Mealtime | Grilled Lamb Skewers, Green Chard Couscous & Marinated Cucumbers (for 4)

by Kelly on June 5, 2009   

Summer's on, get out the grill

Summer's on, get out the grill

I can grill year-round here in Southern California, but I must still be on my Okie schedule because the urge to smell that grill smoke comes over me around mid-May. That’s when I get serious and do some grill clean-up and rehab. And yes, I am the grill operator in the household, in part because I’ve written some cookbooks on it but it was also where I staked a claim early on. My observation is that members of a couple tend to plant a flag in some republic of household food production, and men often race to the barbecue. I beat The Husband to that one.

Lamb is so good grilled, so it’s my first pick of the season. There are some mighty good gas grills out there, but for the traditionalists who want charcoal flavor, here are some grill lighting tips. Look for mesquite or hardwood charcoal (not a fan of the “shot-through-with-mesquite” stuff). They burn hotter and cleaner.

Grilled Lamb Skewers

Some of the best lamb comes from New Zealand, where it is raised on real grass and is hormone-free. I buy mine at Whole Foods, which gets their lamb from Atkins Ranch in New Zealand. I called their local representative to make sure the lamb really comes from New Zealand, and in fact, it does.

Start with good quality lamb

Start with good quality lamb

1 1/2 pounds top round boneless lamb
1 large pinch chopped fresh rosemary (about a 4″ stem)
1 large pinch chopped fresh mint (about a 4″ stem)
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil for the marinade
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar for the marinade
Black pepper
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
10 ounces red pearl onions, or about 16 onions
Olive oil for the carrots and onions
Salt
10 skewers

Cut the lamb into 1 1/2-inch chunks. Put the chunks in a ziplock bag with the chopped rosemary, mint, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and several generous grinds of black pepper. Set aside to marinate, preferably overnight or at least while you light the grill.

Nice pieces, not necessarily perfect cubes

Nice pieces, not necessarily perfect cubes

Press the air out of the bag and distribute the marinade evenly

Press the air out of the bag and distribute the marinade evenly

While the lamb is marinating, there are several jobs that will take about the time needed to light and have a ready grill (30 to 40 minutes). First, soak the skewers in water if you are using bamboo.

Second, parboil the carrots and onions. Heat an inch or so of water in a saucepan, drop in the cut-up carrots, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Drop in the pearl onions and simmer 3 minutes. Drain and cool slightly. When the onions are cool enough to handle, trim off the root end and gently pull off the top papery layer. Rub the carrots and onions with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.

This makes the job of peeling them, well, possible rather than crazy-making

This makes the job of peeling them, well, possible rather than crazy-making

Trim the root first and the top paper layers slide right off

Trim the root first and the top paper layers slide right off

Third, prep the chard and onions for the couscous (see recipe below) and get it started.  Prep and marinate the cucumbers (see recipe below). Do all this before grilling the meat so that it is all ready at the same time.

When you’re ready to grill, make up 8 to 10 skewers, depending on how far you can go with the meat and vegetables and how big your skewers are. Alternate meat and vegetables.

Grill the skewers for a total of 10 to 12 minutes, turning with long-handled tongs to grill all sides.

The coals are still bright red under the layer of ash -- that's a perfect temp

The coals are still bright red under the layer of ash -- that's a perfect temp

I like to have the grill cover on but the vents open and maybe even the cover not quite tight. That makes a hot grill and cooks fast. Let the skewers rest under a tent of foil for 5 minutes or so before serving (you can recycle the foil to save any leftovers).

Green Chard with Couscous

Chard is so delicious but not always on everyone’s radar. It’s big and fibrous looking, and the leaves look like you could upholster a small armchair with them. But it is one of the health-giving greens, sharing the characteristic bitter but earthy flavor. In the nutrition awards it would take away all the prizes. I’m always looking for ways to get my greens, and this is a good one. You can use the red variety in this recipe as well.

1/2 pound green Swiss chard (about 5 leaves), washed and drained
1/4 red onion, chopped
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 lemon

Trim the rib from the leaves of the chard and chop them. Chop the leaves separately.

The ribs take a little longer to cook than the leaves

The ribs take a little longer to cook than the leaves

This is a nice texture for the couscous

This is a nice texture for the couscous

Pour a little olive oil in a skillet and over medium heat saute the chard ribs and chopped onions for 10 minutes, until starting to color a little. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper while they cook. Add the couscous and stir to coat the grains, about 2 minutes. Add the chard leaves and the chicken stock. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 to 12 minutes, until the couscous is tender but not mushy. Squeeze lemon over the couscous, and fluff and separate the grains before serving.

Mix the chard leaves and couscous and then add stock

Mix the chard leaves and couscous and then add stock

Cucumbers & Feta Marinated with Vinegar

2 cucumbers, partially peeled
Small pinch of sugar
Small pinch of salt
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 ounces crumbled feta
3 mint leaves, thinly sliced in ribbons

Thinly slice the cucumbers. Sprinkle with sugar, salt and rice vinegar. When ready to serve crumble feta and mint over the top.

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