KEBABS : and for dessert

Times Staff Writer

My first encounter with kebabs was when I was 7. It was at a picnic where a group of Greek families were barbecuing. I remember a man with a huge curled mustache wearing a striped shirt, sleeves rolled, presiding over a park grill. He would turn the metal skewers threaded with bits of lamb, green peppers and onions every now and then, as smoke billowed and fragrant smells of meat and herbs wafted over the picnic grounds.

Never will I forget that aroma or the color and romance of the moment in the park. Never.

What contrast it all was to our family of picnickers who sat somberly on the grass munching on very good, but far less glamorous, fare. Why did we not barbecue, I had asked.


It was much later, as a young bride, that the idea of entertaining with kebabs suddenly struck. It was the only thing I could cook because it was so easy to do. Roasts were baffling, fish treacherous.

The wonderful thing about kebabs, I discovered, was the range of foods one can cook on a stick, the dazzling flavors that are possible, and the international roster of cuisines that, one way or another, lend inspiration.

Kebabs are not only connected to Greeks, although there is a direct historic link between the cooking done in the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor, where nomadic meat-eaters from Indo-European tribes settled and introduced methods of cooking meat on twigs and branches long enough to hold baby lambs and goats.

Ancient kebabs have traveled far and wide, wending their way into the cuisines around the globe with every wave of migration, trade route or invasion. The satay of Southeast Asia may be related to kebabs of Persia and India. And those kebabs found in Latin America may derive from Moors, who not only invaded Spain but brought their cooks to Spain before Spaniards turned to the New World for culinary conquests of their own. Kebabs (kushikatsu and yakitori) of Japan may also have European/Middle Eastern roots, thanks to Portuguese and other sailors who brought cooking ideas to its shores as well as trade.

We have devised several international kebabs using meat, fish, vegetables and fruit to suit the everyday cook whose barbecue spirit has been aroused--which, even in sunny Los Angeles where barbecue season never ceases, occurs around this time of year. That is not to say that a creative cook should not be tempted to invent combinations never heard of before.

A swordfish kebab with bay leaves between cubes of fish was inspired by the kebabs tasted in seafood restaurants along the Bosporus. Barbecued Chicken Wings have an Oriental flavor touched with chiles and soy sauce. Meatball Kebabs are influenced by herb blends, such as parsley and mint, often used in Mediterranean countries.

A Pork-Pineapple Kebab is reminiscent of the South Seas. Scallops wrapped in grape leaves is another idea derived from Middle Eastern cuisines, in which grape leaves often are used to wrap cooked foods. A Lamb Satay from Southeast Asia makes authentic use of Indonesian-style kecap, a sweetened soy sauce you can find at Oriental food stores. The accompanying Peanut Sauce is dark and rich. A ceviche-based shrimp kebab calls up Mexican flavors created by cilantro and chiles. A quick firing over hot flames cooks the shrimp to perfection.

Sausage kebabs were a direct copy of kebab appetizers cooked over a brazier by Moroccan cooks in Marrakesh. Cilantro with cumin and paprika imparts exciting flavor to a bland meat. Green or sweet red peppers also make a colorful kebab to serve as an accompaniment to meat. But any vegetable such as summer squash, small Italian (or Japanese) eggplant, onions, even radicchio or napa cabbage wedges, can be grilled. You might want to marinate the vegetables in a vinaigrette before barbecuing them.

For a whimsical touch, The Times’ kitchen staff mounted fruit kebabs in a flowerpot to serve as a centerpiece. Fruit kebabs also may be grilled slightly to heat them up, if desired.

There are a few tips for handling and cooking kebabs that might help dispel any problems. Use metal skewers for heavy or large chunks of meat to prevent skewers from breaking. Small items, such as shrimp, fruit, bite-size pieces of meat or ribbons of meat do well on bamboo skewers. If using bamboo, the skewers should be soaked thoroughly in water before using to prevent them from scorching to a point where they fall apart.

A nice thing about kebabs is that you can prepare them for cooking well ahead of time. Some cooks prefer threading foods after they marinate, whereas others prefer marinating kebabs on the skewers, but that is a matter of preference. Make sure that any metal skewers are well cleaned before using.

Because of their bite size, or small cubes, kebabs need only to be cooked quickly on the grill over medium-high heat. Tender meats may need no more than four to five minutes, with frequent turning and basting. Foods such as seafood may require only a quick firing over hot coals to prevent them from falling apart. If a barbecue grill is not available, kebabs may be broiled about four inches from the heat source, turning and basting frequently, until done as desired. Remember to always use mitts when transfering kebabs from grill to platter.

Here are some of the kebab recipes to start the festive barbecue season off with a bang.


1 1/2 pounds swordfish

1/4 cup virgin olive oil

1/4 cup lime juice

Dash cayenne pepper

Salt, pepper

18 to 21 bay leaves (fresh or dry)

Cut swordfish into 3/4-inch cubes, cutting as uniformly and neatly as possible. Place in shallow pan. Pour oil and lime juice over kebabs. Sprinkle with cayenne and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add bay leaves and carefully toss to coat well with marinade. Marinate at least 2 hours.

When ready to cook, alternate 1 swordfish cube with 1 bay leaf on metal skewer, allowing 3 to 4 cubes of fish and bay leaves per skewer. Cook over low-medium coals on barbecue grill about 4 minutes, rotating skewers to cook kebabs evenly, or until fish is done, basting often with marinade remaining in pan. Discard bay leaves when releasing fish from skewers to serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings. BARBECUED CHICKEN WINGS

2 1/2 pounds chicken wings

1/2 cup vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup chile sauce

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Cut tips from chicken wings and set aside for other use. Place remaining wing parts in single layer in large pan. Combine vinegar, water, chile sauce, sugar and soy sauce and mix well. Pour over chicken wings, turning to coat wings well. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, thread wings on metal skewers, allowing 3 or 4 per skewer. Cook over low-medium coals on barbecue grill until wings are tender, about 10 minutes, turning and basting kebabs often with marinade. Makes 6 to 8 servings. MEATBALL KEBABS

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or lamb

1 teaspoon crushed dried mint

1/2 cup chopped parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon black pepper


12 or 16 small onions

12 or 16 cherry tomatoes

Combine beef, mint, parsley, garlic, pepper and salt to taste. Mix well. Divide into 6 to 8 equal portions and shape into 1-inch balls.

Thread meatballs onto skewers alternately with onions and tomatoes, allowing 2 onions and 2 tomatoes each per skewer. Refrigerate.

When ready to cook, place over hot coals on barbecue grill and cook, turning to brown evenly on all sides, until done as desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings. SWEET AND SOUR KEBABS

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

3/4 cup oats

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

18 pineapple chunks

1 green pepper, cut into 1-inch squares

6 green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces

12 medium mushrooms

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Hot cooked rice, optional

Combine ground beef, oats, egg, salt, pepper and garlic. Mix well. Shape meat mixture around pineapple chucks to make 18 meatballs.

Alternate green peppers, meatballs, green onions and mushrooms on 6 (12- to 14-inch) skewers, threading through pineapple. Place kebabs on rack in shallow roasting pan or over medium coals on barbecue grill. Baste with Sweet and Sour Sauce.

Bake at 350 degrees about 20 minutes. Or cook over coals 10 minutes. Turn, brush with Sweet and Sour Sauce and continue baking or grilling 10 minutes longer. Serve with additional Sweet and Sour Sauce over hot cooked rice. Makes 6 servings. Sweet and Sour Sauce

1 (8-ounce) can pineapple chunks in unsweetened pineapple juice

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup maple flavored syrup

1/4 cup vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons catsup

1 clove garlic, minced

Drain pineapple. Reserve 1/4 cup juice. Set aside pineapple chunks for kebabs. In small saucepan, combine pineapple juice and cornstarch. Mix well. Add syrup, vinegar, soy sauce, catsup and garlic. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened and clear. Makes about 1 cup. HAM-MUSHROOM KEBABS

24 (1-inch) squares green pepper

24 small mushrooms

24 cubes cooked ham

1/3 cup Russian-style salad dressing

Wild Almond Rice

Alternate green pepper squares, mushrooms and ham on 6 skewers, using 4 green pepper squares, 4 mushrooms and 4 cubes ham for each skewer. Brush dressing over kebabs. Let stand 15 minutes. Broil kebabs on broiler rack 4 inches from source of heat or cook over hot coals on barbecue grill until heated through, about 2 minutes on each side. Serve with Wild Almond Rice. Makes 6 servings.

Wild Almond Rice

1 (6-ounce) package long grain and wild rice

1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds

Cook rice with seasoning packet in medium saucepan according to package directions. Stir in almonds. Makes 6 servings. SOUVLAKIA

1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb or beef sirloin, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

2 green peppers, cut into 1-inch squares

1 large onion, peeled and cut into 8 pieces

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

3 bay leaves

16 cherry tomatoes

2 (12-ounce) packages French rolls

Plain yogurt, optional

Place lamb, green peppers and onion pieces in large bowl. Mix wine, olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire, garlic, oregano and bay leaves. Pour over lamb mixture and marinate 24 hours in refrigerator.

On 10-inch skewers, thread lamb alternately with green pepper pieces, onion pieces and tomatoes. Cook over coals or broil 4 inches from source of heat 10 to 12 minutes, turning and basting frequently with marinade mixture, until meat is cooked to desired doneness. Remove from skewers and serve as filling for rolls. Dollop with yogurt. Makes 6 servings. PORK-PINEAPPLE KEBABS

1 1/2 pounds pork loin

1 small pineapple

1/4 cup oil

1/4 cup lime juice

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 teaspoon ground chili powder


Cut pork into 3/4-inch cubes. Peel and cut pineapple into 1-inch cubes, reserving 2 to 4 tablespoons juice from pineapple.

Alternate pork and pineapple cubes on long, water-soaked bamboo skewers. Place skewers in single layer in pan. Combine reserved pineapple juice, oil, lime juice, cilantro, chili powder and salt to taste and blend well. Pour over pork-pineapple cubes. Marinate 15 minutes only.

When ready to cook, place skewers over medium-hot coals and cook until pork is tender, turning and basting often with marinade, about 20 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings. GRAPE LEAF-WRAPPED SCALLOPS

24 large scallops

1/2 cup lime juice

1/4 cup oil

1 tablespoon chopped ginger root

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/2 small onion, grated

Salt, pepper

24 large preserved grape leaves

Lime wedges

Rinse scallops and pat dry. Place in single layer in large shallow pan. Combine lime juice, oil, ginger root, garlic, onion and salt and pepper to taste. Toss scallops to coat well with marinade. Marinate at least 2 hours in refrigerator.

When ready to use, place 1 large scallop in center of grape leaf. Fold envelope fashion. Thread on bamboo skewers, being sure to secure grape leaf seams, using 3 or 4 scallops per skewer.

Place skewers on barbecue grill over hot coals. Cook until scallops are done, about 5 to 7 minutes. To test doneness, open 1 grape leaf packet. Scallops are done when flesh is opaque throughout. (Charred grape leaves should be discarded.) Serve scallops with lime wedges. Makes 6 to 8 servings. LAMB SATAY

1 pound boneless leg of lamb

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, sliced

5 tablespoons Indonesian-style sweetened soy sauce (kecap)

Butter or margarine, softened

Peanut Sauce

Partially freeze lamb to make slicing easier. Cut into strips 6 inches long and 1/4 inch thick. Place in bowl and add garlic, onion and soy sauce. Mix well. Marinate at least 2 hours. Thread on long water-soaked bamboo skewers by weaving strip in and out of skewer, using 2 strips per skewer.

Cook over hot coals or place under broiler about 3 inches from source of heat and broil 2 to 3 minutes, turning once. Brush meat with softened butter. Cook about 3 minutes longer, turning once or twice. Serve with Peanut Sauce. Makes 6 to 8 servings. Peanut Sauce

2 tablespoons oil

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 to 1 whole serrano chile, seeded and chopped, optional

1 cup Indonesian-style sweetened soy sauce (kecap)

2 teaspoons lime juice

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

Heat oil in saucepan. Add onions, garlic and chile and saute until half cooked. Turn into blender or food processor and grind until fine.

Return to saucepan and add soy sauce, lime juice and peanut butter. Heat, stirring, until peanut butter melts. SHRIMP KEBABS

2 pounds large shrimp, shelled

Juice of 5 or 6 lemons

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, grated

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small serrano chile, seeded and ground

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Salt, pepper

Cilantro sprigs

Rinse shrimp. Place in bowl with lemon juice and olive oil. Marinate 5 hours. Add onion, garlic, chile, cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. Marinate 1 hour.

Thread shrimp on water-soaked bamboo skewers. Place on barbecue grill over hot coals. Cook 3 to 4 minutes or until browned. Entwine sprigs of cilantro around skewer to serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings. SPICY SAUSAGE KEBABS

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 medium onion, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon black pepper


Combine beef, parsley, cilantro, onion, cumin, paprika, pepper and salt to taste in large bowl. Mix well. Let stand at least 1 hour in refrigerator to blend flavors.

Using about 1/4 cup beef mixture per sausage, mold meat into sausage shape around flat metal skewer. Moisten hands to help mold meat. Taper ends of sausage to prevent from slipping off skewer. Place skewer on barbecue grill over hot coals. Cook, turning often to brown evenly, until done, about 10 minutes. To serve, slip sausage off skewer carefully. Makes 6 to 8 servings. ROASTED PEPPERS

3 green or sweet red peppers

2 tablespoons olive oil, optional

2 tablespoons wine vinegar, optional

Salt, pepper, optional

Thread whole peppers on skewers. Cook over medium-hot coals, turning often until skin is charred. Cool slightly, then remove from skewers and place in plastic bag to soften loose skin. Peel off skin.

Cut in halves, remove seeds, then cut into halves again. Serve plain or drizzle with oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired. Makes 6 servings. FRUIT KEBABS IN A FLOWERPOT

6 strawberries

6 (1-inch) cubes honeydew melon

6 (1-inch) cubes cantaloupe

6 (1-inch) cubes watermelon

6 wedges peaches

6 wedges plums

6 wedges apricots

6 slices papaya

6 (3/4-inch) cubes mango

6 (3/4-inch) cubes fresh pineapple

6 (3/4-inch) slices banana

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Thread strawberries on 2 (6-inch) bamboo skewers, allowing 3 berries per skewer. Thread honeydew on 2 (6-inch) bamboo skewers, allowing 3 melon cubes per skewer. Continue to thread cantaloupe, watermelon, peaches, plums, apricots, papaya, mango and pineapple on skewers, allowing 3 pieces of fruit per skewer. Dip banana slices in lemon juice and thread on 2 (6-inch) bamboo skewers, allowing 3 banana slices per skewer.

Insert small paper doily onto skewer to catch juices and keep fruit clean. Using large flowerpot filled with sand, insert ends of bamboo skewers with fruit into sand flowerpot, using varying heights for floral effect. Makes 24 skewers.

Note: If mixed fruit is desired, thread mixture of fruit desired on each skewer, allowing 3 pieces of fruit per skewer. To heat on barbecue grill, omit paper doily and used well-soaked bamboo skewers. Place over hot coals and cook a few minutes to heat through.