Recently, my husband and I went to a local Mediterranean restaurant with several friends. It was late, and everyone was starving, so we ordered an appetizer plate. As we passed plates and pita bread, words like "falafel," "hummus," and "zakeeki sauce" flew back and forth across the table. For just a moment, I leaned back in my chair and pondered how international we all sounded. Do young friends in Turkey gather together on Friday nights to try out pizza, burgers and diet Coke?
I ordered shish kebabs, which are small chunks of grilled meat and vegetables on a stick. My mom used to make them, often with very non-traditional ingredients, like venison and eggplant. It started me thinking. Whenever I think and eat, I think about the origin of food.
I did some hardcore, serious research about kebabs. I went to the library, and after a struggle, found some information on the meals on a stick and their shadowy beginnings.
I finally discovered one paragraph in a book called "The Oxford Companion to Food" by Alan Davidson. His formal definition of shish kebab is "an English culinary term … meaning small chunks of meat grilled on a skewer." Basically, you put some meat on a stick and cook it. Got it.
Shish kebabs came out of the Middle East, where they arose from the nomadic culture of the people. After riding or walking all day long, the nomads were hungry and didn't want to wait for the time it would take to roast an entire animal. So they would build a little fire (little because it is hard to find fuel in the desert), cut some meat into bite-size pieces and roast it quickly. I can relate to this. When I get home at night, I'll eat anything that can be ready in less than 30 seconds. No, I don't build small, hot-burning fires, but I might if I didn't have a microwave.
The shish kebab became a food of distinction during the time that the Ottoman sultans were at the height of their power in Istanbul, in the 16th and 17th centuries. At the Topkapi Palace (the sultans' headquarters), a staff of 1,300 chefs and assistants sweated in the hot kitchens to refine foods that would tickle the demanding taste buds of the sultans. During that time of trial and error, Turkish cuisine emerged to become one of the great cuisines of the world.
The good news is that you don't have to be a sultan, or even nomadic, to make kebabs. Before you get started, make sure you have these utensils and appliances:
8 kebab sticks (wooden or metal)
1 large Ziploc bag
Electric egg beater
Large cookie sheet
4 small plates or bowls
Medium size saucepan
SHISH KEBABS (Serves 4)
3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup canola or saffl ower oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon chile pepper
1/2 cup water
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 red onion
1 large red bell pepper
4 cups cooked brown rice
Add all marinade ingredients to blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. Cut chicken into small cubes. Place in large ziplock bag; cover with marinade. Put in fridge for at least 30 minutes. If you are using wooden kebab sticks, place in a large bowl and cover with water. Soak for at least 30 minutes so they won't catch fi re in the oven. While chicken is marinating, cut onions into small chunks. Slice zucchini into thin rounds. Cut red bell pepper into small pieces. Set aside. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a large cookie sheet with cooking spray. Take chicken out of fridge. Drain and discard marinade. Pat chicken dry with paper towel. Drain kebab skewers. Hold onto blunt end of skewer. Place chicken and vegetables on skewer in whatever order desired. Place loaded skewers onto cookie sheet. Place in oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked thoroughly. Serve kebabs over rice.
Great Article. Believe it or not, it is cheaper to serve a dinner party of four with shish kababs and a bed of rice than seerving one whole steak to one guest and just think of adding the cost of serving shrimp as the main dish.
You can do so many things with kababs and smoked veggies are excellent on the skewer - even without the meat. I prefer the vegatables and the meats grilled rather than oven cooked.
This was a fun and light article. Thanks! I enjoyed reading it - especialy since I had developed a brain ache after responding to another article. (smile - yet serious).