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Get your hands on some delish kebabs

Why not skewer some kebabs for a Memorial Day party? Use your imagination to create lots of intriguing variations.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Why not skewer some kebabs for a Memorial Day party? Use your imagination to create lots of intriguing variations.

Our fascination with food on a stick never ends. State fair innovations draw us like flies to funnel cake. Skewered pizza anyone?

Brazilian churrascarias with their sword-and-meat-wielding waiters are all over the Tampa Bay area and the pages of airline magazines.

Perhaps the allure is an ancestral thing, buried deep in our DNA. After all, prehistoric humans roasted their catch over open flames. Whereas nearly everything else about our lives has changed since the days of early man, the notion of grilling skewered food has not.

If you need an excuse to dig for metal skewers in the back of kitchen drawers, let it be Memorial Day, which is Monday.

Whether you're entertaining a crowd or just a small group, kebabs are fitting party food. They can be prepared in advance, cook quickly on the grill or under the broiler and are delicious piping hot or a bit cooler. Plus, they can be eaten with fingers. Who said things are so different from caveman days?

We like the idea of offering a variety of kebabs for a party, and tested four recipes that feature shrimp, beef, pork and chicken. Each was marinated (though not the accompanying vegetables) and required different cooking times, with the chicken taking the most time, 25 minutes, and the shrimp the least, about 2 minutes a side.

Having a variety keeps the hot food coming as the skewers are removed from the grill. Pile them up on a tray and serve.

Here's what we made and we recommend them all highly.

Chicken Marinated

in Cumin Yogurt

Dijon mustard, ground cumin and garlic are pungent foils to cooling, thick Greek-style yogurt in the marinade. If you don't see Greek yogurt at your store (we bought Fage at two Publix markets), ask someone. Often it is stocked separately from other yogurts. As a substitute, drain plain yogurt until it has a near sour cream consistency.

The aroma of this marinade is out of this world. We couldn't wait to get these on (and off) the grill and were charmed by the tenderly spiced results. The chicken is threaded with cherry tomatoes (we used the bigger Amorosas), red onion and green bell pepper.

Marinating time: 2 hours

Grill time: 25 minutes

Lemon Grilled Shrimp

Use extra-large or jumbo shrimp. You'll want shrimp big enough to capture the flavor of the marinade, which includes lemon juice, chopped fresh parsley, garlic, dry mustard and kicky cayenne pepper.

We threaded pieces of lemon on the skewers, too, more for its pretty effect than flavor. Don't marinate the shrimp for longer than 30 minutes or it will begin to "cook," a la ceviche. These crustaceans are addictive; make a lot.

Marinating time: 30 minutes

Grill time: 4 to 5 minutes

Southwest Margarita Beef Kebabs

Did we read that right? Is the main ingredient in the marinade really margarita mix? Yes is it, and mixed with garlic, the sweet-pungent melange just works. Don't buy cubed stew meat, which won't cook long enough to be tender. Look for sirloin cuts and ask for help at the meat counter. Attendants can steer you toward what they use for kebabs. And here's a bonus: Beef prices have dropped in recent weeks. (See story, Page 4E.)

Make sure skewers are strong enough to run through pieces of fresh corn. Wooden won't work here. These kebabs should be basted with leftover marinade mixed with melted butter. To be safe, boil the marinade after removing the meat and then add the melted butter. Cool slightly before basting.

Marinating time: 1 hour

Grill time: 15 minutes

Grilled Pork and Apricot Kebabs

Bring the flavor of the Mideast to your party table with these tasty kebabs. Cubes of pork tenderloin are flavored with honey, Dijon, vinegar, orange juice and garlic. Thread two pieces of meat, followed by a dried apricot, and repeat two more times, depending on the length of skewers. In the heat and with the drippings from the meat, the apricots get soft and a bit tangy. Big party flavor.

Marinating time: 30 minutes

Grill time: 15 minutes or less

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at

jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

>>easy

Southwest Margarita Beef Kebabs

1 1/2 cups margarita drink mix

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon pepper

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 pound chuck eye, cut into 1-inch cubes

3 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded and cut into pieces

2 ears corn, cut into 8 pieces

1 1/2 cups melted butter

4 to 6 skewers, depending on size

For marinade, combine margarita mix, salt, pepper and garlic in a small bowl and mix well. Place beef cubes in sealable plastic food bag. Pour margarita marinade over beef, saving 1/2 cup of the marinade. Seal the bag and turn to coat. Marinate for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Thread beef cubes onto 4 skewers, alternating with jalapeno pepper and corn. Stir the reserved 1/2 cup margarita marinade into the melted butter and mix well. Grill beef kebabs over hot grill on oil racks for 15 minutes, basting with the butter mixture and turning frequently.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Thatsmyhome.com

>>moderate

Chicken Kebabs Marinated in Cumin Yogurt

1 cup Greek-style yogurt

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 heaping tablespoon ground cumin

Juice of 1 large lemon

3 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes

Vegetable oil for brushing grill rack

2 large red onions, peeled, quartered lengthwise, then halved

24 cherry tomatoes, stem removed

2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch squares

6 metal skewers

Combine the yogurt, olive oil, mustard, cumin, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl. Toss in the chicken cubes and marinate, covered and refrigerated, for 2 hours.

Heat the grill to medium-hot and lightly oil the grill rack.

Thread the chicken, onion pieces, tomatoes and bell peppers onto skewers, alternating vegetables. Grill over medium heat, turning, until the chicken is cooked through and golden on all sides, 20 to 25 minutes.

Serves 6.

Source: Mediterranean Grilling by Diane Kochilas (William Morrow, 2007)

>>easy

Lemon Grilled Shrimp

24 extra-large or jumbo shrimp

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons grated lemon rind

2 teaspoons dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Pinch black pepper

8 skewers, metal or wooden

Peel shrimp, leaving on tails, and devein if you wish. Place in a bowl or sealable plastic bag. In a bowl, whisk together lemon juice, oil, parsley, garlic, lemon rind, mustard, cayenne and black pepper. Pour over shrimp. Close bag tightly; squeeze gently to coat shrimp well. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove shrimp; heat marinade to a boil and then let cool for basting.

Thread each shrimp onto soaked wooden or metal skewer, pushing skewer through the shrimp near the tail and again at the other end to keep it secure. (Skewers can be made ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated for up to 4 hours. Cover and refrigerate marinade separately.)

Cook shrimp on greased grill on medium high, brushing often with marinade, for 2 minutes per side or until pink and firm to the touch.

Serves 6 to 8.

Source: Barbecue and Summer Foods Cookbook by Margaret Fraser (Random House, 1995)

. Fast facts

Kebab know-how

• Wooden skewers are good for a large crowd because they are inexpensive. Soak them in water for at least 30 minutes so they won't catch fire. However, they aren't strong enough for stiffer ingredients such as corn. Use metal for tougher foods.

• Marinate in the refrigerator to avoid contamination. Boil the marinade after you've removed the raw meat or fish if you intend to use for basting. This will kill any bacteria. Cool before using.

• Fatty meats can be cooked at a higher temperature. Lean meats will need a longer time at a lower heat.

• Choose firm-textured fish (salmon, tuna, mahi mahi,

grouper, swordfish, etc.) and shellfish. Cook most seafood over medium heat.

• Cut meat and vegetables in uniform pieces so they cook evenly.

• Parboil vegetables such as bell peppers, zucchini, carrots and other dense foods before skewering if you want them fully cooked.

• Kebabs can be grilled, baked or broiled.

• Don't leave kebabs unattended. You'll need to turn them frequently to prevent burning.

• A light coating of cooking oil or nonstick spray will help keep the kebabs from sticking. Turn them over for even cooking.

Sources: About.com, Times files

>>easy

Grilled Pork and Apricot Kebabs

1 pound pork tenderloin

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons white vinegar

2 tablespoons orange juice

1 clove of garlic, crushed

16 dried apricot halves

4 to 6 skewers, depending on size

Cut pork in 1-inch cubes; set aside. Whisk honey, mustard, vinegar, orange juice and garlic in a bowl. Add pork cubes to marinade, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, stirring twice. Thread meat onto skewers, alternating with apricot halves.

Oil grate to keep skewers from sticking. Cook over medium-hot grill, turning several times, until juices run clear from the meat, about 15 minutes.

Serves 4.

Source: Adapted from several Internet recipes

Get your hands on some delish kebabs 05/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 4:30am]

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