Late spring is the time when glorious fresh produce makes our meals come alive again after a long winter. Local markets stock a wider array of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the produce suddenly doesn't taste like it was picked while still green and "ripened" on a boat from Peru.
I have several favorites in this season: asparagus, berries of any sort, and pineapple. There is nothing on this planet like a fresh pineapple. Sweet and sharp, I can eat it until the acidity wears away the lining of my mouth and makes further indulgence impossible.
Until recently, I had only eaten pineapple cold and raw. Thankfully, a friend introduced me to the delight that is grilled pineapple.
The grilling process caramelizes the sugars in the fruit and softens the sharp acidic edges while intensifying the flavor. How simply applying heat can at once soften and intensify the same food, I will never know; I attribute it to the magical alchemy that is cooking.
With backyard barbecue season in full swing, grilled pineapple is an easy way to infuse a little life into something that can become routine, and elevate you from simple burger flipper to Grillmaster Extrarordinaire.
You can serve pineapple as a light dessert, by cutting into long spears, brushing with a bit of honey and a dash of black pepper before grilling. You can cut a whole pineapple into quarters and grill it with the rind still on, then eat it like a slice of watermelon. It complements steak teriyaki nicely and sends pork into orbit.
My current favorite is Hawaiian chicken kebabs. Colorful and flavorful, these skewers are something a bit less ordinary than you usually see on your grill, and make for a nice departure from the same old burgers and such. Inexpensive ingredients and ease of preparation have made it my go-to recipe this season.
There are various schools of thought on proper kebab grilling technique. One says that you should turn the kebabs often, frequently applying more marinade. I prefer to leave the kebabs alone. Turning them only once allows for those beautiful grill marks that make you look like you really know what you're doing.
Side dish options abound, but given the already complex and bold flavors in these kebabs, I suggest a simple serving of steamed brown rice for a well-balanced meal that includes lean protein, fruit, veggies and whole grain. Have it with a glass of low-fat milk, and your nutritionist may just weep for joy. Have it with a beer at the end of a long, hot summer day, and you may just weep for joy.
Hawaiian Chicken Kebabs
Active prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup fresh pineapple
1 cup whole mushrooms
1 cup bell pepper
1 cup fresh asparagus
1/2 red onion
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup pineapple juice
3/4 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
1/16 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
To make the marinade, heat the first four ingredients in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until well blended. Remove the pan from heat and allow to cool.
You can assemble the meal and cook immediately with good results, but for full flavor potential, I recommend marinating the chicken overnight. Place marinade and chicken in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Believe me, you'll be glad you did; what was once simple chicken and sauce becomes the tenderest, most flavorful meat you've ever tasted after just a few hours.
To make the transition from ingredients to kebabs, all you need is a large sharp knife and a few skewers. Either wood or metal skewers work well, though the ingredients seem to slide back and forth less on wooden skewers, and you have less potential to burn yourself.
Rinse the produce thoroughly. Cut the chicken, pineapple, bell pepper and onions into large cubes about the size of silver dollars and chop the asparagus into 3-inch spears. Leave mush-rooms whole.
Assemble kabobs in an alternating pattern on your skewers until you run out of either skewers or ingredients. Generously brush the remaining marinade over the assembled kebabs.
If you have a grill with temperature control, cook them on medium-high heat for 10-12 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, turning once. If your grill is more low-tech, you can tell that the chicken is done when juices run clear and the meat no longer sticks to the grill surface.
What an interesting idea. I used this recipe at my cookout last night, and it was a hit. Everyone gobbled it up so quickly, I wish I had made more. Looking forward to the next inventive idea...