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Summer skewers: Shish kebabs are perfect grilled party fare

Kabobs are made of garden vegetables, beef, pork and chicken. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 6
Kabobs are made of garden vegetables, beef, pork and chicken. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 6
Kabobs of garden vegetables, beef, pork and chicken are grilled. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service3 / 6
The internal temperature of chicken kabobs is checked. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service4 / 6
Kabobs are made of garden vegetables, beef, pork and chicken. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service5 / 6
Beef is hung on a skewer for kabobs. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service6 / 6

Labor Day weekend is upon us, and although I'm painfully aware that this holiday also ushers in the end of summer, that's no reason to eschew an end of summer celebration. So fire up that grill and load up on meats and veggies, because it's time to host a shish kebab party.

This specialty received its name from the Turkish words "şiş" (sword or skewer) and "kebab" (roasted meat). Centuries ago, kebabs were the perfect food for soldiers and nomads, as they could skewer hunks of meat upon their swords and then roast them over an open fire.

Making kebabs is a fun affair and can be done using a variety of proteins and vegetables. While there are no rules to how you make them, I have a few simple tips to ensure success for your kebab-fest.

We all enjoy the visual spectacle of a skewer filled with chunks of meat surrounded by colorful vegetables, but this type of presentation can pose a challenge on the grill. The cooking time for each ingredient can vary, which can leave you with overcooked vegetables and undercooked meat.

Traditionally, only meat was used to make kebabs, and we follow this example by using separate skewers for each type of ingredient. For our feast, we're making beef, pork and chicken kebabs, each with their own marinade, and each type of meat gets its own skewer to ensure they are properly cooked.

A meat thermometer is your best friend when grilling meat, and we use the following temperatures as our guide:

For beef, 135 to 140 degrees is best for medium-rare, 145 degrees for medium and higher for more well-done. For pork, the range is 145 (medium-rare) to 160 degrees for more well-done. For chicken, the minimum is 165 degrees and we try to stay as close to that temperature as possible to keep the meat from drying out.

Bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, squash and cherry tomatoes are great for grilling, and all can be placed on the same skewer, save the tomatoes. Tomatoes grill quickly, so we give them their own skewer and add them to the grill just a few minutes before the meat is done, or as it's resting.

Spacing is also important when assembling kebabs. The ingredients need to be far enough apart to ensure good airflow and even cooking. For meat and vegetables alike, leave about a quarter-inch between each piece, and about 1.5 inches at each end. If using wood skewers, be sure to soak them in water for at least 20 minutes to prevent burning.

Before placing the kebabs on the grill, make sure that it is clean, hot and lubricated with oil to prevent the ingredients from sticking. For kebabs, we heat our grill to medium-high (about 400 degrees) and once it's hot, we add the meat kebabs, followed by the veggie kebabs a few minutes later. When done, the kebabs can be served straight on the stick, over a bed of rice or in a pita or tortilla.

Quick, easy and fun, our Labor Day shish kebabs will help make the end of summer just that much easier to bare. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

Red Wine Beef Kebabs

Serves: 2 to 4

Ingredients:

1 pound beef, cut into 1 ½-inch cubes (New York strip, tenderloin or sirloin)

1/4 cup dry red wine (cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Lime Cilantro Chicken Kebabs

Serves: 2 to 4

Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 ½-inch cubes

Juice of 1 lime

Zest of 1 lime

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Mediterranean Pork Kebabs

Serves: 2 to 4

Ingredients:

1 pound pork tenderloin or loin, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

Juice of 1 lemon

Zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon dried oregano flakes

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ freshly ground black pepper

Grilling directions

Place ingredients from chosen meat recipe in a large bowl and mix until evenly coated. Marinate for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator, or up to 48 hours.

To assemble, place cubes of meat on skewer, leaving ¼ inch between each piece. Wooden skewers should be soaked for at least 20 minutes to prevent burning.

Grill on medium-high heat until grill marks are achieved, about 3 to 4 minutes, then flip skewer and grill until desired temperature is achieved. Use a meat thermometer to ensure desired temperature. Let meat rest for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

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