Summertime means grilling time, and one of everyone’s favorite ways to grill food is on a stick, or kabob-style. Or do you say “kebab-style?” No matter how you spell it, food on a stick is fun. It brings us back to childhood and easy, carefree days when we could run, play and eat our dinner at the same time. Ice cream, popsicles and corndogs – food on a stick is special and not just for kids. Kabobs, satays and other skewered foods are still fun to eat and make for a beautiful presentation. Whether you are cooking outside on a grill or indoors on a stove-top grill pan, these tips will help you make the most amazing skewered food any time of the year:
1. Choosing Ingredients
When choosing ingredients for your skewers, be creative. The only limit to what you can grill is your imagination. Mix tofu or seitan with vegetables, do all veggie skewers or make fruit kabobs. Combine fruits such as mango, papaya, watermelon and pineapple. Marinate them in lime juice and serve them raw or grilled and seasoned with a bit of chile powder and salt. Arrange the ingredients according to color or mix lots of different colors. Make kabobs with different vegan cheeses. How about dessert kabobs with cubes of cake and vegan marshmallows? Served with a chocolate dipping sauce, that would really impress your guests. Try to cut all the chunks into similar sizes but be aware that some ingredients may need to be cut larger to stay on the skewer, i.e. a piece of banana needs to be larger than a piece of pineapple. If you are using fruits that discolor once they are peeled and cut such as apples or bananas, dip them in lemon or lime juice before putting them on the skewers.
Marinades are super important. This is where the majority of the flavor comes from. Be creative with different flavor profiles. Make kabobs with a Spicy Balsamic marinade or go tropical with an Pineapple Island marinade. Marinate your ingredients in a plastic storage bag or covered container for at least 30 minutes before threading them on the skewers. You can also brush additional marinade on the kabobs during cooking and right before serving for an added dose of fresh flavor. Check out my article “10 Ways to Make Amazing BBQ Sauces, Rubs and Marinades” for some fantastic flavorful ideas.
3. Bamboo vs. Metal Skewers
Which type of skewer should you use? Both are great but there are some differences in how you use them. If you are using wooden skewers, soak them in cold water for at least 30 minutes before you plan to use them. This prevents the wood from catching fire and scorching your food. No one wants that! You could use a light coating of cooking oil spray on the wooden skewers as well. Metal skewers cook foods faster than wooden ones and they last longer. You should also spray a light coating of cooking oil on the skewers before adding the food to prevent sticking.
4. Threading and Spacing
Threading the food onto the skewers is the most fun part…well, except for eating them, of course. You get to design the skewers in terms of color, symmetry and texture. I love the look of different colored cubed vegetables like zucchini, red onion and yellow squash mixed with bright red round cherry tomatoes. Don’t force too many items onto one skewer; leave a bit of space between the pieces so they can cook evenly and thoroughly. If you are using wooden skewers, however, leave less space between pieces so less wood is exposed to the fire. If you are using foods that might have trouble holding onto the skewer, such as banana or red onion slices, use two parallel skewers. That will keep slippery food from falling into the grill when you turn the skewers.
Since some foods cook faster than others, you may choose to thread each skewer with the same ingredient, i.e. tofu cubes on one skewer, zucchini cubes on another skewer, pineapple on a third skewer, etc. Doing it this way will allow you to cook each ingredient the proper amount of time. Then you can rearrange the ingredients on the skewers before serving. If you arrange the skewers with various ingredients first and cook them all at once, there is a risk that the veggies will overcook before the tofu or seitan is done. My solution is a compromise: I pre-cook any tofu or seitan before threading any skewers. Then I thread the cooked tofu or seitan onto the skewers with the raw fruit and vegetables. Veggies don’t take that long to grill and this way, my vegan meats get nice and charred but my veggies don’t overcook.
5. Cooking and Serving
Prevent the kabobs from sticking to your grill by oiling your grill pan or the grates of the grill. A marinade that contains oil will also help prevent sticking. Cook your kabobs over medium or medium-high heat to ensure that the outside of the food doesn’t cook faster than the inside. Turn the skewers frequently for even cooking. Allow the skewers to cool before letting your guests handle them so no one gets burned. Arrange all the skewers on a beautiful platter or stand them in a tall but wide bucket so they look like a bouquet of edible flowers. Have plenty of delicious dipping sauces available.
Knowing these simple tips will help you make the most amazing kabobs, satays and other skewered delights. Here are a few recipes to help you along: Spicy Balsamic Tofu Veggie Kabobs, Pineapple Island Kebabs, and Tofu Vegetable Kebabs with Peanut Dipping Sauce.
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Lead image source: Tangy Mushroom Skewers