If you are looking for a fast, easy, quick-cooking and portable meal, reach for skewers. Whether for a beach barbecue on the weekend or a quick-fix meal after a busy workday, skewered meats and vegetables — kebabs, kabobs, shish kebab or shashlik — provide interesting alternatives to the usual meat-and-potatoes fare. Kebabs are great for groups, because each person can select just what they like from a variety of items to be skewered; something for every age and preference, and you can throw in those little bits of leftovers you’ve been trying to use up.
Lamb is the meat of choice for the traditional kebab, which has roots in Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Greece and Tunisia. Other popular choices include beef, chicken, pork and firm fish. The protein is cubed and threaded onto skewers, brushed with oil or a marinade, and grilled over hot coals. It’s important to have all the pieces of meat cut the same size to cook evenly. Firm vegetables such as zucchini, bell pepper and eggplant, as well as pearl onions and mushrooms, are also candidates for skewering and grilling. I like to steam little red potatoes and chunks of carrot until half cooked, sprinkle with garlic and lemon pepper, then toss with a little olive oil before skewering with our meat of choice. Here are a few more ideas.
Pork tenderloin on skewers
Here’s an interesting, very portable, three-ingredient recipe from “Picnic: The Complete Guide to Outdoor Food” by Claudia Roden; makes 4 servings.
3/4 pound pork tenderloin, cut into 3/4-inch slices
3 slices white bread
4 slices prosciutto
Cut the bread and prosciutto into pieces the same circumference as the pork slices. Thread pork slices onto skewers, alternating with the bread and prosciutto. Grill kebabs over medium coals for 12 to 15 minutes or until pork is well browned but still juicy inside.
Sausage and eggplant kebabs with hot chili sauce
Recipe from Gourmet Magazine; serves 8 as a first course or 4 as an entree.
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
Two 2-inch jalapeno chilies, minced, including seeds (wear rubber gloves)
Eight 10-inch skewers (soak wood skewers in water for 30 minutes)
1 pound fresh sweet Italian sausage links, cut into 3/4-inch-thick pieces
1 pound eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes, blanched in boiling salted water for one minute and drained
In a bowl, whisk together the garlic, sugar, anchovy paste, lime juice, jalapenos, salt and pepper to taste. On each skewer, thread alternately 4 pieces of sausage and 4 pieces of eggplant. Arrange kebabs in single layer in a shallow dish and pour jalapeno mixture over them. Let kebabs marinate, covered and chilled, as long as possible — 2 hours or overnight is ideal. Broil or grill kebabs about 4 inches from heat, turning once, for 15 minutes or until sausage is cooked through.
Barbecued skewered shrimp patties
This reminds me of the Indonesian version that uses small sugarcane stalks for skewers. Recipe from “Outdoor Cooking” by the editors of Time-Life Books; makes 4 servings.
2 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce or light soy sauce
3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and black pepper
Chop shrimp into a fine paste or put them through a meat grinder. Add egg, scallions, garlic, fish sauce or soy sauce, oil, cornstarch, sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well; beat with a wooden spoon to form a smooth paste. Shape shrimp paste into compact 2-inch balls. Squeeze each ball firmly into an elongated sausage shape about 3 inches long, and thread a skewer through its length. Grill patties for 10 minutes on each side, until crisp and brown.
Grilled mozzarella and tomato
Here is the classic Italian trio of fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil leaves drizzled with simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Makes a tasty vegetarian side dish or light lunch. Get the best tomatoes you can find. Recipe from “Chef on a Shoestring” by Andrew Friedman; makes 4 servings.
For the skewers:
2-pound ball of fresh mozzarella
Eight 3/4-inch-thick French bread rounds
4 plum tomatoes, cut in half through the stem end
8 fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper
Four 10-inch bamboo skewers (soak in water for 30 minutes)
For the sauce:
9 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
8 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Several drops of balsamic vinegar
Coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper
Cut mozzarella in half and then into eight 3/4-inch-thick slices. Thread skewers in the following order: bread, tomato, basil, mozzarella, tomato, basil, mozzarella, bread. Set aside while you make sauce.
Mix all sauce ingredients together in a saucepan; warm for 1 to 2 minutes before serving.
Brush skewered mozzarella and tomato with a little olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Quickly cook skewers on a flat grill over hot coals on both sides until bread is lightly toasted and cheese begins to melt, about 30 to 45 seconds per side. Spoon sauce over 4 warm dinner plates. Set skewers neatly on top of sauce, slide food out of skewers and serve.
Fruit kebabs with vanilla mint yogurt sauce
This is a decades-old recipe from Gourmet Magazine that has been a hit at many gatherings because it is simple, colorful and refreshing. And you can use those little bamboo skewers without soaking in water. Makes 24 kebabs.
1 cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
1 pineapple, peeled, cored and cubed
3 kiwi, peeled and slices
2 pints strawberries, hulled
1 honeydew melon, cubed
Twenty-four 6-inch wooden skewers (cut the long ones in half if you can’t find short ones)
In a bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, vanilla and mint. Thread the fruits onto the skewers, alternating the pineapple, kiwi, strawberries and honeydew. Serve with the sauce on the side. Sauce and fruit kebabs can be made a day in advance and kept covered and chilled.