Almost anywhere you go in the world you'll find a street vendor selling something grilled on a stick.
In the Spanish-speaking world it is called a pincho, to the Chinese it is a chuàn, and the Thais call it a satay, but to us it is the simple and delicious shish kabob.
The shish kabob probably originated in Persia and then spread to the rest of the Middle East and then to the four corners of the world. It is most often made of small cuts of meat, interspersed with vegetables. The traditional Middle Eastern kabob is made with lamb, but beef, pork, chicken and seafood are common in America.
Some experts think its popularity has to do not only with its practicality -- kabobs are easy to hold and can be made with a wide range of ingredients. They also require little fuel to cook.
In the modern kitchen, kabobs can be made on an indoor grill or under the broiler, but the best bet is on an outside grill over a hardwood charcoal or wood fire.
A common problem in grilling on an open fire is the tendency of the wooden skewers to burn, but that is easily solved by soaking them in water for 30 minutes before grilling.
Another problem often encountered is that the meat being grilled takes longer to cook than the vegetables. This is solved by paring smaller cuts of meat with larger chunks of vegetables or by grilling them on separate skewers.
A great way to enjoy a kabob grill is to arrange an assortment of meats and vegetables in separate bowls and let everyone assemble their own. Meats should be marinated prior to grilling, and there are many commercially available marinades that are quite good. Try a Korean barbecue sauce or just olive oil, garlic and oregano. Vegetables can be served plain or with just a splash of olive oil.
Be creative in what you offer your guests to grill; think about asparagus, chunks of eggplant, cucumber, pumpkin, leek or even tofu.
Deboned chicken thighs are perhaps the best part of the
chicken to grill and a Thai peanut dipping sauce is the perfect accompaniment.
Pork tenderloin cut into 1-inch slices is great with red onions and over the top when served with goat cheese.
For Florida grillers, seafood has got to be the best choice.
Please remember that seafood cooks very quickly, and you can turn those shrimp into rubber if you overcook them. Shrimp pair very well with red, ripe tomatoes and almost any fish will do well, too. But I just can't think of a way to keep an oyster on a skewer without wrapping it in bacon first.
SHRIMP AND FISH KABOBS
1 pound large shelled shrimp
1/2 pound cubed lemon fish
2 lemons cut into thick slices
12 cherry tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Marinate the shrimp in a mixture of olive oil, crushed garlic, red pepper flakes and cilantro for thirty minutes before grilling. Remember to soak the skewers in water for 30 minutes, too. Alternate the ingredients on the skewer, season to taste and grill over a hot fire for 3-4 minutes on a side. Serve on a bed of steamed white rice. Reserve some of the cilantro and lemon for a garnish.
An alternative with a Hispanic touch is to serve these kabobs with soft tortillas, adding shredded lettuce and top with salsa verde.
GREEK KABOB WITH CUCUMBER SALAD
1 pound pork tenderloin
1 large red onion
2-3 tablespoons dried oregano
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vinegar
1-2 tablespoons chopped dill
Black pepper to taste
Olive oil as needed
Slice the pork tenderloin into 1-inch rounds and marinate in olive oil, black pepper, 1/2 of the dried oregano and crushed garlic for an hour before grilling. Alternate the pork and sliced red onion on the skewer and grill on a hot fire until done, about 3-4 minutes on a side, depending on the thickness of the pork slices. Mix the sliced cucumbers with the sour cream, vinegar and dill, taste and season as necessary. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve the kabobs with the cucumber salad and garnish with a pinch of paprika for color.
CHICKEN AND MUSHROOMS KABOBS
1 pound de-boned chicken thighs
12 large mushrooms
12 cherry tomatoes
1 large red bell pepper
1 cup store-bought Korean barbecue sauce
Cut the chicken into large bite sizes and marinate in the barbecue sauce for 30 minutes. Slice the bell pepper into 1-inch square pieces. Alternate the chicken, mushrooms, bell pepper and tomatoes on the skewers and grill until done, about 5-6 minutes on a side. Serve with a simple green salad and olive oil, balsamic vinegar vinaigrette.
A VEGETARIAN KABOB
1 large eggplant
12 cherry tomatoes
2-3 yellow squash
3-4 green onions
1/2 cup yogurt
3-4 tablespoons grated Parmesan
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
Cube the eggplant and squash, cut the tomatoes in half and the green onions into 2-inch pieces and marinate in olive oil and black pepper for thirty minutes. Combine the yogurt, Parmesan cheese and lemon juice and refrigerate for fifteen minutes before serving. Alternate the vegetables on a skewer and grill until done and well-marked. Serve with the yogurt dressing.
Julian Glenn Brunt, who has been a Mississippi Gulf Coast resident for more than 20 years, has a deep and abiding interest in art, culture and the culinary heritage of the South. His column runs weekly in Taste. You can contact him at email@example.com.