While most food items tend to look prettier in food magazines than they ever do when prepared in my kitchen, there are a few dishes that take the cake (expertly styled with self-tanning spray, of course). I’ve intimately come to realize that skewers and kebabs are at the top of this list.
Usually on Martha’s Vineyard, my mother and I cave to my dad’s pescatarian ways and put our cravings for Kobe hot dogs and roast chicken on the back burner…at least until lunch the next day. But since Charlie was coming to visit, I figured it was as good a time as any to indulge in our carne cravings. And thus, a meal of surf and turf kebabs (with a 1:3 ratio of surf to turf) was born.
I came across this beautiful image of kebabs with zucchini thinly sliced and threaded onto the skewers like an elegant accordion. I thought this would be the perfect compliment to some lamb marinated in lemon, garlic, and Middle Eastern spices like ground cumin and ginger. I soon discovered that without a mandolin to cut the squash paper thin, this idea was much more beautiful in theory (i.e. in a magazine) than in practice.
Not only did 75 percent of my zucchini planks snap in half as I tried to thread them on the skewers, but even after a good soak, the bamboo still managed to catch on fire. The end result, though delicious, looked like a hot charred mess. At least, in comparison to the original inspiration.
Luckily, the second half of the dish, which was also inspired by a food magazine (for non-aesthetic reasons), turned out to be more of a success.
I came across this recipe for Lebanese tomato salsa in a summer issue of Bon Appetit and thought the title sounded really interesting. The ingredient list was so simple—no unusual spices, just cayenne pepper and the optional addition of a little mint at the end—that I wondered what really made it taste Lebanese. But somehow together with the simmered fresh tomatoes and garlic, the salsa was nuanced and surprising with a slight Middle Eastern kick. More importantly, it was perfect for slathering all over my imperfect marinated lamb kebabs and calling it a meal.
It blows my mind that grilling season is almost over—I feel like I barely got the chance to fire up the barbie and throw some not-so-uniformly cut cubes of meat on there and cause an accidental bonfire. Luckily Labor Day provides us with a last hoorah to do just that. So if you don’t mind your picture being a little bit less than perfect, and/or your skewers being a little bit more sassed up by salsa, give these marinated lamb kebabs a try.
Grilled Lamb Kebabs with Lebonese Fresh Tomato Salsa
For the marinade:
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme optional
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the skewers:
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb cut into 1-inch cubes
- 4 small summer squash or zucchini or cut into thin planks, thinly sliced on a mandolin
- Ten 8-inch bamboo skewers soaked for 20 minutes in water
- 1 cup Lebanese fresh tomato salsa
- Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a resealable plastic bag. Add the lamb and toss to coat. Marinade in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Preheat an indoor grill pan or outdoor grill.
- Thread the zucchini ribbons and lamb onto the skewers, alternating, until you have 3 of each ingredient per skewer. You should have 8-10 kebabs total.
- Grill the lamb over high heat until nicely browned on all sides, 6-8 minutes total for medium rare.
- Serve the lamb on a platter alongside the Lebonese fresh tomato salsa.
I didn't have a mandolin and found that ever my thinnest squash slices tended to break when I tried to thread them. Don't worry if yours do too. You can cut the slices into 1-inch pieces to make this easier.