Greet grilling season with kebabs

JeanMarie Brownson
The Daily Meal

True confession: I grill outside all year long. Memorial Day weekend just makes it official!

This year, I won’t stand for anything bland to come off my grill — and, if I can help it, yours. An herby marinade sparked with a little crushed red pepper can add flavor to lean meats and vegetables. A dry seasoning blend that combines smoke, spice and garlic will feature in nearly all my steak and rib grill sessions. And after grilling, I propose the liberal use of rich, slightly sweet, bronzed butter to add a chef’s touch of flavor and luxury.

Let’s talk about marinades. I recommend using acidic, deeply-seasoned wet marinades to infuse flavor into simple poultry pieces, lean pork and bland vegetables such as zucchini and eggplant. Marinades high in acid will do a bit of tenderizing, too, although most don’t penetrate more than ¼-inch into the foods.

Dry marinades, like grill seasoning rubs, add flavor as well as salt — and sometimes sugar — to the surface of tender meats, such as beef steaks, chicken breasts and fish fillets. Dry rubs should be applied well in advance of grilling for the biggest impact. A simple blend that contains smoked paprika helps underscore the smoke of a charcoal grill and proves a great boon when cooking on gas grills.

It might not be a well-kept secret, but steakhouse chefs almost always boost flavor with butter. I propose you follow suit with a highly-seasoned butter full of caramelized onions, fresh garlic, spices and a splash of sweet-tart pomegranate molasses. You can keep small parcels of the butter in the freezer for easy retrieval on grilling day.

To take advantage of these flavor-boosting creations, I’ll be grilling kebabs for our small Memorial Day gathering. Kebabs please everyone. We can make meatless kebabs, lean turkey kebabs and, for a treat, beef sirloin kebabs. Scale the recipes up or down based on the number of people to serve.

For easiest grilling, use metal skewers that are flat so the meat doesn’t move when you turn it on the grill. Another option is a two-pronged skewer which holds everything in place. Wooden skewers work too; just pick out a length that fits on the grill and soak the skewers in cool water before adding the ingredients to them. Using a second wooden skewer will help secure the food.

Serve the kebabs over a bed of greens, which will get the flavor from the juices dripping off the hot kebabs. Steamed, small new potatoes sprinkled with the season’s first chives and tender dill fronds make a perfect side — ditto for grilled or steamed asparagus.

Gather around the grill with cold rose wine or a variety of non-alcoholic beers and enjoy!

Kebabs can be made to fit several flavor profiles, including turkey and vegetable and smoky beef and mushrooms.

Herby Marinade for Grilling

Prep: 5 minutes

Makes about 2/3 cup

Use this marinade with pork, poultry, fish and vegetables.

  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl using a whisk to dissolve the salt. Alternatively, mix all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate, covered, up to 2 weeks. Use at room temperature.

Smoky Dry Rub

Prep: 5 minutes

This rub tastes great on pork, beef, salmon and eggplant slices.

  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic or 4 cloves garlic, crushed

In a small bowl, mix all ingredients. Refrigerate, covered, up to 1 week. Use at room temperature.

Red Chile Garlic Butter

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 10 minutes

Makes about 1 cup

Dollop small bits of this butter over grilled steak, burgers, chops, vegetables and corn as soon as they come off the grill.

  • 1 tablespoon safflower, sunflower or expeller-pressed canola oil
  • 1 large (10 to 12 ounces) sweet onion, halved, very thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasse or balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne, optional

1. Heat a large well-seasoned cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil and onion. Cook and stir over medium heat until onion is soft and richly browned, about 10 minutes.

2. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in pomegranate molasses. Remove from heat and cool.

3. Put onion mixture into food processor along with butter, paprika, salt, cumin and cayenne. Process with on/off turns until nearly smooth. Scoop out into a covered container. Refrigerate covered up to 2 weeks. Use at room temperature.

Turkey and Vegetable Kebabs

Prep: 25 minutes

Marinate: 1 hour or overnight

Cook: 13 to 15 minutes

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Boneless chicken breast or pork tenderloin can replace the turkey here.

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless turkey breast or turkey tenderloins, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 green onions, white portion only, cut crosswise in half
  • 2 small zucchini, 5 ounces each, trimmed, each cut crosswise into 8 rounds
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • Herby marinade, see recipe
  • Chopped fresh chives, optional

1. Put the turkey pieces, onions, zucchini and bell pepper pieces on a large cutting board. Set aside 1/3 of the marinade to use as a grill basting sauce.

2. Slide a piece of zucchini on a skewer. Add a piece of turkey, then bell pepper and another turkey piece and then onion. Repeat the pattern to fill up 4 to 6 skewers.

3. Place the skewers in a shallow dish or on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush with the marinade. Turn to coat all sides with marinade. Refrigerate covered, periodically spooning or brushing the marinade over the skewers for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

4. Preheat a gas grill to medium-high or prepare a charcoal grill and let coals burn until they are covered with ash and glowing red.

5. Remove skewers from baking dish (discard the remaining marinade). Place skewers directly over heat source on the preheated grill. Cover the grill and cook 5 minutes.

6. Brush with the reserved marinade. Cover the grill and cook 5 minutes. Brush again and grill until meat feels nearly firm when pressed, 3 to 5 minutes more.

7. Remove skewers from grill to a serving platter. Drizzle with any of the remaining reserved marinade. Sprinkle with chives if desired.

Smoky Beef and Mushroom Kebabs

Prep: 25 minutes

Marinate: 1 hour or overnight

Cook: 8 to 9 minutes

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Boneless strip steak and filet work well here, too. You can also use boneless skinless chicken thighs or chunks of boneless pork loin; increase cooking time by about 5 minutes.

2 pounds (1 1/2-inch thick) beef top sirloin steak, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

Smoky dry rub, see recipe

8 to 12 small cremini or button mushrooms

8 to 12 large cherry tomatoes

Arugula for serving

Red chile garlic butter, optional; see recipe

Chopped fresh cilantro

Lime wedges

1. Put beef pieces into a large bowl. Add the smoky dry rub and toss with clean hands to coat the meat well. Refrigerate covered at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

2. Place 1 piece of meat on a skewer. Add a mushroom, another piece of meat and then a cherry tomato. Repeat the pattern to fill the skewer and make 4 to 6 skewers as desired.

3. Preheat a gas grill to medium-high or prepare a charcoal grill and let coals burn until they are covered with ash and glowing red.

4. Place skewers directly over heat source on preheated grill. Cover the grill and cook 5 minutes.

5. Turn skewers. Cover the grill and cook until meat is medium-rare and nearly firm when pressed 3 to 5 more minutes.

6. Remove skewers from grill to a serving platter lined with arugula. Dot meat with bits of the seasoned butter, if using. Sprinkle with cilantro. Pass lime wedges for squeezing over skewers. Drizzle with any of the remaining reserved marinade.

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