pomegranate sumac shish kebab

shish kebab

It's a long weekend and everyone with a grill will be grilling. Burgers and hotdogs are all well and good, but if you're looking for something a little punchier, with a lot more color, you're going to want to try this recipe. Chunks of lamb are marinated in pomegranate molasses, and then glazed with more pomegranate molasses as they cook. The tangy caramelized sugars make this lamb completely irresistible. As if that wasn't enough, the veggie skewers are marinated in za'atar and sumac, and they blister, char, and soften to perfection on the grill. This shish kebab is fabulous for entertaining because the whole thing can be prepared ahead, left to marinate in the refrigerator, and once they go on the grill, they're done in a flash.

leg of lamb
red onion, tomato, bell pepper
red onion, tomato, bell pepper shish kebab
leg of lamb shish kebab

There's no magical reason why this recipe calls for tomato, onion, and bell pepper. It's the veggie mix my family always makes, it's always easy to find, and it goes great with grilled meats. The sumac flavor adds just the right zest to the mellow flavor of the charred and blistered veggies. But feel free to experiment with skewering other produce for grilling. Mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, radicchio, asparagus, or even stone fruit like peaches, all work great here. It doesn't matter what color cherry tomatoes, onions, or bell peppers you find—a more colorful variety will give this dish a brighter presentation, but red tomatoes with red bell pepper and red onions look chic in their own monochromatic way.

And speaking of good looks: while it would be even prettier to put the veggies on the same skewers as the lamb pieces, this is one time when you've got to sacrifice some style for substance. The vegetable skewers will be done cooking a couple minutes before the lamb, and it's important that you take them off the grill as soon as they're ready. You know the veggie skewers are done when the tomatoes are blistered, slightly softened, and just starting to shrivel. You don't want to cook them beyond this point or you will make a delicious tomato sauce, which will slough off the skewers and sink right through the grill grates.

shish kebab
shish kebab

pomegranate sumac shish kebab

yield: 4 servings
active time: 35 minutes
total time: 2 hours and 30 minutes *
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  • 2 pounds semi-boneless leg of lamb (if you are buying bone-in, buy 2 1/2 to 3 pounds)

  • About 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoons salt (to taste)

  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (for marinade)

  • 1 small red onion

  • 1 green bell pepper (can substitute another color bell pepper)

  • 1 pound cherry tomatoes

  • 1/2 teaspoon sumac

  • 1/2 teaspoon za'atar (optional, add 1/4 teaspoon more sumac instead)

  • About 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoons salt (to taste) *

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (for grilling)

  1. Trim any large pieces of fat from the leg of lamb, and cut the lamb into chunks, discarding any bone or gristle.

  2. Place the lamb it in a ziplock bag (or another sealable container), add the salt and pomegranate molasses, mix it around by squeezing the bag, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 day. **

  3. Chop the onion and bell pepper into large chunks. Mix together in a ziplock bag with the cherry tomatoes, sumac, za'atar, salt, and olive oil. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 1 day.

  4. Once they're ready, skewer the veggies and the lamb separately. ***

  5. Pre-heat the grill to medium-hot and brush one side of the lamb with 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses.

  6. Once the grill is hot, add the lamb, molasses-side-down, and brush the other side of the lamb with the other tablespoon of pomegranate molasses. Then add the veggie skewers.

  7. Regularly check to make sure nothing is burning, and turn everything once or twice to cook evenly.

  8. Remove the veggies once they are charred and slightly wilted. For medium-rare, the lamb should be internally 135° F, although they're also very tasty when cooked beyond medium rare.

* Use a little less salt if your za'atar is seasoned.
** If you're in a hurry, you can get away with marinating it for 30 minutes, but the flavor intensifies if you leave it a bit longer. If you marinade for a shorter period, glaze the lamb with a little extra molasses during the grilling.
*** If you're making everything ahead of time: Simply mix the veggies with the seasoning, skewer them immediately, and refrigerate for up to a day. Start the lamb off by marinating it in a ziplock bag for an hour, then skewer and refrigerate for up to a day.

shish kebab

jerusalem salad

Jerusalem salad

Tabbouleh has become so popular in the United States, it's easy to forget about all the other classic Middle Eastern salads. And that's a shame, because as much as I love tabbouleh (and I really do love it. I recently revisited classic tabbouleh and shared my recipe for ruby fennel tabbouleh, and later this summer, I'll introduce two more variations: tabbouleh verde and tabbouleh mergherita), there are many more Middle Eastern salads out there, some named and some unnamed.

Don't forget about classic fattoush (or my kale fattoush), beet salad, carrot salad, lentil salad, and many more (if it's something you could eat in a salad, then there's probably a Middle Eastern salad for it). But if I had to pick one that's really essential to most Middle Eastern cuisines, it would be Jerusalem salad. Israeli and Palestinian chefs, Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, explain this dish's ubiquity:

“It is impossible to count the number of cultures and subcultures residing in this city. Jerusalem is an intricate, convoluted mosaic of peoples. It is therefore very tempting to say there isn’t such a thing as a local cuisine. However, if you take a step back and look at the greater picture, there are some typical elements that are easily identifiable in most local cuisines and crop up throughout the city. Everybody, absolutely everybody, uses chopped cucumber and tomatoes to create an Arab salad or an Israeli salad, depending on point of view."

cucumbers
tomatoes

Jerusalem salad is dead simple; you dice up cucumbers and tomatoes (with a few other veggies, depending on who's cooking), you dress it simply, and you serve it. But there's one small problem I've always had when making Jerusalem salad, which is moisture. These ingredients have a ton of water in them, and when you add salt and dressing, they start leaking that water everywhere, and after about 5 minutes, the dressing is completely watered down and your veggies are swimming in a sea of diluted lemon juice. You could add extra lemon juice to compensate, and just use a slotted spoon to serve it, or you could leave the salt out. But my favorite solution is to macerate the veggies with some salt for about an hour, strain them, and then dress the salad. The veggies maintain their crunch, but break down just the slightest bit, and the dressing stays in place and does its job effectively.

Jerusalem salad

Jerusalem salad

yield: 6 servings
active time: 20 minutes
total time: 1 hour 20 minutes
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PDF to print

  • 5 Persian cucumbers

  • 1 yellow or orange bell pepper (can substitute red or green)

  • 5 roma tomatoes

  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

  • 1/4 cup minced red onions (from about 1/4 of a medium onion)

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • The juice of 1 lemon

  • 3 tablespoons finely minced parsley, divided into 2 tablespoons and 1 tablespoon

  • More salt to taste (optional)

  1. Small dice the cucumbers, bell pepper, and tomatoes, and combine in a big serving bowl.

  2. Toss together with the sea salt and refrigerate for an hour.

  3. After an hour has gone by, strain the salad through a fine mesh colander, discarding the liquid. Do not press the salad against the colander, but gently shake the colander a few times to drain away the excess liquid. *

  4. Place the salad back in the bowl, add the red onion, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons minced parsley, and more salt to taste (optional), and toss to coat.

  5. Garnish with the 1 tablespoon minced parsley.

* To make ahead, strain the salad after an hour, store in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours, and then strain again right before dressing and serving. You can even do this a day ahead of time, but the vegetables will soften significantly and the texture of the final dish will be very different.

If you're looking for a variation on this salad, try my recipe for watermelon Jerusalem salad, which is prepared in much the same way. I've also got a lovely recipe for Jerusalem salad pico de gallo.

Jerusalem salad