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Recipe: Xinjiang Lamb Skewers

Guest Blogger: Lindsay Anderson, Senior Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

This traditional dish from the Northwest region of China and some areas of Central Asia is perfect for a nice day of barbecuing. These lamb skewers are packed with quite a spicy punch, thanks to the abundance of recommended spices, that is sure to fire up your taste buds! Pair this with some nice grilled veggies and a cool lemonade and you will have yourself quite the picnic. I borrowed this from the particularly passionate food blogger Lady and Pups’ webpage, so feel free to take a look and see what all the fuss is about: OLD BEIJING LAMB SKEWER. The instructions for this recipe are pretty fancy, so either follow these recommendations or think up your own!


Recipe and Photo Credit:


  • Lamb skewer:
    • 13 oz (370 grams) of lamb meat
    • 6.3 oz (180 grams) of lamb fat
    • Marinate:
      • 1 tbsp of ground cumin
      • 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
      • 1 1/2 tsp of fine rock salt, or sea salt
      • 1 tsp of ground white pepper
      • 1/2 tsp of chili flakes
      • 1/4 tsp of baking soda, optional
    • Spice mixture:
      • 3 tbsp of whole cumin
      • 2 tbsp of chili flakes
      • 1 tbsp of garlic powder
      • 1 tsp of fine rock salt, or sea salt
  • Garlic chive pesto:
    • 7 oz (200 grams) of garlic chives
    • 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
    • 1/4 cup (26 grams) of toasted walnuts
    • 1/4 cup (54 grams) of olive oil, plus more to adjust
    • 1 clove of garlic
    • 1 tsp of ground white pepper
    • 1/3 tsp of fine rock salt, or sea salt
    • Juice of 1/2 lemon

To make the garlic chive pesto (can be made the day ahead):

Step 1: Preheat the top-broiler on high (or your grill).

Step 2: Wash off any dirt/soil on the roots of the garlic chives, and shake off as much water as you can.  Evenly toss them with 2 tbsp of vegetable oil, then lay them flat over a baking sheet, preferably in a single layer.  Place it about 2″ (5 cm) under the broiler, and grill until the first side is slightly charred.  Turn them over and grill the other side as well.  Transfer the grilled garlic chives into a blender, with toasted walnuts, olive oil, garlic, ground white pepper, rock salt or sea salt, and lemon juice.  Blend until the mixture is smoothly pureed.  Add more olive oil to adjust consistency if needed.

Step 3: Transfer to an air-tight container, and cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent oxidizing.  Keep in the fridge until needed.

To make the lamb skewer:

Step 1: Cut the lamb-meat into tiny bite-size pieces, and the lamb-fat into 1/2 of that size.  Toss them in the marinate until very evenly distributed (especially if you were using baking soda).  Let marinate for at least 2 hours, to overnight (this can be done the day before).

Step 2: Preheat the top-broiler on high (or your grill).  Roughly crush whole cumins in a mortar (or chop with knife), then mix evenly with chili flakes, garlic powder and rock salt or sea salt.  Set aside.

Step 3: Starting and ending with a small piece of lamb-fat, skewer the lambs alternating in meat and fat.  Arrange the skewers over a baking-rack, set over a baking-sheet.  Place the skewers 1″ (2.5 cm) right below the broiler.  Grill until the first side is browned, then turn them over and brown the other side.  It’s important to have enough heat to brown the meat without over-cooking.  Each side shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes.  If you can’t get enough char on the meat before it over-cooks, torching it on the side always works.

Step 4: Once cooked, remove them from the oven, then brush each skewers with the fat that’s rendered and collected in the baking-sheet.  Boldly cover each skewer generously with the spice-mixture, and return under the broiler just until the spices start to sizzle.  Turn the skewers over and repeat (DO NOT burn the spices or it’ll be bitter).  Re-season with more rock salt or sea salt if needed.

Step 5: Serve with the garlic chive pesto immediately.

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