6,  until lightly charred, about 10 minutes for medium. To save additional time, ask your butcher to trim and cut the leg of lamb into cubes.

Suggested pairing

Aromatic, spicy Rhône red: 2020 Domaine Martinelle Ventoux Rouge

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