It was love at first sniff for me. During my first venture into an Israeli-style grill restaurant I nearly swooned from the clouds of smoke scented with earthy cumin and pungent garlic and onion. Waiters presented platters of juicy kebabs and grilled meats with a garden of vegetable side dishes and a basketful of fresh flatbreads.
Later I learned that in Israel it is popular to cook similar foods for family and friends at barbecues using a mangal, a shallow charcoal grill.
Recently, I decided to try creating my own version of an Israeli cookout drawing on some of the traditional flavors and ingredients of the region. These recipes were written for an American-style charcoal or gas grill, but an indoor grill pan or appliance works, too.
The grilled chicken and vegetables have a zing from their marinade in olive oil, lemon juice and fragrant za’atar mix (the kind sold for slathering on pitas). Each bite of the lamb kebabs is a lively mix of fresh parsley, cilantro, onion and garlic. Drizzle the pomegranate molasses sauce over the grilled chicken and kebabs for a slightly fruity, tangy complement. Serve with fresh s’chug (Yemenite hot sauce) or salsa, a green or chopped Israeli vegetable salad and plenty of fresh pita or flatbread.
Note: The specialty ingredients are available in some Bay Area markets or in Middle Eastern or kosher stores. Since grills vary, exact cooking times are not given, but tips for how to tell when the chicken and lamb are done are included. Please follow manufacturer’s directions for lighting or preheating your grill.
Herb Grilled Chicken and Vegetables
1 cup olive oil
1⁄4 cup lemon juice
1⁄8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1⁄8 tsp. ground black pepper
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. za’atar seasoning mix (or 1 Tbs. ground oregano, 1⁄8 tsp. of cumin and 1⁄2 tsp. sesame seeds)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1⁄2 cup diced onion
4 zucchinis, each sliced lengthwise into 2 pieces
1 red onion cut into thick slices
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded and each cut into fourths
8 small or 4 large chicken thighs on the bone (about 2 lbs.)
Combine oil, lemon juice, peppers, salt, za’atar, garlic and onion. Mix well. Marinate the vegetables in half of the marinade and the chicken in the other half. Marinate for about an hour, and then grill over a medium hot fire. Baste as needed with marinades, turning occasionally until vegetables are browned and soft and the chicken is cooked through with meat just turning opaque at the bone.
1 lb. ground lamb
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄4 cup minced onion
1⁄4 cup minced fresh parsley
1⁄4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1⁄4 tsp. salt
Mix all the ingredients well. Handling as lightly as possible, shape into 8 “sausage” shapes approximately 11⁄2 by 31⁄2 inches, or make 8 small patties. (Note: Traditionally these kebabs would be threaded on wide, flat metal skewers. I’ve adapted the recipe to cook them directly on the grill grate instead, but if you have the skewers, mold the meat into the sausage shape around them and cook as directed.)
Grill over a medium hot fire flipping occasionally until kebabs begin to feel firm and offer some resistance when touched. Cut into one to check for desired doneness. Grill longer if needed.
Faith Kramer, a Bay Area food writer and blogger, is making her debut in j. this week. Her columns will alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs her food at www.clickblogappetit.blogspot.com. E-mail questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.