In an age of microwaves and induction cooktops, few foods feel more primal and effortless than meat on a stick. Skewer some protein and throw it on the barbecue and you’ve immediately boosted your primal instinct. But give kebabs a bit more attention – a homemade marinade, some well-chosen add-ons, a sauce alongside – and you’ve gone from caveman to culinary Renaissance man. (Not feeling the Paleo thing? Get your nutrition needs with the vegan guide to protein.)
You have a smorgasbord of options to explore here: stick to the classics by marinating lamb in yoghurt with Indian spices and pairing it with a classic combo of zucchini, capsicum and onion. Soak beef in a teriyaki marinade and skewer it alongside Japanese-style accents, such as spring onions and pickled ginger. Or try citrusy prawns with the Italian triumvirate of prosciutto, tomato and basil.
By mixing and matching proteins, vegetables, marinades and sauces, you can create the taste you crave most. When it comes to meat on a stick, you’re in charge of your own delicious destiny.
1 Pick your protein
For four servings, start with around 750 grams of meat or seafood cut into 2.5-centimetre chunks. Kebabs cook through quickly, so crank your barbecue to high for a good sear.Chicken Go with boneless, skinless breasts and/or thighs (breast meat is leaner, thigh meat has more flavour).
Cooking time: about five minutes.Beef Blade, shoulder top blade and skirt steaks have the best balance of tenderness and beefy essence.
Cooking time: about 2-4 minutes for medium-rare.Tuna Think of tuna as steak of the sea. It’s a perfect fish to serve rare, letting the marinade’s flavours shine through.
Cooking time: about two minutes for rare.Lamb Its bold flavour stands up to a spicy marinade. Pick boneless leg or cutlets for maximum tenderness.
Cooking time: about 2-4 minutes for medium-rare.Prawns They look best on the skewer if they’re whole. For the right-size mouthful, seek out green king prawn tails that are shelled and deveined. You can tell they’re cooked when they’re firm and pink, with a bit of char.
Cooking time: about 3-4 minutes.
Related: How much protein do you really need?
If you don’t want to fire up the barbecue, you can grill your kebabs, turning them once halfway through. They may take a couple of minutes longer to cook.
2 Choose your marinade
Small chunks of protein absorb a marinade’s flavour in just an hour. Reserve some marinade before you add the protein and serve it at the table for extra juiciness.Curried yoghurt
1 cup full-fat yoghurt
+ 1 tsp curry powder
+ 1 tsp salt + ½ tsp ground black pepperLemon-pepper
1/3 cup olive oil + 1 tsp grated lemon zest
+ 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
+ 2 finely chopped garlic cloves
+ 1 tsp salt + 1 tsp ground black pepperTeriyaki
1 tsp minced garlic
+ 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
+ 1/2 cup soy sauce
+ 1 tbsp sugar
Related: Control your hungerSpicy moroccan
In a blender, purée 1 jar of roasted red capsicum
+ 3 tbsp olive oil
+ 3 garlic cloves
+ 2 tsp chilli flakes
+ 1 tsp each of salt, ground cumin and corianderBlack olive and caper
1/2 cup finely chopped and pitted kalamata olives
+ 1/4 cup olive oil + 1/4 cup chopped capers
+ 3 minced garlic cloves
+ 1 tbsp lemon juice
+ 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3 Mix it up
Have fun experimenting with add-ons. Cut them into pieces as needed, then thread them onto skewers, alternating with the meat or seafood.Zucchini/capsicum/onion
This classic combo is a nod to Italy – and to summer. Skewer 1.5cm zucchini slices through the skin so they don’t spin as you turn the kebabs.Prosciutto/tomato/basil
Wrap a slice of prosciutto around a cherry tomato before skewering and alternate with the meat and whole basil leaves.Okra/smoked bacon
Bacon crisps up nicely on the barbecue, adding a smoky note to green okra.Green bean/potato/mushroom
These add-ons elevate kebabs to a full-blown meal. Use halved button or portabello mushrooms, along with baby new potatoes that have been boiled for 15 minutes and then halved.Spring onions/pickled ginger
These ingredients add instant sweet and savoury Asian flavours. Use them with steak for a version of the Japanese beef dish negimaki; with tuna, the result is almost like grilled sushi.
The finishing touch
Smear on this hot and sweet sauce during barbecuing for an extra layer of heat, or use it for dipping at the table. (Have a beer nearby to extinguish the chilli heat.) To make it, stir together ? of a cup of Asian chilli sauce with ? of a cup of maple syrup and mix in 2 finely chopped spring onions.Coriander Chimichurri
This simple South American sauce adds freshness to grilled meats. In a food processor or blender, combine 1 cup of coriander leaves, ½ a cup of olive oil, 1/4 of cup of lime juice, 2 garlic cloves and ½ a teaspoon each of chilli flakes and salt. Pulse the ingredients until finely chopped.Easy Lemon Aioli
This French mayonnaise adds a creamy kick to kebabs. To make it in minutes, use a shortcut: a jar of shop-bought mayo. Whisk together ½ a cup of olive oil mayonnaise with 1 finely chopped garlic clove, 1 teaspoon of grated lemon zest and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.