Food on sticks offers easy meals with big flavours

Lamb and onion kebabs make a fast and delicious barbecue lunch sandwich with naan.  |  Sarah Galvin photo

Kebabs are simply pieces of meat, vegetables or fruits threaded onto skewers and then broiled or grilled until the food is fully cooked, slightly charred but still juicy and tender.

Serving kebabs has advantages. For one, you can serve more people per pound of meat and therefore reduce the cost of the meal. Portion control is good for watching both cost and calories.

Kebabs also cook quickly and can be easily customized for different flavour profiles.

The meat matters when making kebabs. Try to use only cubed meat so it will cook more evenly. Also, choose lean meat to avoid flare-ups on the barbecue and it holds together better on the skewer.

For beef, sirloin works well. For lamb, choose shank or leg roast. Tenderloin is a good choice for pork, and chicken should be skinless, boneless. Firm fish like swordfish or tuna will also work on a skewer. Make the cubes about one inch (2.5 centimetres) in size.

For a vegetarian kebab use marinated halloumi cheese. It is a dense cheese that doesn’t melt easily.

Keep all ingredients on the skewer about the same size so they cook evenly. If you are using foods with greatly different cooking times, like cherry tomatoes and meat, put each on its own skewer.

Metal skewers are best for foods that take longer than five minutes to cook. Metal skewers will give a more even cooking with heat coming from the inside and outside. This also reduces the cooking time. Just a warning: the metal skewers will remain hot for a while after taking them off the grill.

With wood skewers it matters less about the soaking and more about the quality of the wood. Thin or flimsy skewers are more likely to catch fire because there’s very little support in the first place. It might be a good idea to use skewers that are thick and sturdy, because they can handle more heat before they begin charring. Wood skewers are best for foods with a brief cooking time like fruits and shrimp. Rosemary with a sturdy stem or whole lemongrass can also be used as skewers. You may have to punch a hole through the food with a metal skewer before threading them on.

For foods that can twirl on the skewer use two skewers, parallel to each other, to pierce the food.

Don’t forget to marinade the meat and don’t skimp on the marinade. It will make or break your kebabs. A simple marinade of lemon juice and canola or olive oil with garlic, herbs, salt and pepper works for everything.

Kebabs should be cooked over direct hot heat and they need to be watched and turned regularly. High heat ensures a caramelized exterior and a juicy interior. Don’t crowd the food on the skewer or it won’t cook evenly. The only exception is shrimp. Because it is smaller and thinner it cooks more evenly if pushed very close to one another so they are stacked.

Use long-handled tongs to move the food around. Turn the food often as it cooks to avoid burning and attaining a high enough internal temperature for the meat. Beef should be cooked to 140 F (60 C), 145F ( 63 C) for pork and 160 F ( 70 C) for chicken.

If brushing the kebabs with the marinade while they cook, discard any unused marinade at the end of the cooking time. Be sure to cook the kebabs for two to three minutes after the last application to kill any bacteria.

Consider replacing those hot dogs with a healthier option. Skewers of meats and vegetables cook just as quickly and are every bit as tasty.

Greek-style lamb kabobs with pita and tzatziki sauce

This makes a fantastic sandwich. Keep the kebabs the width of your pita or naan so you can slide the skewer off into your bread.

  • 1 lb. boneless lamb leg, or shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-in. cubes 500 g, 7 cm
  • 24 grape tomatoes, or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 onions, cut into 24 1 1/2-in. chunks 7 cm
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp. fresh oregano 5 mL
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice 30 mL
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil 125 mL
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste 5 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or to taste 2 mL
  • 8 naan
  • lettuce, radishes and tomatoes
  • tzatziki sauce

Combine garlic, oregano, lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl. Season marinade with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add lamb cubes and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in refrigerator four to six hours.

Thread lamb and onion dipped in the marinade onto skewers.

Grill on medium heat for 12 to 15 minutes or to the desired degree of doneness. The meat should register 145 F (65C) for medium-rare, 160 F (70C) for medium or 170 F (75C) for well done. Turn kabobs several times, brushing with marinade.

Serve in warm naan with fresh chopped lettuce, radishes, tomatoes and tzatziki sauce.

Steak and potato kebabs

  • 2 1/2 lb. trimmed filet mignon, cut into 24, 1-inch pieces 1.5 kg, 2.5 cm
  • 1/4 c. plus 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 60 mL, 15 mL
  • 2 tbsp. sherry vinegar 30 mL
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped 15 mL
  • salt and pepper
  • 16 baby white potatoes
  • 8 large cherry tomatoes

In large bowl, toss meat with 1/4 cup (60 mL) extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, garlic, rosemary, 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) salt and 3/4 teaspoon (4 mL) pepper.

Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or up to one day.

Place potatoes in large saucepan. Fill with water to cover by one inch (2.5 cm). Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer until fork-tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain, let cool and toss with remaining one tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil.

Preheat grill to medium-high. Thread three cubes of meat, two potatoes and one tomato on each of eight-inch skewer. Grill, turning once, to desired doneness, about five minutes for medium-rare.

Spicy lemon chicken kabobs

  • 1/4 c. lemon juice 60 mL
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided 60 mL
  • 3 tbsp. white wine 45 mL
  • 1 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes 7 mL
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary or 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed 5 mL
  • 1 1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes 750 g, 2.5 cm
  • 2 medium lemons, halved
  • finely chopped chives

In a large shallow dish, combine lemon juice, three tablespoons (45 mL) oil, wine, pepper flakes and rosemary. Add chicken and turn to coat. Refrigerate up to three hours.

Drain chicken, discarding marinade. Thread chicken onto six skewers. Grill, covered, over medium heat until no longer pink, turning once, 10-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, place lemons on grill, cut side down. Grill until lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Squeeze lemon halves over chicken. Drizzle with remaining oil. Garnish with chives.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at Contact:

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