Kebob meals

Memorial Day is the traditional kickoff of the cookout season. Although many people grill all year long, I don’t usually fire up my old Weber kettle until the last weekend in May. In fact, I am about to break down and buy a Weber state-of-the-art gas grill because I can’t stand fiddling with charcoal anymore.

The menu for Memorial Day often includes hot dogs and hamburgers for the kids, although I know adults who would rather have a burger than grilled salmon. Kebobs have become so popular, supermarkets sell them already made up. If you are really harried, just buy a bunch of them and enjoy.

I like to prepare my own kebobs and offer an assortment to my family and friends. Chicken, tenderloin of beef, lamb and vegetables are threaded onto skewers and go on the grill.

You can save time by asking your butcher to cut the ingredients into 2-inch chunks for you. I usually do so but enjoy cutting the vegetables myself. Red, green and yellow plump bell peppers, sweet Vidalia onions and whole cherry tomatoes are excellent choices. You may know by now that my husband Edward loathes zucchini, but if you like it, include the squash in your kebob.

If you are using wooden skewers, make sure you soak them in water first as you don’t want them to burn. Metal skewers are a better choice because they save time. Be sure you are wearing protective gloves if you turn the kebobs by hand. I usually use long metal tongs.

Marinades give chicken, beef, lamb and vegetables a marvelous flavor. Just go to the grocery store and buy a bottle. The variety today is dazzling: There’s Asian-inspired marinade, rich with sesame oil and soy sauce; a host of hot and spicy; Cuban and South American flavors that give a tasty kick, and marinades laced with fruit. Mango still has a strong presence, although I find it too sweet. I like the acid flavor of citrus, particularly lime.

Kebobs are very Middle Eastern, yet should you be fortunate enough to be invited to a Russian-Jewish wedding, bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah or birthday party, kebobs will be brought to the table during the multi-course feast.

Side dishes should reflect the Middle East as well. I grew up on chopped eggplant salad and serve it once the warm weather arrives. My family also enjoys cool couscous salad; cucumber salad, which is Hungarian in origin but fits in nicely here; chopped Israeli salad, health salad and many more.

The past few Memorial Day weekends were washouts. The unusually hot weather we have been having just may continue if we are lucky. Last year it was cold and raining well into June.

Here are side dishes to go with kebobs.


Chopped Eggplant

Ingredients:

1 large plump purple eggplant
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Pierce the eggplant all over with a fork. Microwave on high for 20-30 minutes, depending on the power of your oven. Check the eggplant after 20 minutes. If it’s not really soft, return to the microwave and cook on high for a few more minutes.

Remove the eggplant and allow to cool. When it is cool enough to handle, cut it in half and carefully scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Place the flesh in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the eggplant is chopped. Don’t overdo it. You don’t want to end up with mush.

Place the chopped eggplant in a bowl. Add the onion and stir well to combine. Add the olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. Blend well.

Serves six.

Note from Phyllis: This is my grandmother’s recipe. Some people add a bit of lemon juice, a few chopped garlic cloves and a tablespoon or two of tahini, which is sesame paste. Sometimes I garnish chopped eggplant with chopped Italian parsley leaves or coriander leaves. Feel free to add any of these ingredients.


Cool Couscous Salad

Ingredients:

1 (16-ounce) box couscous
Handful golden raisins
6 dried apricots, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup olive oil

Directions:

Cook the couscous according to the directions on the package. Place the couscous in a pretty serving bowl. Allow to cool. Add the remaining ingredients except for the olive oil and blend well. Add the olive oil and blend again.

Place the couscous in the refrigerator. Remove about one hour before you wish to serve it.

Serves six to eight.


Chopped Salad

Ingredients:

1 large head iceberg lettuce, chopped
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 red, green or yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 scallions with some green, finely sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Place all the salad ingredients in a serving bowl and toss well. Add kosher salt and pepper and toss again. Toss with French dressing, 1890-style (recipe follows).

Serves four to six.


French Dressing 1890 Style
From It’s All American Food by David Rosengarten

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon celery salt

Directions:

Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Makes 3/4 cup.

Note from Phyllis: I grew up on Kraft 1890 salad dressing. It had a marvelous tomato-like tang. My mom used it to marinate chicken before she baked it or we just poured it on our nightly tossed salad. Now Rosengarten has given us the recipe. I say a big "thank you."


Hungarian Cucumber Salad

Ingredients:

3 large English cucumbers, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 large lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Chopped fresh dill

Directions:

Place the cucumbers in a serving bowl. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and toss well. Add the kosher salt and pepper and toss again. Top the salad with chopped fresh dill.

Serves six.

Note from Phyllis: Make this salad the night before or early in the day. Place in the refrigerator. Toss from time to time so the flavors will meld. Some people use cider vinegar in place of lemon juice. If you use vinegar, add a teaspoon or two of sugar and toss well.