Bring the taste of the streets into your backyard

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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Summer festivals are wonderful, not only because of the shows but also because of the food. Who doesn’t like street grub?

Anyone who visits New York and doesn’t buy a hotdog or pretzel from the ubiquitous street carts is missing an important part of the city experience, and we’re starting to get a taste of that here — at least I see lots of people downtown walking and munch­ing. Today’s recipes are all about reproducing that street feel in your backyard.

 

Chicken shawarma

Local restaurants are serving versions of these Middle Eastern wraps and they seem to be gaining popularity. They are easy to make at home and are absolutely perfect outdoor party food. You can even do most of the preparation ahead of time. This amount will easily serve 8 as a full meal, but can be stretched when your guests are walking and talking.

 

1/2 cup each plain yogurt and lemon juice

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger root, minced or grated

1 tbsp. minced or grated onion

1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp. smoked or plain paprika

1 tsp. ground allspice

1/2 tsp. each dried oregano, thyme and ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. nutmeg, preferably freshly ground

2 to 3 lbs. skinless boneless chicken thighs (or breasts if you prefer)

 

Sauce:

1/2 cup bottled tahini

2 tbsp. each lemon juice and plain yogurt

1 clove garlic, minced

1 pinch salt

 

Assembly:

8 pita breads

1/2 small English cucumber, thinly sliced

1 small onion, thinly sliced

1 medium ripe tomato, thinly sliced

 

Combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, onion, salt, pepper, paprika, allspice, oregano, thyme, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg. Pour over chicken in a large bowl or heavy duty plastic zipper bag and stir or roll around to coat thoroughly. Refrigerate a few hours up to overnight.

You can also prepare the sauce ahead of time — just whisk the ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to use.

To cook the chicken, grill or fry the thighs until cooked through. Slice or shred. Warm pitas in the microwave or on the grill and top evenly with the chicken. Spoon on a little of the sauce and top with cucumber, onion and tomato. Fold up, tucking in one end to corral the juices, and serve.

 

Veggie kebabs

It’s a challenge to serve barbecue to vegetarians without having them feel like they were the afterthought. These slightly spicy and piquant vegetable skewers are anything but also-rans on your block party menu. They are a lighter alternative with the added benefit of not having to fuss over rare versus well-done; you don’t even have to cook the marinade once you’ve lifted out the kebabs.

These are delicious served piping hot right through lukewarm, and count on everyone having more than one. This recipe will make about 16 kebabs.

It’s really important here to give the flavours in the marinade a fighting chance, so making them ahead is encouraged. Naturally, choose whatever fresh veggies you like for the grill, just remember anything really delicate will fall off and anything really hard won’t cook.

One more thing, if you use wooden skewers, soak them at least a couple of hours in warm water or up to overnight in cold.

 

Marinade:

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. fresh lime juice

2 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. liquid honey

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce

1 tsp. smoked or regular paprika

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

4 sprigs fresh thyme

 

Kebabs:

2 each medium red and green bell peppers

2 large red onions

2 medium zucchini

1 medium eggplant

32 medium fresh mushrooms, variety of your choice

32 cherry tomatoes

1 tsp. finishing or kosher salt

 

Prepare the marinade first. Whisk together olive oil, lime juice, soy sauce, honey and hot pepper sauce.

Stir in paprika, cumin, pepper, garlic and cilantro. Drop in the thyme and refrigerate at least a couple of hours but up to overnight. Remove the cores from the peppers and cut into 2-inch chunks. Peel the onions and cut each into 8 wedges — try and maintain as much of the root end as you can so the segments will hold together. Halve the zucchini lengthwise and cut into 1-inch chunks

If the eggplant is large you might want to peel it — could be tough — but it’s not absolutely necessary. If there are a lot of seeds remove the worst of them. Cut into 1 to 1-1/2-inch cubes. Alternate the veggies on the skewers — onions on the ends with the curved sides facing inwards will anchor everything pretty well.

Fish the thyme stalks out of the marinade and pour over the skewers in a large shallow baking dish. Let them sit in the marinade for a few minutes, turning them often.

Allow the excess marinade to drip off and place kebabs on a hot grill or under the broiler if you aren’t a barbecuing sort of cook.

Allow the edges to char slightly, turning them a couple of times to keep them from burning. Drizzle a bit more of the leftover marinade over top and serve.

 

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher

in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her

c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86,

St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: New York

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