In Middle Eastern countries kebab cookery has been traditional since ancient times. While Westerners think of kebabs merely as skewered cubes of meat, and perhaps vegetables, roasted over coals or broiled under a flame, the peoples of these lands have a broader concept of these dishes.

Kebbs (or similar variations of the name, meaning cooked meats) include grilled or broiled, fried, stewed, braised and baked meats, with or without other ingredients. For example, a favorite Turkish specialty is paper kebab - cubes of lamb, liver and kidneys, scallions and parsley sealed in paper and baked.

While meat, particularly lamb, is the most commonly used ingredient for kebabs, they are also made with beef, veal, pork, chicken, game, innards, fish and even whole hard - cooked eggs.

Although foods for most kebabs are cubed or cut into chunks they may also be ground and formed into meatballs and sausage - shapes. Whole roasts such as lamb or chicken count, too. An excellent creation is doner (ever - turning) kebab, prepared with closely - packed fillets or slices of lamb hung vertically on a rotating spit. As the meat turns and cooks in front of a hot fire the outer portions are cut off and served, leaving the innermost to continue cooking. The pinkish meat is most flavorful and juicy.

As for skewered kebabs, the best known here is sbish kebab, a Turkish term meaning skewered cooked meat. It has become an international favorite prepared in many variations, some quite elaborate. Believed to have been created by Turkish soldiers who cooked cubes of lamb of their swords over open fires, shish kebab in Turkey is generally a simple preparation of marinated lamb cubes cooked with onions and perhaps green peppers or eggplant.

The art of grilling meats on spits or skewers or over grates is omnipresent in the Middle East. At outdoor cafes and small garden restaurants, the tempting aromas of these sizzling specialties permeate surrounding aromas of these sizzling specand evening. Kebabs are favorite street snacks, eaten directly off the skewers or sometimes folded in ovals of unleavened Arab bread and topped with chopped onions and tomatoes or herbs. They are also served at family and company meals as a main course, usually on a bed of rice or couscous. A favorite topping is a yogurt sauce.

The main kebab ingredients are generally marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, onion juice or yogurt with such seasonings as garlic, onions, salt, herbs (bay leaf, thyme, oregano, mint or saffron) and/or spices (pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg) before being cooked.

Although there are all - meat kebabs, many are interlarded with vegetables (green peppers, onions and eggplant ) or fruits such as cherries or apricots. Generally speaking, the meats and vegetables or fruits should be cut into almost - equal sizes and shapes so they will cook in the same amount of time.

Middle Easterners generally cook kebabs on thin metal skewers, sometimes adorned with ornate handles. In threading foods on skewers, be sure they are properly balanced and, if only a few cubes are used, as close to the center as possible. Space each a little apart from the other so that heat will contact all surfaces. If beef is to be cooked rate, place cubes close together.

Cooking on skewers does not take long but should be done over an appropriate fire. In a grill arrange coals in parallel rows and along the sides. Have a stove broiler already heated.

Once cooked, the skewer ingredients may be removed by placing the skewers, point down, on a plate. Put a fork above a few pieces of food nearest the tip and carefully push them off. Repeat until all food is off. If one starts at the top the foods will become squashed together and tasty juices are lost.

TURKISH SHISH KEBAB

(6 servings) 2 pounds loin or leg of lamb or boneless beef, cut into 1 1/2 - inch cubes About 1/2 cup olive oil or mixture of olive and vegetable oil 1 medium onion, peeled and grated or minced 1 teaspoon dried thyme 1 bay leaf Salt, freshly ground pepper 1 large onion, peeled and sliced 1 large green pepper, cleaned and cubed

Put lamb or beef cubes, oil, onion, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mart cubes now and then. Thread on skewers, interlarded with onion slices and green pepper cubes. Grill over hot charcoal or under a broiler until done, about 10 minutes, turning once. Serve on skewers. YOGURT KEBABS

Prepare shish kebab as directed above with or without vegetables. Have ready 1 cup plain yogurt seasoned with 1 or 2 crushed garlic cloves, salt and pepper. To serve, remove shish kebab from skewers and place on unleavened Arab bread. Top with yogurt sauce and garnish with melted butter mixed with paprika. MINT MEATBALL KEBABS (6 servings) 3 slices white as whole wheat bread 1 1/2 pounds ground lamp or beef 1 large onion, peeled and minced 2 eggs, beaten 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or 2 teaspoons dried mint Salt, pepper to taste 2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges

Soak bread in water and squeeze dry. Cut into tiny bits and combine with other ingredients, except tomatoes. Mix thoroughly. Form into 1 1/2 - inch meatballs. Thread on skewers interlarded with tomato wedges. Grill over hot charcoal or under a broiler, turning to cook evenly, until done, about 10 minutes. FISH KEBABS (6 servings) 2 pounds firm fleshed fish (halibut, salmon, swordfish) 1/2 cup olive oil or mixture of vegetable and olive oil Juice of 1 large lemon 2/4 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano 1 large onion, peeled and cut into large pieces 4 large bay leaves, broken up Salt, Pepper to taste

Remove and discard any skin from fish. Cut into 1 - inch cubes. Then place in a large bowl with remaining ingredients. Leave to marinate about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Thread fish cubes on skewers alternating with onion and bay leaf pieces. Brush well with marinade and broil over hot coals or under broiler about 10 minutes, or until fish is tender, turning once or twice.