Shish, boom, kebob

This summer, grilling favorite can be as varied as our culture

Kebobs can be an easy summer meal on the grill. Ingredients usually include pieces of meat or seafood and a variety of vegetables, or even fruits.

It’s hard to get more bang for your buck during summer grilling season than the kebob.

You’ve got your skewer, you’ve got your meat and a few slices of vegetables, plus a heat source — and you’ve got yourself the makings of an entire meal.

Maybe that’s why kebobs, in their many cultural variations, have been around for about as long as our ancestors have known that the kiss of flames makes meat, fish, veggies — you name it — taste marvelous.

The Turkish have their shish kebobs, the Russians have shashlik, Thais and Indonesians are hooked on satays, the Japanese are fond of a dish called yakitori and the French hanker for brochettes.

Essentially, they’re all expressions of the same idea: Skewered chunks of meat, vegetables, even fruit, transformed by fire into a juicy appetizer or main course.

Kebobs can be served as a meal or appetizer. These contain an assortment of vegetables and meat.

You should have no problem locating a variety of kebobs in Lawrence. Several ethnic restaurants feature them on their menus, and supermarkets offer ready-to-go kebobs in their meat-and-seafood cases. Then, of course, you could choose your own favorite ingredients and grill some yourself.

This is a perfect time to enjoy kebobs — an easy, attractive dish that people will love — according to Jim Swoyer, service meat manager at Hy-Vee Food Store, 4000 W. Sixth St.

“They’re fast to cook, they’re nutritious, they make a great party item because they’ve got a lot of color to them, they’re fun to eat, and you’ve got everything done together — the meat and the vegetables. You can be very creative, too,” he says.

His meat department offers three kinds of 10-ounce, pre-made beef kebobs, three kinds of chicken kabobs and a pork kebob. The meats are accompanied by red onions, green peppers, mushrooms and cherry or grape tomatoes, plus a choice of spices.

“We expand our section (of kebobs) starting about the first of April. They’re selling really well right now. They’re awesome for July Fourth,” Swoyer says.

Flavorful, moist finger food

There is no one style of kebobs — this dish is as varied as the many cultures who enjoy them.

“Shish kabobs are popular all over the Indian subcontinent. The Nepalese word for it would be sekuwa, ‘something that’s grilled,’ that’s what it basically means,” says Subarna Bhattachan, co-owner of Zen Zero, 811 Mass., a restaurant with a menu of Asian dishes built around rice and noodles.

“You’ll find it everywhere from fancy restaurants to roadside stalls. Kebobs are very common in India, as well as the Middle East.”

¢ Wooden skewers must be soaked at least 30 minutes in water that is warm to the touch before use. This keeps them from easily catching fire.¢ Wash all meats and seafood thoroughly and pat dry before skewering or adding to marinade.¢ Be sure to marinate in the refrigerator to avoid food-borne bacteria.¢ Meats should be cut in uniform 1- to 2-inch cubes for quick and even cooking.¢ Choose firm-textured shellfish and fish, such as salmon, tuna, mahi mahi, swordfish and shark.¢ When using marinade, a large, heavy-duty bag works well. Be sure to get most of the air out before sealing so the contents are covered. Turn the bag often while marinating.¢ Marinade is not necessary. You also can season with herbs and spices.¢ Be sure to marinate for at least 30 minutes before cooking.¢ A light spray of cooking oil will help keep the kebobs from sticking. Turn the kebobs often for even cooking.Source: Kebob recipes

Bhattachan is a native of Nepal, who studied in India before coming to the United States.

Zen Zero offers several types of satays, a Southeast Asian interpretation of kebobs. They are typically cubes or thin slices of beef, pork, chicken, seafood and vegetables grilled on bamboo skewers, often paired with a peanut sauce.

The restaurant has three kinds on its menu: chicken, shrimp and a vegetarian option with Portobella mushrooms and eggplant.

For the chicken satay, strips of poultry are marinated in yellow curry powder, coconut milk, sugar and fish sauce (an Asian, all-purpose condiment). The shrimp is marinated in red curry paste, coconut milk, sugar and fish sauce. And the mushroom-and-eggplant satay gets a teriyaki marinade.

Sometimes the restaurant will offer beef or pork satays, and spice them Nepalese style with fresh ginger and garlic, cilantro, curry and a little lemon or lime juice.

“Kebobs and satays are good finger food. The marinades that you use make them flavorful, and the type of cooking (grilling) keeps the meats very moist,” Bhattachan says.

His restaurant isn’t the only place in town to find kabobs of one kind or another.

Mad Greek, 907 Mass., offers a traditional, Greek dish called souvlaki. It’s marinated, spiced pork that is cubed and grilled on skewers.

India Palace, 129 E. 10th St., has two kinds of kebobs. There is a seekh kebob with finely minced lamb, chopped onions, garlic, ginger, herbs and potatoes, placed on skewers and baked in a clay oven, which is called a tandoor. There’s also a bodi kebob — leg of lamb marinated in yogurt and Indian spices, cubed, skewered and baked in the tandoor.

Pochi Tea Station, 125 E. 10th St., serves Indonesian-style satay with spiced, marinated chicken that is deep-fried on a skewer (the kitchen isn’t equipped to grill), served with cubes of cucumber.

Choose colorful vegetables

Swoyer, of Hy-Vee, offers some guidelines to keep in mind when preparing kebobs at home.

They can be either broiled or grilled, he says.

“In the summertime, I like to grill them. With beef, just cook it to your desired doneness — rare, medium or well done. With chicken, you should grill it to between 165 and 170 degrees; that will vary from 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how far it is from the flame and whether you have the lid up or down,” Swoyer says.

Another rule of thumb for preparing chicken for kebobs is to cook it until the juices run clear, turning once. If the chicken is cubed, some people like to turn the skewers four times, to get each side.

In any case, grilled chicken should have an internal temperature of between 155 and 160 degrees. The same goes for pork.

As far as vegetables, let eye appeal and taste be your guide.

“I might use a Vidalia onion, because they’re real sweet. Red onions add a lot of color,” Swoyer says.

“Try red, green, yellow peppers, a variety of onions. You could add chunks of zucchini or yellow squash. Mix it up.”