Iskender Kebab is a truly delicious Turkish dish. Homemade iskender bread, topped with tender cuts of meat, all lathered in a perfect tomato paste-based sauce served with creamy yogurt.
Bestie. You might already know this about me, but I love Turkish cuisine. And during my visit to Istanbul (back in 2019), I spent a huge chunk of my time speaking to locals and chefs about their favorite foods, and how to cook them well.
In this post, I’ll be discussing everything about Iskender Kebab, what it is, how to pronounce it, what to pair it with, how to eat it and, of course, how to make this delicious Turkish kebab at home.
I’ll mention upfront that homemade Iskender Kebab involves making three different components (the meat, the sauce, and the bread). So keep in mind that while this dish may take a little while to make and requires some effort, every bite will be tender, delicious, packed full of flavor, and oh sooo worth it!
What is Iskender Kebab
Iskender Kebab (also, İskender kebap) is a Turkish dish that consists of döner kebab meat topped with spiced tomato sauce and served on top of bread. It is also sometimes called a bursa kebab.
Where does it come from?
Iskender Efendi, who lived in Bursa, invented this wildly popular dish in the late 19th Century. It’s still popular today! Can you believe that? Well over 100 years later and this Turkish recipe can still be found in Turkish restaurants, and now you can make it at home. (That should give you a hint as to how popular it is!)
Fun Fact: The item is still available at the original restaurant in Bursa, under the trademarked name Kebapçı İskender.
How to pronounce ‘iskender’
For the American pronunciation of iskender, say i·sken·dr.
Is this an authentic Iskender Kebab recipe?
This Iskender Kebab recipe is an almost-authentic version. A truly authentic Iskender kebab uses traditional doner meat which requires a large vertical rotisserie grill to make the doner meat.
This homemade Iskender kebab recipe is adjusted so that you can cook the meat at home in your kitchen using entrecote (rib steak).
● Rib steak (also called entrecote)
● Olive oil
● Salt & Black pepper
● Dry yeast
● Warm water
● Tomato paste
● Granulated sugar
● Green peppers
How to make Iskender Kebab
Making Iskender kebab at home (from scratch) involves a few different steps – you’ll need to prepare homemade doner meat, the iskender bread, and the tomato sauce. It’s a bit of a length process, but most of the time is actually wait time…so don’t worry, bestie. You’ve got this!
How to prepare Iskender kebab meat
We’re starting with a frozen meat (to make it easier to cut thin), slice thin with the help of a sharp knife. Mix your sliced meats with the olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl (just use your hands, and not any sort of mixer to avoid damaging the meat).
Marinate the meat by covering the bowl using cling film, and placing it in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
How to make Iskender bread
While the meat marinates, let’s start making our Iskender Kebab’s bread. Mix warm water and yeast in a large bowl, add the flour slowly, followed by the salt.
(First pour 2 cups of flour, if you need to collect the dough, use ½ cup of flour) It should be a soft dough.
Knead the dough for 3-4 minutes, put it in a bowl and cover it with a kitchen towel. Let it ferment for 15 minutes in a warm place. Once fermented, place the dough on the counter and divide it into 4 parts. Gently air and roll each piece before letting it rise for another 15 minutes on a floured surface (a tray or plate will work fine too!).
Next, prepare the mixture that will be spread on to the dough. In a bowl, mix the egg yolk, yogurt and salt until completely combined.
Place one of the fermented dough balls onto a floured surface. Roll it open (but avoiding squishing it flat). Spread a tablespoon of the egg yolk-yogurt mixture on it using a brush (the back of a spoon works too, but it’s a bit more finicky).
You can shape squares into the dough using your fingers before placing it on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes at 250 degrees C /480 degrees F. Cool on a wire rack.
How to make Iskender sauce
Melt the butter in the pan. Add the tomato paste and cook for one minute, stirring occasionally. Add salt, pepper, water and sugar and mix until you get a smooth fluid sauce.
Cook the meat, and assemble Iskender Kebab
Cut the cooled iskender breads (you can use the fingerprint squares as a guide!), and place towards one side of the serving plate. (We’ll use yogurt in a bit to fill up the empty side of the plate.)
Warm a saucepan over medium heat, and then arrange the thin slices of marinated meat side by side in the pan (make sure that they don’t overlap). The meat will fry quite quickly!
Once ready, place the fried meat on top of the chopped bread bits. Scoop some yogurt on to the empty part of the serving plate. Next, pour the tomato sauce you prepared generously over the meat. And lastly, drizzle melted butter over the iskender. (If you’re looking to impress someone, serve the dish to the table, and then drizzle on some sizzling butter for effect!)
Serve with tomatoes and peppers.
- Iskender Kebab meat, similar to any doner kebab, should be sliced very thin. In order to help cut it thinly, you can freeze your slab of meat in the deep freezer for 3-4 hours before cutting.
- When cooking your meat, wait to add it to the pan until you’re ready for it and don’t create any overlap with the other pieces in the pan: the meat is very thin, so it will cook almost immediately.
- The sauce and butter should be poured abundantly so that it reaches the bread under the meat and softens the bread.
- If your frozen meat is too tough to slice, you can let it rest for 3-5 minutes.
- If the sauce has cooled down while you plated your dish, you can reheat it. The sauce should be hot when served.
- If the waiting sauce has thickened while you worked on the rest of the recipe, you can add ½ cup of hot water to thin it out before pouring over the meat.
How do you eat Iskender Kebab
Trust me, you’ll want a little bite of everything on your plate all at once to really give you the maximum flavors and textures from this amazing recipe! To eat a delicious iskender kebab, cut or tear a piece of the bread, top it with the doner meat and zesty tomato paste sauce and then dip it in some yogurt for a real bite of Turkish heaven.
What kind of bread to use for Iskender Kebab
I suggest making the homemade bread I use in this recipe. It’s similar to Pide Bread or Pide Ekmek, but you can also use whatever bread you have on hand. Basically, any kind of flatbread with large fluffy pockets in it is the best kind to serve with your iskender kebabs.
What to eat with Iskender Kebab
I love serving this Turkish iskender kebab with a side of yogurt and some extra peppers on top. Any grilled vegetables would be wonderful to pair with this. You can also serve a generous leafy green salad with this recipe.
And if you’re especially carnivorous, like a certain food blogger (I’m referred to myself here), you can get a side of grilled meats.
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Luckily, you don’t need any special tools to make Iskender kebab at home, but having a good quality sharp knife will make the process much easier!
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- While the classic version of this dish is quite perfect, here are some other fantastic variations to try the next time you go to make this:
- Try swapping the meat to chicken, lamb meat, veal, or beef slices for even more fantastic flavor and textures. You may even want to try ground beef in this recipe.
- Add in some extra garlic to create a sauce with a strong garlic flavor. Alternatively, you can try swapping out the yogurt dip for Lebanese garlic sauce.
- You can also swap out the bread for other bread like a pita bread, which is similar to this homemade Pide Bread, or croutons for something different. Or you can try frying the bread in melted butter for a little extra indulgence prior to assembling the final dish.
- For an even more authentic Turkish recipe experience, use sheep butter.
- If you want more heat to the sauce you could add red pepper flakes to the tomato sauce.
Store your leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. Wait to add the yogurt to your dish until you eat it. Don’t store the yogurt with the meat and sauce.
More Turkish recipes
If you enjoyed this classic Turkish food, then be sure to check out some of the below!
And that’s it for today, bestie! I hope you’re excited to try this almost-authentic Iskender Kebab recipe. It’s packed full of so much flavor and really is a labor of love recipe.Print