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 [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.