Food on a Stick

As the weather warms, we’re increasingly drawn to the grill. Not only does it keep the heat of cooking outdoors, but the savory flavor of grilled food just speaks of summer. Everyone has tossed on a thick steak or burger or a nice piece of salmon, but what if you crave something a bit different? Something that, once prepared, can wait in the fridge until the perfect moment and becomes nearly a meal in itself…right off a stick?

Kabob-style meals come in many flavors, from Turkish to Thai to Texan. Combinations of ingredients are endless, and you can play with marinades and dipping sauces, adding another dimension to the flavors and presentation. With portions easily adjusted (you can use long sticks for dinner and short sticks for appetizer portions), and cooking times very short, kabobs will soon become a favorite in your summer repertoire.

Hints from the Kitchen

I have found that it is sometimes simpler to thread all the same  ingredients onto one stick so cooking times can be easily monitored, but the interplay of flavors, colors and textures when ingredients are layered together is much more interesting.

When combining ingredients, it is key to choose items with similar  cooking times; otherwise, quickly parboil ingredients that might take longer to cook. I would parboil peppers and onions when pairing  with fish, for instance.

Always soak wood or bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes prior to threading on ingredients. This keeps the sticks from burning and makes it easier to remove the ingredients from the stick after grilling.

Make sure ingredients are pressed firmly together on the skewers, to  ensure even cooking and the blending of flavors.

Turning fish kabobs can be tricky. Use a combination of tongs and spatula to gently flip them.

Kabobs are great served with rice, pasta, pilaf or couscous.

Greek Lamb Kabobs
Serves 6 to 8

This recipe takes a bit of planning, but great to have prepared the day ahead of when guests arrive.

Cut 3 to 4 pound boneless leg of lamb into 1” chunks
1 cup fresh mint, minced
1/4 cup fresh oregano, minced
1/2 head of fresh garlic, minced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 eggplants, peeled, chunked and salted

Stir all together and cover bowl with plastic wrap, marinate overnight. Alternate on skewers with 1” chunks of salted fresh eggplant and small wedges of mild white onion. This is great with some cous cous and a fresh, Greek-style simple salad of greens, cucumbers, olives and feta.

(Salt eggplant by cutting into chunks and layering in a colander with a generous sprinkling of salt over each layer. Let rest 40 minutes to an hour, and rinse thoroughly before skewering. This releases any bitterness and helps the eggplant to tender up on the grill.)

Serve with Tzatziki Sauce
2 (8 ounce) containers plain yogurt
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 1/2 lemons
about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
3 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed

Mix all together in a non-reactive bowl and let rest in refrigerator overnight. This can
be made the same day, but the flavors develop nicely overnight.

Make It Tonight
Some simple ideas using readily available ingredients

Slice smoked sausages or kielbasa into 1” chunks and thread onto skewers with chunks of fresh pineapple and red and green peppers.

Grab a package of fajita or stir-fry beef, stir in a few tablespoons of teriyaki sauce and marinate in the fridge for an hour. Thread onto skewers with chunks of fresh green chili and tiny white onions.

Or, take your beef chunks and strips of bacon that have been cooked about halfway (until they just start to look dry—about 5 minutes in the microwave); when cooled, thread the bacon around the beef, as pictured. Grill until bacon is crisp and meat is medium rare; sprinkle hot skewers with crumbled blue cheese.

Choose a firm-fleshed fish, such as tuna or mahi mahi, and cut into 1” chunks. Toss in a glass bowl with a few tablespoons of basalmic salad dressing and let marinate for 15-20 minutes. Layer on a skewer with thawed frozen artichoke hearts and cherry tomatoes. Brush several times with more of the salad dressing while grilling.

Alternate tail-on shrimp with slices of fresh lemon, drizzle with olive oil mixed with a pressed garlic clove; sprinkle with minced fresh tarragon and parsley, salt and pepper.

Moroccan Marinade for Fish Kabobs

Serves 4

2 pounds firm white fish fillets (tuna, mahi mahi, halibut, etc) cut into 1 1/2” chunks
1 onion finely chopped
6 cloves garlic minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Mix all marinade ingredients and add fish chunks. Refrigerate for 2 hours, thread onto skewers and grill until done.  Serve with couscous or mahogany rice and steamed broccoli.

Moroccan Spiced Meatballs
Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds ground beef
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup minced coriander
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients and form into 32 ovals, threading them on soaked sticks. Grill until done all the way through (these are traditionally not served rare). Serve with onions, which have been sliced and slowly sautéed in olive oil, and seasoned with salt and cinnamon. Summer squash and rice fill out your menu.

Spicy Kumquat Chicken
Serves 6

2 pounds of chicken breasts cut into 1” chunks
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 fresh kumquats, sliced
3 or 4 jalepeno chilis, sliced (remove seeds with rubber gloves if you can’t stand the heat)

Mix juices, oil, salt, pepper and garlic, add chicken chunks and marinate for 2 hours or overnight. Alternate on soaked skewers with halved kumquats and chili slices. Serve with couscous and grilled eggplant.

Categories: Entertaining, Recipes