Kebabs make it a party: 3 marinades for 3 meats

By Robin Mather
Chicago Tribune
Smoked bacon wraps shrimp that has been marinaded in a wine-citrus-garlic mixture. Comeback sauce, a Mississippi staple of mayo, ketchup, hot sauce and flavorings, right, makes a fine companion. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

 It’s officially grilling season. Steaks, chicken, burgers and hot dogs will grace the grill through summer’s sultry afternoons and long, soft evenings.

For special occasions, though, offering kebabs will please everyone at the table. Though they’re a little fussy to make, kebabs invariably delight diners. What is it about dinner on a stick?

We have marinades suitable for beef, lamb and shrimp, with suggestions for sauces and side dishes that will make your grilling adventure a success.

First, a couple of tips. Skewer meat and vegetables separately. Although the ready-made kebabs offered at grocery store meat counters look appealing, meat and vegetables cook at different speeds. Putting them on the same skewer will mean underdone meat and perfect vegetables — or perfect meat and overdone vegetables. Cherry tomatoes always seem to fall off during cooking.

Leave a bit of space between the pieces when you skewer them so each can cook to perfection.

Vegetable kebabs don’t have to be limited to peppers, zucchini, cherry tomatoes and onion. Try making mushroom skewers, mixing portobello, cremini, white button and shiitake. Or consider ratatouille skewers of Japanese eggplant rounds, zucchini, jarred roasted peppers and onion chunks. Squash skewers could include chopped butternut squash — buy the pre-cut stuff at the grocery, and precook it until it can just be pierced with a fork — as well as zucchini and yellow squash. Crucifer skewers of blanched cauliflower, broccoli florets and Brussels sprouts sweeten when grilled. Mix suitable fruits with vegetables if you like; pineapple’s a good choice, as are peaches.

Whatever your vegetable skewer choices, cook them on a cooler area of the grill, and brush them as they cook with olive oil warmed with crushed garlic, a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Plan on one to two skewers of meat or shrimp and one of vegetables for each guest. But you don’t have to serve the vegetables on the skewers. Slide the cooked vegetables off onto a platter, and everyone can have some of everything.

Whether you choose wooden or metal skewers, select long ones rather than short. Doing so gives the chef a cooler part of the skewer to use as a handle, which makes turning the kebabs easier.

Kebabs cook quickly, so you’ll need to babysit them at the grill, turning them frequently.

Lime-marinated skirt or flank steak pairs nicely with saffron rice and a sauce of harissa or Sriracha thinned with Greek yogurt to soften its fierce heat. We like skirt and flank steak for their intensely beefy flavor, but there’s a trick to these sometimes-tough cuts. Slice them across the grain and at an oblique angle — aim for about a 45-degree angle. The strips will be wider, and more tender to the tooth.

If lamb kebabs are your choice, the herby Yemeni sauce called z’hug complements lamb’s richness and stands up to the flavors of its robust marinade. Serve on a bed of regular or Israeli couscous — the multicolored large couscous makes an attractive plate.

Shrimp marinated in white wine with orange juice and zest, green onion, crushed garlic and black pepper, then wrapped in bacon before skewering offers a fresh, citrusy flavor profile with smoky overtones. The traditional Mississippi favorite comeback sauce is a fine companion (and it’s easy to make).

Steamed or boiled rice dressed with a profusion of chopped fresh herbs — parsley, cilantro, marjoram, thyme, summer savory or a mix, are good choices — would set off the plate beautifully.

Robin Mather is a longtime food journalist and the author of “The Feast Nearby,” a collection of essays and recipes from a year of eating locally on a very strict budget.



Prep: 40 minutes

Marinate: 8 hours

Grill: 8-10 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

Skirt steak is a good choice for these kebabs because of its fattiness, which keeps the meat from drying out. If you can’t find it, substitute flank steak, cut in the same way. Threading the strips of steak onto the skewer satay-style means these kebabs will cook very quickly — don’t leave them untended on the grill. Zest the limes before squeezing their juice.

1 1/2 pounds skirt steak or flank steak

1/2 cup lime juice from about 8 limes

1/2 cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

1/2 teaspoon each: salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes

Grated zest from 2 limes

Additional limes, cut into quarters, for garnish

1. Lay the skirt steak across the cutting board so that a long side is nearest to you. Using a sharp knife, cut the steak into 1/2-inch thick slices across the width, angling the knife blade about 45 degrees so you make a slanting cut. Place the beef slices into a gallon zip-close plastic bag.

2. In a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine lime juice, olive oil, garlic, mustard, salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes and zest. Whiz until everything is combined, about 1 minute.

3. Pour the marinade into the zip-close bag with the beef; seal the top. Knead the bag briefly to make sure the marinade contacts all the beef. Refrigerate 8 to 24 hours, turning once or twice.

4. At cooking time, remove the beef from the marinade, discarding marinade. Pat excess marinade from beef slices. Thread the slices satay-style onto skewers.

5. Grill over a hot fire, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Serve with harissa-yogurt sauce and saffron rice, if desired.

Nutrition information per serving: 378 calories, 25 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 118 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 38 g protein, 176 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Lamb kebabs, front, get a marinade with lemon, wine, onions, garlic, Dijon and herbs. They go beautifully with the herb condiment called z'hug, seen in back. Steak kebabs, left, marinate in a lime-garlic-herb mixture. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)


Prep: 40 minutes

Marinate: 8 hours

Grill: 8-10 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

This garlicky marinade enhances lamb’s richness. Request that the butcher trim away fat and connective tissue if you’ve asked him or her to cut it into cubes for you. As always, discard marinade after marinating raw meat.

1/2 cup olive oil

Juice of 1 lemons

2 tablespoons dry red wine

1/2 small onion, cut into chunks

4 large cloves garlic, smashed, minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 teaspoons each: dried oregano, basil, rosemary and cumin

1/2 teaspoon each: coarse salt and black pepper

1 1/2 pounds leg of lamb, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch cubes

Z’hug, see recipe

1. In a blender or food processor fitted with a steel knife, combine olive oil, lemon juice, wine, onion, garlic, Dijon mustard, dried herbs and salt and pepper. Whiz until the mixture thickens — it will look like mayonnaise when you’re done.

2. Pour the marinade into a gallon zip-close plastic bag. Add the lamb, seal the top and knead to make sure marinade touches all the lamb pieces. Refrigerate 8 to 24 hours, turning once or twice.

3. At cooking time, remove the lamb from the marinade and pat excess marinade away with paper towels. Discard remaining marinade. Thread the lamb pieces onto skewers, with 4 or 5 cubes on each.

4. Grill over a hot fire, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Serve with z’hug and couscous, if desired.

Nutrition information per serving: 304 calories, 18 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 33 g protein, 535 mg sodium, 0 g fiber


Place 1 bunch parsley, 1 bunch cilantro, 4 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 jalapenos and 2 serrano peppers in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Whiz until the mixture is a paste, then thin with olive oil to a saucy consistency. Taste and adjust heat by adding cracked red pepper flakes to your preference.


Prep: 35 minutes

Marinate: 1 hour

Cook: 4-8 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

The acidity of the white wine and orange juice will “cook” the shrimp — just like ceviche — if the shrimp marinates too long, so let them rest for no more than 2 hours. The bacon’s smokiness echoes in the comeback sauce, enhancing the shrimp’s citrusy flavor. Zest the orange before juicing it.

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine (an oaky chardonnay would be a good choice) or vermouth

Zest and juice of 1 large navel orange

6 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled

1 teaspoon each: ground cumin, coarse salt, freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 pounds (size 21-25) shrimp

1 pound smoked bacon

Comeback sauce, see recipe

1. Combine olive oil, wine, orange zest and juice, green onions, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper in a gallon zip-close plastic bag. Add the shrimp, seal the top and knead briefly to make sure all shrimp contact the marinade. Refrigerate, 1 to 2 hours, turning once.

2. At cooking time, remove the shrimp from the marinade and pat excess marinade away with paper towels. Discard the marinade.

3. Cut the bacon crosswise into half-length pieces. Wrap a shrimp with a half strip of bacon; then skewer them, making sure to pierce both ends of the bacon. Continue with remaining shrimp and bacon. You may have bacon left over.

4. Cook over a hot fire until bacon is crisp and shrimp is pink, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Serve with comeback sauce and herbed rice, if desired.

Nutrition information per serving: 416 calories, 23 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 315 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 48 g protein, 966 mg sodium, 1 g fiber


In a medium bowl, combine 3/4 cup each mayonnaise and ketchup, ¼ cup Sriracha or your favorite hot sauce, 2 tablespoons minced green onion, 1 tablespoon each lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon each dry mustard and smoked paprika, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon each black pepper and salt. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a little olive oil.