THE RECIPE BOX - A fusion of flavors

THE RECIPE BOX - A fusion of flavors

CUMBERLAND- He handled the spice infused eggplant that smoked in the "Big Green Egg" with the precision of a surgeon while at the very same time a half dozen restaurant style skewers were roasting ground beef and spices slowly on the upper deck grill of his backyard cook center.

Dr. Zaheer Shah, a Brown University trained internist, was born in Pakistan and moved to the U.S. at the age of 5. He grew up in this country's heartland, attending medical school in Indianapolis, Ind. and still considers himself a "Hoosier."

Zaheer is married to Christine, who brings to the table her own ethnic culinary heritage, a parent born in Cuba and the other born in Sicily, Italy. Needless to say the culinary experience at the Shah home is best described as fusion cookery. Zaheer described the recipes he shared as a fusion of flavors from Persia and Pakistan. "Take the flavors of one culture that one might think works with another cuisine, a logical cross pollination of two cultures," he said.

His interest in cooking began when he was a young adult student who suddenly found himself 800 miles away from home for medical school. He grew up in a home where his mother solely cooked for the family, he said, "But she did not teach me how to cook. I wanted to find those flavors again." So he began experimenting. "I cooked for my friends and other medical students," he said. Zaheer also found that he truly enjoyed it. "The actual act of cooking is as pleasing as eating it." That became more evident as he went from dish to dish, grill to grill, smiling and talking all the while about what he was doing.

A kebab is a traditional dish of sliced meat that originated in the Middle East commonly known as shish kebab, cooked on a skewer, or doner kebab, sliced roast meat served in a flatbread. This includes ground meats such as beef, lamb, goat, chicken, pork or fish, depending on the local tastes and religious prohibitions.

I was amazed as I watched the bowl full of ground beef, onions, peppers and seasonings transform into a tubular delight. The adobo spice, from the Spanish word adobar, means to marinate. This all-purpose seasoning is used for flavoring/marinating all kinds of meats and is used as a dry rub or as a wet paste. The main ingredients are garlic, oregano, black pepper and turmeric, then the regional preferences are added. It is prepared in Latin America, Spain or the Caribbean.

While Zaheer tended to the grilling beef, Christine came along to have him sample her yogurt sauce to which she'd added some cumin, garlic and salt. "A little more garam masala," Zaheer suggested. It's another spice blend that makes it a little hotter, he said. The yogurt sauce is often used as an accompaniment for dipping the meat or vegetables.

"I like to prepare the favorites for my children," Zaheer said. The couple have four children ranging in age from 12 to 25. The only daughter is Sophia, age 15, who was enlisted by her dad to help turn the steak kebabs while he worked on the eggplant at another grill. A simple marinade of lime juice, chopped raw onion and Kosher salt was used for the steak tips. "I'll serve it with a pita pocket and some sliced garden tomatoes with sliced red onion," he said.

"It is very important to buy quality meat," Zaheer said. He watched his butcher grind the beef he'd chosen. "It is the secret to good cooking, you've got to control your product in order to control your outcome. Sometimes people think they cannot cook, but you must have a good base," he said.

While he maintains that cooking is a form of art, it is also his best stress reliever. "Cooking is immensely therapeutic," he shared. His ability in the sciences is what led him to practicing medicine, along with the fact that it is a revered profession in his culture. All of that aside, he is a funny, warm and engaging doctor who wishes that people would emit the kind of energy they want to attract. "Reality TV is having a profound effect on people," he said. If we're constantly surrounding ourselves with conflict, we become confrontational." Basically if you want to see friendly, be friendly, he said.

His philosophy toward health care is based on preventative care. Our health systems in America are oriented toward crisis and catastrophic events. He believes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. "Those blood pressure checks, EKGs, sugar checks are the cornerstones of prevention," the doctor said. Excess consumption in any form is no good for us, be it food, TV or video games. Many of our illnesses are so totally preventable.

Just then the eggplant was ready in all it's smoky, curry scented wonder. The beef he slid easily off the skewers and onto a platter, while Sophia brought the steak "bites" into the house. She heated the pita bread while her dad put the plates on the table and her younger brother came away from his science project for dinner.

"Sit, eat with us," Zaheer insisted. "We usually break off the meat like this." Then he showed me how to tear off a piece of the pita, using that to break off the delicious ground beef meat and then dip it into the yogurt sauce. Hmmmm, it was all so delicious and so very different from the flavors found in my kitchen. And it ended way too fast.

Beef Kebobs


3 lbs. high quality ground beef

1 med. onion

1 & 1/2 Tbsp. Kosher salt

3 Tbsp. adobo all purpose spice

1 Tbsp. coriander powder

1 egg

1 jalepeno pepper, seeded & chopped fine


1. Mix all ingredients together. Let flavors meld, refrigerated until ready to grill.

2. Using large metal skewers, wrap the meat mixture around each skewer, evenly. (Pat gently into the shape of a sausage.)

3. Cook them - slightly raised up from the grill top - turn occasionally.

4. When browned and juices run clear remove with a clean towel by sliding off skewers and directly place onto a platter. Enjoy with a yogurt sauce and warmed pita pocket.

Yogurt Sauce


1 cup of plain Greek yogurt

1 Tbsp minced garlic

pinch of salt and black pepper

dash garam masala


In a small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Stir until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use. This sauce is great for kebabs, veggies - fresh and cooked, and also with pita chips.

Note: Alter the taste by adding a different spice depending on what you are dipping; cilantro & mint, or shredded cucumber are also nice.