If there’s one favorite way to cook in the Middle East, it’s the outdoor grill. There really is no way to produce that smoky flavor. We’ve gotten away from the traditional picture of a paunchy, unshaven guy in a T-shirt taking gulps from a can of beer while watching the hamburgers burn. Now he’s devotedly turning skewers of vegetables to tender perfection between those gulps of beer. (Because you can’t get away from the fact that cold beer is the best refresher while you’re standing at a grill, and new micro-breweries in Israel are making wonderful ones these days.)
Admittedly, meat is, and probably always will be, the first grilling choice in the Middle East. But tender vegetable chunks marinated in favorite Middle Eastern flavors go down well with even die-hard carnivores. And they’re so easy to make. Another vegetarian option for grilling is our za’atar-flavored tofu: instead of frying it, skewer it in chunks and grill. Whatever you’re grilling, make sure to have a few Middle-Eastern favorites to round out your meal, like majadra, the peasant dish of rice and lentils. And enjoy a cup of authentic Turkish coffee before you rise from the table.
Grilled Vegetable Kabobs
Choose from any mix of eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, bell peppers of any color, white or red onions, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes.
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons freshly-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped za’atar or oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh rosemary leaves or 1/2 tablespoon dried
Cut tomatoes in quarters or use cherry tomatoes. Chop peppers and onions into chunks convenient for skewering. If using button mushrooms, there’s no need to cut them; if using larger ones, slice into halves.
If using eggplant and/or zucchini, slice them thickly, place them in a colander, and cover with a light layer of salt. Set the colander over a bowl to catch the juices, and let the vegetables drain for half an hour. Rinse them and either put them back into the (rinsed) colander to dry or pat them dry.
If using sweet potatoes, slice them thickly and drop them into boiling water. Cook for 5 minutes, covered. Remove from the water and drain.
There should be about 8 cups of vegetables, not tightly packed, when you’re done chopping. Combine all the vegetables and pour the marinade over them. Cover and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
Have plenty of wooden skewers at hand. Soak them in cold water for half an hour before spearing them into the food – this will help prevent them from burning while the vegetables cook.
Arrange the vegetables on the soaked skewers and grill 5-10 minutes on each side, till all are tender.
More mezze to accompany your grilled veggies:
Photo of vegetables grilling by Miriam Kresh.