Molly Stevens’ Beef Kebabs with Peppers, Onion, Mint, and Tahini-Yogurt Sauce

Serves 4; makes 8 kebabs

Like most of us, award-winning cookbook author and cooking teacher Molly Stevens has no team of prep cooks, no vast pantry, and no one paid to clean up her home kitchen. What she does have are delicious, time-tested recipes made from easy-to-find ingredients, collected for the first time in All About Dinner. A gorgeous collection of balanced meals, packed with flavor, All About Dinner will entice busy cooks back into their kitchens. This beef kebab recipe makes for the perfect summer meal.

ebabs are a great way to up the vegetable quotient in a meat-based menu, because for every chunk of meat, you get two or three chunks of vegetables. Cutting the beef into smaller pieces for kebabs also creates more surface area, which means more opportunity to absorb the marinade, and all that surface area means more delicious browning too. Kebabs offer a lot of room for playing around, as you can include any vegetables that are firm enough not to fall off the skewers and aren’t finicky about how well cooked they are (good examples include summer squash, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes). Some cooks like to put the vegetables and meat on separate skewers in order to micromanage their cooking times, but I prefer to combine them so their flavors comingle as they cook — though this does mean that the vegetable cooking times will be dictated by the meat. In other words, the cooking time is all about getting the meat done just right. The vegetables will turn out with a mix of tender and crunchy, anointed with savory steak flavor and, here, a kiss of fresh mint. A quick yogurt-tahini sauce adds a tangy-cool counterpunch, pulling the whole together. (I sometimes double the sauce recipe to have on hand later for grain bowls and salads.)

If the weather cooperates, by all means, fire up the grill. But you can also roast the kebabs indoors. To serve, keep the kebabs intact or slide everything off the skewers and onto a platter. (I’ve found that some people enjoy the cooked mint leaves, while others find them too strong, but I like the extra bit of freshness they add to the mix.) A plate of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes dressed with red wine vinegar and a thread of olive oil would be a nice accompaniment.

Get ahead: For best flavor, marinate the meat for 4 hours before assembling the kebabs, but you can get away with just 45 minutes. You can make the sauce up to 2 days ahead.

Special equipment: You’ll need 8 bamboo or metal skewers. I find shorter (8- to 9-inch) skewers are easiest to maneuver. Those excessively long ones that come with many “grill sets” may not fit in the oven and tend to hang off the edge of the grill, making it hard to cook the kebabs evenly.

The marinade

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 large garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint

1½ teaspoons ground cumin, preferably freshly toasted and ground

½ teaspoon paprika, sweet or hot

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

Pinch of cayenne

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

The kebabs

1¼ to 1½ pounds flank, sirloin, or flat-iron steak, cut into 1- to 1½-inch chunks

1 large red bell pepper (about 8 ounces)

1 medium red onion (about 7 ounces)

About 16 fresh mint leaves

The sauce

1 tablespoon tahini

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ cup plain or Greek yogurt, preferably not low-fat

¼ teaspoon paprika, sweet or hot

Pinch of cayenne

Salt

Marinate the meat. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, chopped mint, cumin, paprika, allspice, and cayenne in a medium bowl. Season with salt (½ teaspoon kosher, slightly less for fine salt) and several grinds of black pepper and stir to combine. Drop the beef into the marinade. With your hands or a spatula, massage the marinade into the meat until it’s evenly distributed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, and up to 4 hours. (If you are grilling and using bamboo skewers, use this time to soak the skewers in water to prevent them from burning on the grill.)

Make the sauce. Whisk together the tahini and lemon juice in a small bowl. Whisk in the yogurt, paprika, and cayenne. Season to taste with salt. Cover and refrigerate if not using within an hour or so.

Fire up the grill or heat the oven. For grilling, prepare a medium-hot fire. For roasting, heat the oven to 375°F convection (400°F non-convection) and line a baking sheet with foil. The foil helps the kebabs brown up, and it makes cleanup easy.

Assemble the kebabs. Core and seed the bell pepper, and cut into 1-inch pieces. Chop the onion into 1-inch chunks; don’t worry about the exact measurement, you just want decent-size chunks that will hold up during cooking. Then use your fingers to pull apart the layers of onion so the chunks are not much thicker than the bell pepper (this usually means 1 or 2 layers of onion). Thread the ingredients on the skewers, alternating beef, peppers, onions, and mint leaves, but don’t obsess about making all the kebabs identical. (A trick to making tidy kebabs is to arrange the meat and vegetables into 8 even piles before you start threading; this way, you won’t run out of any one ingredient by the time you get to the final kebab.)

Cook the kebabs. Drizzle the kebabs with a thin thread of olive oil (no more than 2 teaspoons total) and season lightly with salt and pepper.

To grill: Arrange the kebabs on the grill and cook, turning a few times, until they are browned on the edges and the meat is cooked to your liking, 8 to 12 minutes.

To cook indoors: Arrange the kebabs on the baking sheet without crowding. Roast, turning a few times, until the beef is cooked to your liking and the vegetable are tender and browned on the edges, about 15 minutes for medium-rare, 18 minutes for medium.

Check for doneness by making a small cut into a piece of meat to peek inside, or insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the meat (the temperature should be 125° to 130°F for medium-rare, or around 130°F for medium). Remove the kebabs from the grill or oven and let rest in a warm spot or loosely covered with foil for a few minutes.

Serve. Place the kebabs on serving plates, or use tongs to slide the meat and vegetables onto a platter. Pass the tahini-yogurt sauce to spoon over the top.

Variations

Chicken or Lamb Kebabs

For chicken kebabs, thigh meat works better than breast meat, as it’s less apt to dry out during grilling or roasting. Cut boneless, skinless chicken thighs into 1½- to 2-inch chunks; you don’t need to be exact, just aim for pieces that will thread evenly onto the skewers. Follow the directions in the recipe, but increase the cooking time: 15 to 18 minutes on the grill, 20 to 25 minutes in the oven. For lamb kebabs, choose a piece of boneless leg or shoulder, and prepare as you would for beef. Both chicken and lamb benefit from the 4-hour marinade if you have time.

Tahini

An essential component in hummus, baba ganoush, and halvah, tahini is a smooth, rich paste of ground sesame seeds that is a staple in Middle Eastern kitchens, but you don’t need to be making Middle Eastern food to appreciate its luxuriously creamy texture and sweet, nutty flavor with just enough bitterness to keep it from being cloying. In fact, the more I use tahini, the more inspired I am to incorporate it into my everyday cooking. I use it to make quick sauces and dressings for grain bowls (page 110), fresh salads, grilled fish, and steamed vegetables: just whisk in a little lemon or lime juice and a few drops of water to make it pourable, season with salt, minced garlic, fresh herbs, or chile powder, and it’s good to go. Tahini also makes a wonderful dip for fritters, crudité, and spiced pita chips, either simply seasoned or combined with yogurt or pureed beans. Or spread it on toast and drizzle with honey for a quick snack. If you’re a sweets person, you may want to explore the benefits of adding tahini to brownies, cookies, cakes, and ice cream.

When shopping for tahini, first check the label to see that it contains only sesame seeds. If the paste comes in a clear container, look to see if the oil has separated from the solids; the more homogeneous the paste, the fresher. While most tahini is pale buff-colored (light tahini), there is a dark version made from roasted sesame seeds that has a stronger, less sweet flavor and thicker texture. I prefer the subtlety of light tahini, and lately I’ve been excited to see an increase in small-scale high-end brands, including Soom from Philadelphia and Seed + Mill from New York City. Other, more mainstream brands that are worth trying are Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Once home, stir tahini if there’s any oil sitting on the surface, and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 year. Always stir again right before using, but avoid over whisking or mixing in a high-speed blender, as aggressive mixing can cause the paste to seize up. If this happens, whisk in a few drops of lukewarm water to return the tahini to its lustrous texture.

Reprinted from All About Dinner. Copyright © 2019 by Molly Stevens. Photography copyright © by Jennifer May. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

A Finalist for the 2020 IACP Cookbook Award and the 2020 James Beard Foundation Cookbook Award (General)

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