Friday, July 8, 2011

East Meets Further East! Asian Flavored Kebabs with Grilled Baba Ghanoush

In the early days, there were a bunch of dudes eating raw meat. They worked so hard to kill the mammoth, and then they just sat there and gnawed on the bloody, unseasoned carcass. Those were some unsatisfied Cro-Magnons. Along came some slightly larger brained dudes, and they started putting their mammoth on a fire to cook. Grilling was born! But those dudes had only slightly larger brains, and they had very badly burned hands. Enter a dude we'll call "Steve." Steve says, "Grrrrrah! Boolah Boolah Huh Huh Gobbledy Blah!" which is caveman for "Hey idiots, lets skewer this mammoth on a stick when we cook it. Honestly, you clowns can barely pick nits out of each others' back hair without naturally selecting yourselves for extinction."
And that is how the kebab was born.

When I think of kebabs, I think of little mediterranean places like the Olive Branch in Birmingham and the Ariana Kebab House here in Charlottesville, where the meat has a thick, powerful layer of seasoning and you buy stock in GlaxoSmithKline (the makers of TUMs antacids) before you show up for dinner. We, here at the Jacked Up Grill, are all about strong flavors. So tonight we decided to represent that part of the world with meat on a stick.

For our meat sticks, I chose one pound of black angus New York strip ($6 per pound at Harris Teeter this week) cut into one inch cubes, green bell pepper, Vidalia onion, pineapple chunks and zucchini fresh from my friend's garden.

Here's a word about assembling a proper kebab. Any old caveman can stab a bunch of ingredients randomly and slap them on the fire, but what separates us from the primates is our ability to put them on the stick in the right order for maximum meat nirvana. First, you need a proper skewer. The good ones have a ring on one end that aids handling, and it is essential that the length of the skewer be flat and not just round like wire. The flat edge keeps the food in place so when you flip it on the grill, you don't just spin the food around a million times like a knucklehead. Now, start with a firm vegetable to act as a stopper, then something softer like a petal of onion. It is good to put the meat next, because the onion really melts into it. If you use pineapple, putting it next is critical, because the juices really add to the steak, and the acid helps tenderize it. Next, add the zucchini to firm it up and then repeat until you run out of real estate. Make sure you put bell pepper or zucchini at the very end to hold everything on, and you're ready to go.
I have kebabbed many times, because it's easy and fun, and I have tried many different marinades and flavorings for the meat. Tonight, we went to Japan for our inspiration, and used a ginger-soy-sesame flavored glaze. These ingredients really favor the meat and vegetables on the skewer because they are pungent and salty, where the bell peppers, pineapple and onion can be overly sweet. This kind of glaze can be made from scratch, and it tastes the best that way, but sesame oil and fresh ginger are pretty expensive, and there are many bottled salad dressings and marinades that are already made that taste great and only cost a couple million yen ($2-3 American). I used Lawry's Sesame Ginger Marinade ($1.75 on sale at Harris Teeter).  Of course, these flavors aren't really Mediterranean, but more on avoiding international incidents later.

The kebabs hit the grill for about five minutes per side, and I applied the glaze liberally throughout cooking.

We went back a little left on the map for our side item. When you want your food to sound impressive, you cook something with a great name. Baba Ghanoush (BOBBA ga Noosh) is an awesome name for anything, and even makes a great expletive when you stub your toe on something. "Baba Ghanoush! Who left this toy in the middle of the floor!?" See? It works.
Baba Ghanoush is a Middle Eastern dip made from eggplant, and we thought it would compliment our meal nicely. I started by stabbing the eggplant many many times with a fork (they can violently explode if not vented) and then I tossed it on Meat Blaster for about twenty minutes, turning it every five.

When it looks like a droopy, charred, slop filled bag, it's done. I put it in the fridge for about fifteen minutes so I could handle it without ending up with crispy fried fingers like ole Cro-Magnon #2, then peeled all the skin off and put it in the food processor. Next came garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, salt and a goop called Tahini, which is a paste made from sesame seeds and olive oil.

 NEVER EVER EVER EVER taste tahini on its own. It tastes like the caulk they use on the shower tiles in Hell. However, when added to everything else and pureed until smooth, it makes a wicked awesome dip. We finished the dip with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika.  I used tortilla chips, but Preglociraptor favored triangles of naan bread (similar to pita) for dipping.

We put the kebabs on beds of rice, set the table and dug in.

So you might be thinking, "Japanese marinade and Afghanistananny flavored dip? Who the What?!?"
Try not to think about it too hard. I mean, Panda Express and Gyro King are right next to each other in the Food Court, and I'm pretty sure I saw "Steve the Original Kebabbing Caveman" eating in there the other day. Maybe Ole Steve innovated again and put the two together on the same plate. Or maybe I was the first one? Who knows for sure. Nobody, that's who. But we'll raise our glasses to Steve tonight, for bringing out the caveman in us all. Maybe I'll try and drag Pregasaurus Rex around by the hair later......maybe not.

Baba Ghanoush
One large eggplant
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons tahini paste
1 lemon juiced
1/4 teaspoon cumin
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
Tortilla chips or naan bread points for dipping
Poke many holes in eggplant and place on grill turning frequently. When soft all the way through, remove from grill and chill until handleable. Peel of skin and puree eggplant with all other ingredients. Serve at room temperature. 

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