Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Grilled Curried Lamb Shish Kebobs—Savory, Summery, Ecstasy


Nothing says Spring savory fun like kebobs (kabobs). And the secret of fabulous kebobs is marinating in advance. When the meat and veggies soak in a piquant marinade, they evolve into something different altogether, something irresistible when grilled. Now, you have to be generous with salt—marinating is not a good time to ration salt. Salt brings out the gorgeous flavor of meats. And lamb, ahhhhh, the king of all meats, for serious omnivores. Get as fresh a lamb leg as possible and as local as possible (not always an option—stores around here carry mostly New Zealand or Ozzie lamb, which is a bummer—why aren’t there more U.S. lamb ranches?). We always make some vegetable-only kebabs, too, for our vegetarian friends (marinate the vegetable separately to keep it all copacetic). Don’t be afraid of kebobs. Just take it in two steps: marinate the pieces the first day and load the kebobs and grill the second day.

 

Meat Preparation:

1 boneless Leg of Lamb (three to four pounds--can substitute beef tri-tip)
2 tablespoons Ground Cumin Seeds
2 tablespoons Ground Coriander Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Turmeric (optional)
½ teaspoon Ground Cardamom Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Fennel Seeds
1 teaspoon Ground Black Peppercorns
1 teaspoon Salt per pound of meat used
1 tablespoon Grated Ginger Root
1 tablespoon Crushed Garlic
½ cup Olive Oil—or more to get slightly sloshy consistency

 

Vegetable Preparation:

4 to 5 cups Assorted Vegetables [Cut in 1 to ½ inch chunks]
Use summer squash, zucchini, patty pan, Vidalia or other sweet onions, green onions, mushrooms, asparagus, green, red, or orange peppers, etc. Veggies that don’t work well are both hard veggies (such as potatoes, parsnips, and carrots—because they won’t cook through in the same amount of time as the rest of the items on the kebobs) or soft veggies (because they’ll fall apart—don’t use tomatoes or white mushrooms, though portabellas would be good).

1 tablespoon Ground Cumin Seeds
1 tablespoon Ground Coriander Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Turmeric
½ teaspoon Ground Cardamom Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Fennel Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Black Peppercorns
1 teaspoon Salt
1 tablespoon Grated Ginger Root
1 tablespoon Crushed Garlic
3 tablespoons Olive Oil—or more to get slightly sloshy consistency

 

Putting It All Together

Make this recipe one day in advance to knock your guests out with ecstasy. If you are short on time, at least prepare it in the AM and grill it in the PM—but no less time than that, as the spices won’t get into the meat and veggies otherwise.
Marinate the lamb chunks, the spices, and the wine and oil (listed under Meat Preparation) in one large Zip-lock freezer bag. Keep refrigerated for one to two days, turning the bag each time you open the refrigerator to distribute the marinade. If the marinade is not sufficient to coat all the pieces luxuriously (if lamb leg is too big), then double the marinade quantities.
In the same way, marinate the veggies in the spices and wine and oil (listed under Vegetable Preparation) in a large freezer bad and turn every time you open the refrigerator door.
When you are ready to grill, use wooden skewers and alternately skewer meat chunk, veggie chunk, meat chunk, veggie chunk, etc., leaving at least an inch at the bottom and the top of the skewer.
Grill, turning occasionally, until you see some charring on the edges of the onions and the meat looks cooked through.
Enjoy with rice and a salad for a terrific and simple summer meal. 

Key words: kebob, kabob, kebab, skewer

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sangria: The Taste of Joy and Summertime


¡Sangre, Sangria, San–gracias!
From the Spanish word for blood, sangre, comes the bloody well delightful wine punch, sangria. Sangria is wine when it dons a fiesta dress, puts a flower behind its ear, and starts to PARTY! Sangria is the taste of joy and summertime, and can't be beat for "awe versus effort" factor. Remarkable, in fact, that a beverage served only in warm regions or when the summer sets in in earnest, a beverage that makes guests lurch toward it with gigantic grins, could be so ridiculously easy to make. The hardest part, really, is deciding which kind to make, what variations to play with, and how best to use what you have on hand. (Two major pieces of joy in cooking are 1) Getting the most awe for your effort, and 2) Using what you have on hand first. If you are struggling to make a dish that hardly raises an eyebrow, you're not going to be a happy chef. Nor will you be if you have to dash off to the store for ingredient-hunting expeditions!)
Sangria Breakdown
Here are the nitty gritty factors about sangria. Once you know these, you can whip up your own sans recipe. Just pour, chop, mix, ice, and enjoy!
  1. Start with any kind of wine you like--cheap wine, fine wine, sparkling wine, dessert wine, red wine, white wine--it all tastes fabulous when sangriad. (Note: cheap wine may give you a residual yucky feeling the next day, unless you go with a good brand, like Two-buck Chuck. More on this later.)
  2. For each bottle of wine you use, add roughly HALF the equivalent quantity of other liquids. The liquid portion could be sparkling water (good because it adds no sugar), fruit juice, sweetened sodas (like ginger ale), lemonade, or a combination. Only add more than that with caution, or your sangria will become too diluted. Feel free to add less, though, for a more potent version. But taste test to be sure.
  3. Add about two cups of fruit per bottle of wine--fresh, frozen, or a combination. Mixed fruit, all-one-fruit--you are the designer of this punch. But I do recommend you use at least a bit of fresh citrus--because it lends such a punch to the punch. Use fruit that looks pretty floating in the sangria, like peaches and sliced strawberries. Yum! Probably best to avoid bananas or any starchy fruit, but pretty much anything else goes nicely in sangria. Pineapple. Blueberries--why not?
  4. Add a kicker, if you like, in the form of 1/4 cup of booze per bottle of wine. This could be brandy or a flavored liquor, such as Grand Marnier, Kirsch, Chambord, Triple Sec, Limoncello, etc. Stay away from whiskey, bourbon, and dark liquors, but rum or vodka work wonderfully. The kicker step is optional.
  5. Taste the pre-chilled sangria to see if it's sweet enough. If not, you may want to add a bit of simple sugar. (Simple sugar is just sugar mixed with water, and then microwaved so that the sugar dissolves. You do not want crunchy sugar crystals in your drink!) I don't add sugar to my sangria, but it's all good. If you usually add sugar to your sangria, I'd suggest adding a fruit juice first, and then tasting it. It may be sweet enough as is.
  6. Cover, and let the fruit, wine, and liquid mixture rest in a refrigerator for at least two hours if you have time. This lets the flavors have a chance to mingle and get happy before their big debut. Chilling means you won't have to add ice. Ice will dilute and change the proportions of your mix-mastering.
  7. Garnish, if you like, with a few slices of fresh fruit. Citrus looks lovely, a giant strawberry would work. Pineapple too. Have fun with it.
Sangria Suggestions
  • If you live within proximity to the almighty foodie heaven called Trader Joe's, you are in luck! They sell a delightful, inexpensive wine of Napa Valley vintage called "Charles Shaw," owned by the Bronco Wine Company, and that costs a meager $1.99 per bottle. You heard right. (Surely it's more than that just to bottle the stuff.) Affectionately known as Two-buck Chuck, this stuff is decidedly NOT rotgut--it's a drinkable wine, and the absolutely best option for sangria-making. But you can use whatever wine you have on hand. Probably not a great idea to bury a truly high-end wine in a punch, but, hey, if you are feeling magnanimous—or desperate—go for it.
  • Don't forget the option of using champagne! Oh, how lovely those bubbles taste in a sangria. Whoo-hoo! You are gonna love it!
  • You can add a bit of spice by squeezing some grated ginger root into your sangria. Guaranteed to be a fun surprise for your guests. Love the combo of champagne-peaches-ginger juice-ginger ale. I made that for a Christmas party, and it was da bomb! Ginger juice works better with white-wine based sangrias than red ones, though.
  • Think about keeping some choice frozen fruit on hand--like mixed berries, mango, or pineapple--these not only are fruit that may not be in season otherwise, but the sheer coldness of the frozen fruit kicks the sangria up a notch. But if you do use frozen fruit, at least add SOME fresh fruit. Why? Because the frozen fruit isn't as pretty, usually, as fresh fruit is. Part of the appeal of sangria is visual. Think circles of citrus dancing lazily in frosty glasses. Guests languishing happily around your patio table.

¡Viva la Sangria!