Thursday, September 30, 2021

My Homemade Shish Kebab
A million times I've toyed with the idea of upgrading to the kind of big gas grill that is in vogue nowadays. But I suspect I'll always prefer my tried and true Weber kettle

I stand outdoors on a gentle September evening, tending my dinner on the grill

My thoughts drift back to the lake.

 * * * * *

Southeastern Michigan is a place where glaciers once gouged the landscape and left behind a wonderland of freshwater lakes, and I was lucky enough to grow up on one of them.

Ore Lake.

We were country kids, us Ore Lakers. Detroit and Ann Arbor made an easy commute, and the closest proper town was just five miles off, but at home, we roamed our private paradise of dirt roads, acres of untouched woods, and of course, the lake.

And in this part of the world, lakes predominate. There's a distinct culture to the people who live on and around them, where it's normal to wear your bathing suit all day every day in the summer, and keep your ice skates and hockey sticks by the front door all winter. Ore Lake was shared between the laid-back year-rounders, like my family, and the cottage people who came out weekends and summers cranked up and in high gear for rest and relaxation, often times inviting carloads of friends and relatives to join in their lakeside parties.
Nothing like throwing on a plaid shirt and shorts over a soaking wet swim suit. Iykyk.

As a year-round country mouse, I was in awe of these celebrations.
Folding aluminum lawn chairs flocked across front lawns (in lake culture, the front of the house is the side facing the water), 

Coolers full of store-brand sodas and the occasional stash of Pabst Blue Ribbons. 

And the centerpiece of every weekend blast, the outdoor grill.

Around midday, you'd hear squeaking wheels as dads began to pull these rusty contraptions out from garages and sheds and back yards. Down near the shore they'd drag them, heap up the charcoal briquettes, douse them with lighter fluid, and then - magic to my little pyromaniac eyes - light them up with a flash of flame. 

Moms wearing swimsuits and cover-ups would hand out plates of burger patties and hot dogs, and onto the metal grate they would go, packed in as tight as those city folks in their cars, cooking under the watchful eye of the lakeside chefs. Flimsy portable tables appeared with condiments - catsup, mustard, and pickle relish - a couple bags of buns, some chips or maybe a bowl of potato salad, and a stack of paper plates. The plain white kind with the fluted edges. 

And then, with a final nod from the man with the spatula, dinner was served. All us kids scooped up a plate ("Just take one, don't waste them") and crowded around as the server asked again and again, "Hot dog or hamburger?" Either was fine with me. 

Because for whatever reason, my parents did not engage in this ritual. I'm not sure why - they surely loved most other aspects of lake culture - but grilling was not in their repertoire. 

So to my young and impressionable mind, the art of outdoor grilling swelled to majestic proportions, and whenever I was invited to join into the ritual, I accepted with holy reverence.

Now as much as I trembled at the sight of a grill loaded down with the usual patties and tube steaks, imagine my breathless wonder when I first feasted my eyes on a spread of shish kebabs roasting in the afternoon sun. The skewers themselves made me shiver with fascination: You can cook food on wooden sticks?!? Where do you buy such things? How do you get the bits of food to stay on? How do you eat them? 

And the kebabs - meats decorated with bright flashes of cherry tomatoes, green peppers, and white mushrooms - were just about the most beautiful and exotic meal my young mind could possibly fathom. In my early 1970s mindset, shish kebabs cooked on an outdoor grill sat right up there at the pinnacle of the food pyramid with Jello parfaits and cheese fondue, representing a lifestyle of elegance and ease that I could only dream of attaining.

Years passed.

I moved away from Ore Lake. 

But my love for lake living and my dreams of grilled shish kebabs lived on.

* * * * *
After years of trial and error, I've landed on the strategy of loading the skewers up with like items, rather than mixing and matching. which makes cooking a lot easier - meats go in the middle where the fire is hottest, veggies around the edges. We mix them up on our plates. 

Gently, I use my tongs to inspect the progress of tonight's dinner, and note with satisfaction that the meat and veggies are crisping up nicely. I smile. Shish kebabs are a long-established Streicher family favorite, and while they are often requested for a birthday or holiday dinner, I also whip them up for just an ordinary meal. 

Nowadays, I grill shish kebab all the time.

But I notice that every time I make them, as I'm threading the bits of meat onto the skewers (I own several sets of metal ones now), basting them with marinade as they cook, or carefully piling their roasted glory onto a heaping serving plate, that little girl from Ore Lake rises up within me, and beams with delight. 

I'm so happy that I've made all her shish kebab dreams come true. 

* * * * * 


2 lbs beef tri tip
2 lbs boneless chicken

1 C low sodium soy sauce
1 C rice vinegar
1/2 C olive oil
Splashes of whatever sounds interesting: garlic powder, onion powder, red chili flakes, ginger, honey.

Fresh veggies such as: red, yellow, orange bell peppers, Anaheim or Hatch peppers, mushrooms, sweet or red onion, broccoli, snap peas, asparagus.


1. Cut the meat into uniform portions, about one inch square.

2. Combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, olive oil, and splashes into a large food storage box. Add the meat and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 24 hours.

3. Clean the vegetables and cut into uniform bits, about one inch square. Veggies that are more dense can be cut in smaller pieces, so they will cook faster. 

4. Fill the grill with charcoal and light about a half hour before cook time.

5. Load the meat and vegetables onto skewers, baste with the leftover marinade.

6. Cook over the grill and baste periodically until browned and crispy.

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