Memorial Day's passing means cookout season has begun.
So, get on the stick — literally.
Only heretics don't like meat on a stick; the proof is in the worldwide variety of recipes of skewered meats. Don't worry, my vegan and vegetarian friends, vegetables get treated like those who got in the way of Vlad the Impaler, too.
Just as humans are mysteriously drawn to things landing in water — whether baseballs, golf balls or skipping stones — so, too, are we mesmerized by the crude majesty of meat, stick and fire.
To prove it, I'm sharing four recipes from different parts of the world.
First, a few things to keep in mind:
If using wooden skewers, soak them in water at least an hour.
When skewering meats or thick vegetables, corkscrew the screw for quick passage through the target.
Leave space at either end of the skewer for easier handling.
On to the recipes.
First, a couple appetizers.
Chicken Yakitori is one of Japan's most popular dishes, typically served as an appetizer. Yakitori means “little bird,” and the sweet, bold flavors of the sauce are unmistakably Asian. A sprig of charred green onion adds balance and color. A sprinkle of Japanese chili powder called nanami togarashi, which I sourced at Super Cao Nguyen Market, adds just enough kick.
The Spanish are renowned for tapas, or small plates. These are my kind of dinners, lots of flavors eaten late at night with good wine. Pinchitos are little skewers, and for this interpretation I went with some densely seasoned pork that will make friends with practically any other vegetable, starch or bread.
The first shish kebab most of us born and raised in these parts ever had was the beef, bell pepper, onion and cherry tomato variety. It was always one of my favorites growing up. Typically, a 2-inch by 2-inch hunk of meat shared the same skewer as the aforementioned vegetables — all marinated in sherry wine or Teriyaki sauce at my house. I've modified the recipe with smaller pieces of meat and separate skewers for each veggie. Meat typically takes a little longer to cook, so the tomatoes often end up drained and the onion over-charred with the classic preparation.
My marinade is a variation on what I do for fajitas. I always loved that sherry flavor, and adding it to soy sauce and rice wine makes for a fusion of Mom's two marinade favorites.
While Greece might be challenged economically, its people are masters of the cookout. Souvlaki is one of their most delicious and most simple offerings. With grilled pita and cool, creamy Tzatziki, skewers will disappear fast.
The perfect spring allowed me to use herbs from my garden. All other ingredients came from Super Cao Nguyen or Buy For Less, so don't be scared off by any of them.
SHISH KEBAB AMERICAN
2 pounds round steak, sirloin or tenderloin, cut in 1-inch cubes
20-30 grape or cherry tomatoes
20-30 red pearl onions, peeled
1/3 cup dry sherry wine
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1-inch cubes.
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup premium Greek olive oil (not extra virgin)
¼ cup fresh Greek oregano, minced
Fresh ground pepper
24 ounces Greek yogurt, strained
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 cloves garlic mashed into 2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper, black will work though
1 large cucumber, peeled, grated into a strainer
1 teaspoon minced fresh mint
1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into bite-size cubes
2 cloves, mashed into 2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika, preferably Spanish
1 teaspoon ground toasted cumin seeds
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
For the sauce:
2 cups sake
2 cup soy sauce
1½ cups mirin
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup light brown sugar
1½ teaspoons grated ginger
1 teaspoon chili paste or sambal oelek, optional
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut with the grain into 1½-inch strips
2 bunches scallions (about 12), cut into 1-inch lengths