Chef Tom – Upping Your Kabab Skills While You Listen to Mugham

Yes. I know. Upping Kabab skills and enjoying Mugham may not be familiar to most of you, but they will be by the time you finish this column. Food and Music are Life.

Now let us begin ….

Chicken Kababs

Chicken Kababs with Peaches and Tomatoes

Serves 4

Saffron is ground and then steeped in water to draw out its sweet scent, flavor and rich hue. This method is also the most economical use of the precious threads. Nothing goes to waste in this preparation; even the onion from the marinade is cooked to serve as an accompaniment.

In this version, grilled peaches are plated alongside the traditional blistered tomatoes for a delightful tangy bite. An overnight marinade will guarantee the juiciest kababs, but don’t worry if you’re short on time; a couple of hours is sufficient. Serve with rice with tahdig and cucumber and herb yogurt, or with bread and herb salad for a light meal.

1 ½ teaspoons saffron threads

 Pinch of granulated sugar

1 large lemon, zested, plus 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 large garlic cloves, finely grated

4 teaspoons kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 pint/12 ounces cherry tomatoes

1 pound ripe but firm yellow peaches (about 3 large), cut into 3/4-inch wedges

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for basting

 Lavash bread, for serving (optional)

 Lime wedges, for serving

Sumac, for serving

Using a mortar and pestle (or small bowl and the handle end of a wooden spoon), grind the saffron with the sugar to a fine powder (about 1/4 teaspoon). Transfer to a large bowl.

Bring 2 tablespoons water to a boil in a saucepan, kettle or using the microwave, then let stand for 2 minutes to allow the water temperature to drop slightly. Add to the ground saffron powder, gently stir, cover and steep for 5 minutes.

To the saffron water, add the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper; carefully stir to mix. Add the chicken and onion to the marinade and combine until well coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 24 hours, turning the chicken pieces around in the marinade every once in a while.

Prepare a charcoal grill until the coals are ashed over and still hot, or heat a gas grill to medium-high. Skewer the tomatoes and peaches separately and set aside. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and skewer them. It’s best to use flat, 1/2-inch-wide skewers or double skewers so the chicken pieces stay put when turned.

Transfer the onion and any remaining marinade to a medium skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened and the skillet is nearly dry, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, grill the chicken, basting with the butter and turning every 2 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes on a charcoal grill and 15 to 18 minutes on a gas grill.

Grill the tomatoes and peaches alongside the chicken: Grill the tomatoes, turning every 2 to 3 minutes, until softened and slightly blistered, 6 to 8 minutes on charcoal and about 10 minutes on a gas grill. Grill the peaches, turning every 2 to 3 minutes, until softened but not falling apart, about 10 minutes.

If using lavash bread, drape on a serving platter. Place the chicken, tomatoes and peaches on the bread. (As the kababs sit, the bread soaks up the wonderful juices and becomes a highly sought-after bite.) Serve with the cooked onions, lime wedges for squeezing and sumac for sprinkling.


Alim Qasimov

Alim Qasimov is a world-renowned singer in the Azerbaijani style called mugham. This first piece called “A Trace of Grace” is one of the most entrancing compositions I’ve ever heard. I love the Middle East anyway, especially the cuisine, and the rhythms of Arabic countries are my favorite.

He is joined by three other famous musicians. About halfway through, Michel Godard puts his bass on a loop and picks up a wild looking brass instrument called a serpent horn. Haunting. The string instrument is called a Komancheh and is Persian.

Love the jazz feeling of this piece. Mugham is largely improvised anyway so it’s a perfect fusion. The combination of mugham and jazz became quite popular, which is not surprising since the Azerbaijanis had a craze for jazz music during the Soviet period. The International Music Festival at Baku was even called the Soviet capital of jazz. And the improvisational essence of the two genres only contributes to such friendship. Click on “Watch on You Tube” to enjoy this first clip.

Alim Qasimov, Hüsnü Şenlendirici, Rauf Islamov, Michel Godard – A Trace of Grace

Alim Qasimov, Hüsnü Şenlendirici, Rauf Islamov, Michel Godard

Hüsnü Şenlendirici & Halil Sezai Hüsn-ü Dream Konseri – Aynalar


Jeff Buckley

In 1995, at the French Festival of Sacred Music, the cult American singer Jeff Buckley performed along with Azerbaijani Alim Qasimov. Jeff was so impressed by Alim’s playing on the soundcheck that he was seriously embarrassed before going on stage, but as soon as they met the musicians immediately found a common language.

The concert had a success and after it Buckley said: “This is beyond my comprehension. Probably it is because breathing doesn’t flow through me as through these people. His voice is like an eternal gust of wind that never stopped and never began”.

Jeff Buckley – What Will You Say (featuring Alim Qasimov)


Chef Tom is currently transitioning from Personal Chef to Private Chef. He also teaches cooking classes, caters small parties and leads overseas culinary tours. His specialty for the last twelve years has been cooking for people with food allergies and sensitivities. His motto is “Food should give you pleasure, not pressure.”

Check him out at

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