Mark Twain once wrote, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness” and Hans Christian Andersen reinforced the notion in “The Fairy tale of my life: An aitobiography” stating, “to move, to breathe, to float, to gain all while you give, to roam the roads of lands remote, to travel is to live”. I say, if you have never travelled to Middle East you have truly missed out on the extravagant and lavish side of true royalty life. Middle east is a life of glamour with blitz and sparkle everywhere you see but it’s not just the extravagant and lavish lifestyle middle-easterns enjoy, it’s the equally royal feastly food as well. The food speaks volumes with it’s Arab flavours. Growing up in the Middle East, I have always been enamoured by it’s life and the prime reason being, I have had an extremely happy childhood and unlike what the world holds assumptions and speculations of it being a male dominant, women suppressing, strict regulations and a rigid society, it all is but only what you call “bore false witness”. Middle East is all ancient history, religions and spirituality, the Egyptian pyramid mystery, culture, arts and architecture, it’s beautiful sand dunes, the night life is lustrous and glistens with the luminous relative to millions of stars. It is so dazzling, you would actually think sunglasses are essential even in the bling and blitz of the night life. The world holds many wonders, ancient and contemporary but the the wonder of the scintillating life of Middle-east is surely to be experienced.
Oh! and it doesn’t stop just there, this is a region of hummus, shawarma, mutabbaq, olives, dates, Mandi, taboullie, pita, garlic sauce, baba Ganoush, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, mint and parsley, just to name a few, and if a vacation of your palate and flavour experiencing dimensions. Believe it or not, the Middle eastern is very relative to the Meditterranean cuisine and is regarded as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. The cuisine is loaded with the consumption of fresh vegetables and herbs with pure love of olive oil dressing everything up. The middle eastern spices are extremely light on your palate and truly delight your senses. The meat is either grilled or baked and very seldom fried or used with heavy oils in cooking. Salads are a must with meals and Arabic tea at the end of a meal is just nothing short of magic that helps lessen your bloating issues called “qawa”. In other words, Middle eastern food is just as intriguing and dazzling as the life of Middle east itself.
Coming to the recipe, it has all the Middle-eastern flavours with a Mediterranean touch. The shish or chicken skewers are grilled until charred and succulently juicy. The spice blends include all of Middle-eastern staple spices like cumin, cinnamon and paprika. I added a very small amount of All-spice to the mix just to give it a little more earthyness and it worked beautifully with the flavours.
The best way to make sure that your shish is always juicy, plump and moist, requires onion juice. Now there are two ways this can be done, both of which work equally well. First, when using shish or meat on skewers like chicken cubes, just puree the onion and add it straight to the mix. If however, working with mince kebabs, you cannot use the pureed onions as is and the reason being, onion has water in it and once mixed with the mince meat it will release a lot of water and make the kebab mixture wet enough for it to not hold it’s shape on skewers. So, when it comes to mince meat, puree the onion, place it in a muslin cloth and squeeze out all the water. Once that is done, add it to the mix or at times recipes call for adding the juice of an onion as well, which is made the just the same way.
The onion is what retains the moisture in the meat and prevent it from drying out and hence when you bite into it, it’s plumpy in texture and full of delectable juices.
Moving on, once you marinate the meat, I recommend leaving it to soak up the flavours for atleast 2-4 hours or when you decide to make it, the night before. The more it marinate the more flavours it will give you.
As far as cooking is concerned, I grilled these on my grill pan until they were cooked through but these can also be baked. Just place the skweres on a roasting dish or a baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and bake, turning them half-way to bake the down side, until cooked all the way through. Once that is done, leave them in the tray covered for 5 minutes to seal the juices inside the meat. Trust me when I say, resting a baked or grilled chicken makes a world of a difference in terms of flavour. So, leave it alone for a bit.
Coming to the rice, it is ofcourse Mediterranean, because, orzo rice is basically Turkish staple rice dish. In the Middle-east, rice is cooked with vegetables and nuts with earthy spices e.g. Kabsa (Arabic Pilaf) or Ruz-Bukhari (Arabic Biryani). The reason why I chose to make Orzo rice is because, I loved the flavours of the Shish and I didn’t want anything else to over-power them.
The most I did, was grilled Vine tomatoes as compliments, which were absolute little tangy pop delights and were a perfect pair with the dish as a whole. If you don’t have vine tomatoes, just use any normal ripened tomato, cut it in half and grill it until wrinkly and charred. Okay, coming back to the rice, orzo is really a pasta that is lightly toasted in butter with the rice before being boiled together. Hence, the white rice with hints of caramel colour. The orzo is just a little bigger than a rice grain in size and once it’s boiled it fluffs up. The combination of rice and orzo is simply brilliant and the buttery rice is just to die for and if you have kids eating at the table they will be gobbling this down on it’s own.
Okay! so, if you don’t have orzo accessible, don’t worry and just boil plain rice and if you feel like it add mixed nuts to it.
The whole meal is extremely light on your palate and on your stomach, satiating and yet leaving you feel light after a hearty meal. Succintly, chicken thigh marinated in a middle-eastern blend of yogurt, lemon, garlic and spices and grilled on skewers until golden brown with middle-eastern delectable flavours that never fail to impress with their mild and almost fruity like savour; paired with orzo rice and roasted tomatoes, this dish also won’t fail to impress.
1. Chicken boneless thighs – 1kg
Kebab spice Mix ~
2. Onion blended — 2
3. Greek Yogurt — 8 tbsp
4. Zest of a lemon — ½ tsp
5. Lemon juice — 2 tbsp
6. Paprika powder — 2 tsp
7. Cumin powder — 2 tsp
8. Cinnamon powder — 1 tsp
9. Red chilli flakes — 1 tsp
10. Crushed black pepper powder — 1 tsp
11. All-spice powder — ½ tsp
12. Garlic cloves minced — 6
13. Salt — 2 tsp
14. Olive Oil — 4-6 tbsp
15. Red onions cut into cubes — 6
Orzo rice ~
1. Rice — 2 cup
2. Orzo pasta — ½ cup
3. Salt — 2 tsp
4. Butter — 6 tbsp
5. Oil — 2 tbsp
1. Vine/cherry tomatoes — 1 cup
2. Olives Per skewer
3. Any Green Salad to serve with
1. Prepare the chicken kebabs
a. In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients listed under the kebab spice mix.
b. Add the chicken cubes to the marinade and let marinate for 1 hour.
c. Soak wooden skewers in water to prevent the chicken from sticking to the skewers.
d. Skewer on the onion cubes and chicken pieces alternatively.
e. Grill the skewers with a drizzle of oil until cooked through and slightly charred in places or grill-bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C for 35-40 minutes.
f. Once out of the oven skewer on one olive on each one.
g. On a grill pan, roast the cherry tomatoes with a little oil until the skin wrinkles and they char in places.
2. Prepare the rice
a. In a cooking pot, melt the butter with a little oil.
b. Add the orzo pasta and stir fry on medium heat until it becomes light brown in colour.
c. Add the washed rice and stir fry for another 2-3 minutes.
d. Add salt.
e. Turn the heat to high and add water.
f. Let it come to a boil, cover and cook until the rice completely absorbs the water and is cooked through.
g. Serve with the grilled kebabs and the roasted cherry tomatoes and any leafy salad.
~ Happy Foodieating ~