Although shish kabob is Turkish in origin, the name is used in the U.S. as an umbrella term for grilled meat and vegetables on a skewer. The main caveat during prep is that vegetables normally ripe for grilling are not necessarily suitable for a kabob. Above all, look for vegetables that complement the meat's flavor, cook in around the same time, and stay together on the skewer once cooked.
Sweet bell peppers are sufficiently rigid and easy to thread, and allow for a variety of colors. However, they take around 15 minutes to soften, placing them at the upper end of the grilling scale. Slice each pepper into quarters, remove the stalk and seeds, and cut the remaining flesh into same-sized squares, not much bigger than the cubes of whatever meat they are bookending. Once cooked, the pepper should be soft and sweet, with a slight char on the edges.
Squash and zucchini also take around 15 minutes to cook over a medium grill, at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit. If sliding onto a chicken kebab, slice each into rounds, but not too thin or they will flop around on the skewer once soft. For beef or lamb kebabs, which take longer, cut the squash or pepper lengthways in half, remove the crown, and slice each half into ½-inch segments.
Onions lose their pungent aroma on the grill, giving a pleasantly sweet taste. Choose medium-sized onions, peeled, and cut into eight segments, meaning that each half is cut into quarters. Thread the skewer through the layers to hold the segment together and grill for 15 minutes, turning regularly.
Small or button mushrooms and cherry tomatoes can both be threaded whole onto a skewer, but remove the stalk from the mushrooms first. Bear in mind, though, that the disparity in cooking times between the two is significant. Mushrooms can take longer to cook through than most meat does, at around 10 minutes, whereas cherry tomatoes will start to fall apart in 3 to 5 minutes.
Although a colorful skewer of meat and vegetables might look great going on to the grill, finishing up with brown, juicy meat and soft, caramelized vegetables can be deceptively hard to achieve. A few simple tips improve the odds in the cook's flavor.
- Marinate the vegetables in olive oil, herbs and salt to draw out excess moisture and encourage caramelization on the grill. A quarter of an hour in a dressing, or simply basting during grilling, will dramatically improve the finish of the vegetables.
- Leave plenty of space on the skewer, rather than packing as much as possible along its length. Not only does the meat need exposure to the heat for safe cooking, but overloading the kabob risks a cool center and charred skin.
- Turn the kabobs regularly once on the grill as the vegetables don't have the protection fat affords meat on the rack.
- Cook the meat and vegetables separately. Some of the visual appeal may be lost, but all the ingredients will removed from the skewer in any case. Thread the short-cook vegetables such as tomato onto one set of skewers, and the slower-cook vegetables such as onion and squash onto the others. This will allow the cook to remove each as it is ready.
- Cut the vegetables to the same size for an even cook, and try not to dwarf the meat cubes with unwieldy flaps of pepper or onion, which may even prevent the meat from staying in contact with the grill rack.
- Allow the kabobs to rest after removing for the grill for a couple of minutes for any juices to collect. The moisture in the vegetables will continue to steam the flesh.