- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If you’re looking for something different to offer at your next barbecue, consider grilling kebabs. It is one of the oldest cooking techniques in existence. The art of grilling meat on a skewer was advanced by medieval Turkish soldiers who used their swords to cook over campfires. As the Ottoman Empire grew, so did the popularity of the kebab, spreading across the Mediterranean and Middle East and eventually conquering the world.

Every country seems to boast its own kebab recipe. India has its tikka, chunks of chicken soaked in yogurt, coriander, garam masala and other spices and then cooked on rods. The French dine on brochettes, while diners in Russia and Armenia consume shashlik.

In Greece, kebabs come in the form of souvlaki, large lamb or chicken cubes marinated in oil, lemon juice and oregano before being lanced alongside onions or green peppers and grilled. Across Southeast Asia, satay — small pieces of chicken, pork, goat, beef or fish macerated in fish and soy sauces, sugar, lime juice and spices — remains all the rage.

Most kebab recipes are quite simple. Cut a piece of beef, chicken, lamb or firm-fleshed fish into 1-inch cubes. Allow the cubes to steep in a marinade for at least 30 minutes.

Once they’ve finished marinating, skewer the cubes, along with optional chunks of onions, eggplant, peppers or mushrooms, on metal or bamboo sticks and grill them over hot charcoal. If using bamboo sticks, remember to soak them in water first to prevent burning.

The cooked kebabs are drizzled with lemon juice or olive oil or accompanied by a sauce. Paired with fresh pita, lettuce, tomato and a yogurt dressing, they become a filling sandwich. Laid across a bed of rice or mixed greens, they make a delightful entree. Talk about easy!

One dish defying this simplicity is the Adana kebab. Originating in the south of Turkey, this kebab consists of a mixture of minced beef and aromatics such as cumin, cayenne pepper, black pepper, dried oregano and mint. Kneaded into a doughlike consistency, the meat gets formed into a fat, cylindrical shape. It is then slid onto a decorative sword — think of the beef as being the sword’s sheath — and grilled in one piece.

Chicken souvlaki

Makes 4 servings.

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch cubes

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 teaspoons oregano

Tzatziki, for serving

4 individual pitas, optional

2 tomatoes, sliced, optional

FOR THE TZATZIKI:

8 ounces plain yogurt, excess water drained

1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

1 clove garlic, grated

1/4 teaspoon dried mint

Dash of salt

Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and oregano in a small bowl.

Place the chicken cubes in a medium-sized bowl and pour the marinade over top. Cover the bowl, place it in the refrigerator and allow the chicken to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the yogurt, cucumber, garlic, dried mint and salt, and refrigerate the tzatziki.

Preheat the grill.

Using metal skewers, insert the cubes of chicken lengthwise on each skewer, leaving a little room between each chunk of meat. Place the skewers on the hot grill and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes or until chicken is completely cooked. Remove the skewers from the grill and place on a platter. Serve immediately with a side of tzatziki sauce and optional pita and tomato.


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