I know plenty of amazing cooks who are not chickenless at all. And that's fine- the world needs people who can make marinara sauce using a recipe that's been in the family for three generations. There are many ways in which I can't hold a candle to these folks. I've never made bread with yeast in it, I throw all my meat trimmings into the same tupperware container to be simmered in a single unglamorous pot of mystery broth, and I've never served a meal in my home that was intended for more than six people. But if there's one way I kick ass in the kitchen, it's at getting a trillion different variations out of a single recipe. That said, here is my professional opinion: If you ever want to take a couple little baby steps outside the box while maintaining your reputation as a slam-bang chef, shish kebab is the way to do it.
It's food on a stick, people!
And if you needed a meal on the table five minutes ago, you just can't beat broiled shish kebab. You won't get those nifty black grill marks (minor bummer), but you will get equally delicious and healthy fare in much less time. The shish kebab of meatballs, Granny Smith apples, and pre-roasted beets and sweet potatoes pictured above took me about thirty minutes. That includes meat seasoning time, skewer assembly time, cook time, arrangement time, and yes, even picture-taking time.
Here are a few goals to keep in mind that will help stimulate your imagination as you approach the art of kebabing.
Get kids to eat home-cooked meals.
Is there a kid in your family who turns up his nose at anything but Mickey-D's? Roll chunks of white meat chicken in beaten egg, bread crumbs, and salt. Skewer them. Ta-da! Homemade chicken nuggets on a stick. Who's going to reject chicken nuggets on a stick? Nobody, that's who. Maybe your kid prefers hamburgers? Try serving kebabed meatballs with a bun and condiments. Any number of different foods will work. And here's the cool part: You can modify your kiddie shish kebab recipes to get grown-up fare. Using the chicken nuggets example, add dried coconut to the batter. Swap out the ketchup for a sophisticated marmalade dipping sauce, and you've got coconut chicken to complement those pina coladas at your next cocktail party.
Play with colors.
Awhile back I made a rainbow plate; a fun and useful exercise, as my presentation skills are lacking where color is concerned. Whether you share this weakness or have excellent color juxtaposition that you would like to show off, shish kebab is a blank canvas just begging for color play.
In case you've never seen one, here is a color wheel:
Complementary color schemes are composed of opposites or near-opposites on the color wheel. These are your crowd-pleasers. Complementary schemes are attention-grabbing and mouth-watering (red tomatoes on green lettuce, for example). When company calls, try gussying up a drab brown meat, tofu, or tempeh shish kebab with bright fruits and veggies in opposing colors. For example, leave the purple skin on your eggplant; and since you're using purple as your first color, why not go with yellow bell peppers rather than red? For some beautiful examples of complementary color pairing, browse Citron et Vanille.
Analogous color schemes are composed of colors that are very, very similar. They may not even be different colors so much as different shades. A skewer of analogous foods may not have the same Wow! factor as a skewer of complementary ones, but for a low-key gathering or romantic dinner, there is something irresistibly refined about it. Picture a plateful of skewered yellow-green baby artichokes served with sunny-colored hollandaise dipping sauce, for example.
Showcase your favorite local fish, game, or produce.
There are certain people whose ears I can talk clean off about the taste of local versus imported ingredients, and they just don't get it. They think the more exotic the cuisine, the better. If you're a locavore with a garden full of fresh veggies or a river full of fresh fish, there's no better way to convert doubters than to serve them a skewer of the best your area has to offer. No glazes. No dipping sauces. Just a teensy-weensy bit of salt and pepper, maybe some fresh herbs. Let the food do the talking.
Start with a base such as hash browns, crepes, lettuce leaves, or a plain open-faced omelette. Then load your skewers up with chunks of ham or sausage, green peppers, onions, cherry tomatoes, pineapple... whatever you feel like having for breakfast today. Lay the skewers over your base after cooking, serve with appropriate condiments, and enjoy!
Many of us cook shish kebab as an entree or appetizer. But about half the trillion variations I've dreamed up can be placed in the dessert category. The following are types of fruit that hold up well on the grill or under the broiler (though bear in mind they will cook quickly; as little as two minutes per side will do the trick in most cases):
... And many more.
Now, let's expand this concept of grilled fruit on a stick! Alternate chunks of fruit with marshmallows, and serve on their own or s'more style with chocolate and graham crackers. You could also serve a skewer of colorful fruits alongside a slice of pound cake or a dish of ice cream. And as far as dipping sauces go, the possibilities are endless. Here are a few suggestions:
Chocolate Sauce or Fondue
Peanut Butter Sauce
Baked Brie with Drunken Brown Sugar Sauce
Fruit Sauce (boil down fruit juice with sugar until it thickens)
Has this post gotten your creative juices flowing? If so, what kind of shish kebab will you try next? If not, would you like me to spend more time on a particular topic or offer more suggestions? Feel free to comment or send pics of your own kebabed creations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beat the eggs. Whip the cream. Show no mercy.