Summer is in full swing, and so are the food trends people look forward to each year.

This Bulletin reporter spent an afternoon with Thor Erickson, grill master and chef instructor at the Cascade Culinary Institute of Central Oregon Community College, to learn more about the best practices for preparing a popular summer dish: kebabs.

Erickson’s son, 10-year-old Johann, picked up a sliced purple potato and slid it down a long metal skewer. Next, he went for a piece of red bell pepper and poked it through. His dad assisted with the more technical (and dangerous) component: placing the veggie skewers on the grill. When he opened the hood of the barbecue the smell of caramelized kebabs wafted through the back patio area.

Kebabs have been a staple meal for centuries. Now, they are gaining popularity as a type of street food.

“Necessity is the mother of invention in terms of everything that we eat and how it’s cooked,” Erickson explained. “Nomadic people that came into the (Middle Eastern) region found that grilling a piece of meat or cooking pieces of meat over an open fire was an easy way of sustenance.”

The beauty of the dish is that it doesn’t take long to prepare, can be made in advance and can be customized to your liking.

Erickson has created kebab recipes for readers to make in their own homes: Thai chicken and Japanese sweet potato, ground lamb, and vegetable.

Still hungry afterward? There are some how tos for grilled fruit and a recommended dessert kebab. He has also provided some tips and tricks to keep in mind.

Grill marks

Fruit and vegetable kebabs are finished when grill marks have appeared because that means the heat has extracted the natural sugars in the food and brought them to the surface.

“What I’m looking for is what real food science geeks call a good maillard reaction, and the maillard reaction is what happens when the natural sugars in food start to caramelize,” Erickson said. The sweeter something is, the quicker it will reach that point of natural caramelization.

When grilling meats, it’s important to use a food thermometer to be sure the meat is completely cooked through. For ground meats, the meat will naturally release from the grill when it is ready to be turned. If it’s difficult to flip the lamb kebabs without pulling them off the grill grates, they are not yet ready to be turned.

Colors and textures

To add to both the presentation and taste of kebabs, it’s best to have a variety of textures and colors. Vegetable skewers, especially, provide an opportunity to vary textures and use vibrantly colored foods.

“I did the purple potatoes (on the vegetable kebab). I think that having a variety of textures on a kebab or skewer is nice,” Erickson said. “The sweet potato on the chicken skewer also counteracts texture, but it’s the flavor as well.”

The contrast of a meat kebab on top of a dark green kale leaf or bright white pile of rice adds to the presentation and enhances the taste by soaking up the juices from the grilled meats.

Proper equipment

There are four pieces of equipment the chef instructor recommends having when cooking kebabs: metal skewers, tongs or an oven mitt, a food thermometer and a sharp knife.

Erickson prefers to use metal skewers for several reasons; they are sustainable, easier to manipulate and fire proof.

“If you have a wooden skewer, if it sinks through and there’s any vulnerable spot of the wood, it will just burn and then fall off,” Johann said.

“The metal skewers also provide a temperature conduit in the middle, so if you’re cooking something like chicken or ground meat, once these heat up a little bit it starts to cook in the inside as well,” Erickson explained.

It’s important to remember either tongs or an oven mitt to handle the metal skewers in order to avoid burning your hands when flipping the kebabs.

Sauces, spices and marinades

While vegetable kebabs can stand on their own, sauces and spices are often used on meat kebabs to enhance flavor. Sauces and marinades tend to work better with chicken because chicken is drier and the marinade gives the meat more moisture. If you’re cooking a ground meat kebab, spices mixed into the ground meat work well and a sauce can be added on the side to enhance flavor.

To enhance the flavor of vegetable kebabs, a light vinaigrette can be brushed onto the kebab, as Erickson includes in his recipe. He has created a simple vinaigrette using basil, Dijon mustard, garlic, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Dessert kebabs

Dessert kebabs can be as easy as sliced fruit on a stick. Erickson recommends grilling sliced peaches on a skewer. After grill marks appear, take the peaches off the grill and slide them off the skewer. Add some vanilla ice cream and crumbled up cookie. The result is the taste of a peach crisp with half the time and the mess.

Don’t like peaches? Try nectarines, plums, apricots or strawberries. The concept is simple but the fruits taste delicious after being grilled.

— Reporter: 541-383-0351 or mcrowe@bendbulletin.com

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