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Here’s how it starts: The magazine staff pitches the idea to Food Network Kitchens. In this case, “How ‘bout 50 kebabs?” The concept is then assigned, by test kitchen vice president – Katherine Alford – to one of the recipe developers. 50 Kebabs went to Bob Hoebee, who has a special fondness for authentic, exotic foods from around the globe. And also, well, who else should develop a ton of kebabs but Bob . . .
So Bob got started on the task of developing 50 different kebabs, incidentally fresh off a trip to Israel where he sampled possibly the world’s most authentic food on a stick. It was there, in Nazareth, that Bob ate the best kebab of his life, fresh lamb and herbs, grilled to perfection. This served as inspiration for #23, Israeli Lamb.
I asked Bob what challenges he faced when developing the recipes for this booklet, and I was surprised that the sheer number wasn’t an issue at all. In fact, he could have come up with twice as many recipes. The way he tackled the challenge was to divide by region and conquer from there. So American-inspired, Middle Eastern, Asian, Caribbean — then the variations spun out from there. It was easy, he said, because “the whole world cooks on sticks.” The whole booklet took two to three weeks to develop.
The challenges Bob faced are the challenges home cooks face as well – the small pieces of meat used to make kebabs are often dry and overcooked by the time they get to the table. After many trials, Bob discovered two secrets: Wrapping meat in bacon kept it moist, and tri-tip sirloin is the best choice for grilling on a stick. The latter works well on high heat, it has enough fat to stay moist without being greasy and is reasonably priced.
One common mistake made by kebab novices is using different sizes of ingredients on their sticks which can lead to uneven cooking or burned vegetables. It’s best to thread ingredients of the same size onto your sticks; cuts with flat edges facing in the same direction help as well. When skewering and grilling veggies, chose firm ones; over-ripe vegetables will fall apart on the grill. Veg-and pescatarians can enjoy their grub on a stick, too — firm tofu grills up quite nicely, as do fattier fish like salmon and swordfish. Bob had a tip for chicken-lovers, too – when you’re grilling chicken thighs, like the Jerk Chicken (#26), use two skewers, so they’ll be easier to turn. And as far as skewers go, you can use wooden, but Bob prefers metal; they’re reusable and won’t burn or catch on fire.
Lastly (and most importantly?) I asked Bob which of the 50 were his favorite. He loves the Israeli Lamb (#23), which he made with spices he brought home from his trip to Israel (but he promises that they’ll still be amazing with the spices you have at home), the Stuffed Pepper Kebabs (#4), and the beautiful Spanish-inspired Chorizo-Shrimp kebabs (#40).
How many kebabs have you made from the bonus booklet so far? Which are your favorite?