Speared meat: It's a treat in many different cultures

Entertaining

Call them what you will -- kebabs, brochettes -- they're always delicious

Sunday Gourmet

July 11, 2004|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Tribune Media Services

Shish kebabs, yakitori, satays, brochettes. Those names all bring skewer cookery to mind.

The Turks put small chunks of meat, typically lamb, on skewers and a pair of Turkish-derived words (sis, meaning skewer, and kebabiu, denoting small chunks of meat) are used around the world to describe many speared dishes. The Japanese are famous for the skewered chicken combination yakitori (yaki, meaning grilled, and tori, meaning fowl). Indonesians call their delectable beef or chicken skewers satays. While French cooks designate anything served on wooden sticks as brochettes. And that's just a sampling. Countless countries around the globe boast skewered specialties.

No matter what cuisine you draw upon, meats, poultry, fish or vegetables prove irresistible when skewered and grilled to a juicy tenderness. And what style of cooking is better suited for summer entertaining? First, there's the versatility factor. You can skewer cubed leg of lamb, splurge and cut up beef tenderloin for kebabs or thread shrimp or scallops on skewers. Skewered dishes are also ideal make-ahead preparations. Often the featured ingredient is diced or sliced, then marinated or seasoned and speared in advance. Finally, whether you've decided on brochettes or shish kebabs, skewered food, which is cut into bite-sized pieces, takes little time to cook on the grill.

Recently, I prepared a new speared dish. I asked the butcher to cube some boneless leg of lamb and I put the meat in a simple marinade flavored with lemon, olive oil and thyme. The lamb cubes were skewered with colorful red and yellow bell pepper squares and the meat and peppers quickly grilled.

A refreshing yogurt sauce seasoned with chopped mint, cumin and cucumbers, plus grilled pita wedges, proved to be fine garnishes for this quick and easy skewered entree.

Lamb Kebabs With Cucumber Dipping Sauce

Makes 4 servings

2 to 3 large thick-skinned lemons

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup or more olive oil, divided use

2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 1/2 -inch cubes

1 cup plain (unflavored) yogurt

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus several sprigs for garnish

1/4 cup finely chopped cucumber that has been peeled, seeded

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 medium red bell pepper

1 medium yellow bell pepper

2 large (about 7- to 8-inch) whole wheat or plain pita breads

Grate enough lemon peel to yield 2 teaspoons zest and juice them to yield 1/4 cup juice. Place zest and juice in a bowl. Add garlic, thyme and 1/2 teaspoon each of kosher salt and pepper. Whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil.

Place lamb cubes in a shallow nonreactive dish or in a large, heavy-duty resealable plastic bag. Pour marinade over lamb and cover with plastic wrap or seal in plastic bag. Refrigerate while marinating, turning several times, at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before grilling.

If using wooden skewers, soak 4 long skewers in water 30 minutes before grilling, then pat dry. (If using metal skewers, no need to soak.)

To make the cucumber sauce, whisk together yogurt, chopped mint, cucumber, cumin and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium bowl. (Sauce can be prepared 6 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving.)

When ready to grill meat, oil a grill rack and arrange it 4 to 5 inches from heat source. Remove lamb from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Halve bell peppers, remove seeds and membranes, and then cut them into 1-inch squares. Skewer lamb, alternating cubes with red or yellow peppers. Brush lamb and peppers lightly with olive oil. Cut each pita into four wedges and brush outsides of each wedge with olive oil.

Grill lamb skewers, turning often so that lamb and vegetables cook on all sides, about 8 minutes. When done, lamb should be rosy pink inside and peppers charred around the edges. Watch carefully because cooking time can vary, depending on type of grill used.

While meat is cooking, place pita wedges on grill and cook until lightly browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.

Serve skewers on a platter garnished with several mint clusters and with grilled pita wedges. Serve cucumber sauce in a small serving bowl or in 4 small ramekins.

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