Natural Food

Grilled vegetarian kebabs

A few weeks ago we drove east from Los Angeles to camp in Joshua Tree. From there we drove south to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – if you’ve never been there it’s magical. That said, the weather was inconsistent! It was hot during the day, then heavy rain one night and nasty wind while driving. We agreed that the highlight on the cooking front were these spicy, yogurt-coated vegetarian kebabs. I make them at home a lot, all year round, but they are very special when enjoyed under the stars. I love that they can be grilled or baked, marinating all of your ingredients in one container until you’re ready to skewer and cook your kebabs, and you can adapt to whatever ingredients you have on hand.

Top of the List Veggie Kebabs

I tend to prepare a few simple meals when we go camping, and these flavorful, yogurt-coated vegetarian kebabs are always high on the list. They are pictured here with paneer cheese, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and onions. I’ll talk more about the marinade below. The recipe you will see below has the ingredients pictured, but I just want to make sure you don’t feel limited to this combination. Half the fun of cooking vegetable skewers is playing around with what you put on the skewers. For example…

Favorite ingredients for vegetarian kebabs

  • mushrooms: I can’t remember the last time I cooked vegetarian kebabs with no mushrooms as the main ingredient – they are a must. Have fun with different types – the standards (cremini, button, portobello, etc.) are all great and easy to get hold of. Also keep an eye out for oyster mushrooms, maitake, matsutake, oysters, lobster mushrooms and the like. Mix it up with more than one guy if you can.
  • frozen artichoke hearts: I like to thaw these on the day I want to marinate the vegetarian kebab ingredients and then add them to the mix. I usually thread the artichokes through both ends on the skewer so that they fold, although I realize I didn’t do that in these photos. Meant!
  • paneer: Once I figure out how well paneer freezes, I always have some on hand. Whenever I go to the Indian market I fill up 4-5 blocks and freeze most of them for later use. Unlike tofu, the texture of which changes dramatically after freezing, paneer remains very similar to its pre-frozen state once it is thawed.
  • pepper: I love adding shishito peppers to my kebabs, but red or green peppers are easy to find and popular.
  • Corn – Cut in rounds or crescents: when corn is in season, this is a great addition.
  • tofu: I don’t usually use tofu for these vegetarian kebabs, I prefer the paneer with this marinade and flavor profile. However, if you want to make a vegan or dairy-free version, you can certainly experiment with tofu and a dairy-free yogurt.
  • Broccoli or cauliflower florets: I always regret not adding more broccoli to the kebabs.
  • Onion wedges and / or shallots: These add great flavor and structure. The key here is slicing the shallot or onion large enough to easily thread onto the skewer but small enough to cook through.

Airstream in Joshua Tree California before grilling vegetarian kebabs

The marinade

There are many things that I love about this marinade. It is based on yogurt and the type of marinade you can use in many traditional cuisines (Indian tandoor, Turkish, Greek, etc.) to tenderize meat before grilling or putting it in an oven. Tenderizing meat doesn’t matter here, but when it comes to using yogurt marinades, I love the way they brown, set and caramelize when heated (especially on a direct flame). Yoghurt marinades often have a yoghurt base paired with a citrus juice (often lemon) and, in addition, herbs, spices, salts and spices. Here you will see that I like a touch of mustard, a good portion of seasoning, a taste for dimensions and a little turmeric for earthiness and color.

Veggie Kebabs = Take it one step further

The other great thing about this marinade is that the ingredients can marinate for a while if needed. Up to three, maybe four days – depending on what you are marinating. I do it regularly where I grill vegetarian kebabs one evening but don’t use up all of the ingredients. Then come back two days later and skewer the rest of the kebabs. So basically whip up the marinade and toss your ingredients. Then whenever you’re ready, skewer and cook.

WB & P at Joshua Tree Campground

How should I cook these vegetarian kebabs?

You have options! The short answer is, use whatever you have. I usually go for a barbecue, but it really depends a lot on the time of year and my location. These kebabs are equally well baked in a hot oven on a sheet pan or (also on a sheet pan) in a pizza oven. We have one of these propane powered portable pizza ovens and you can see that in the video below. We’ve found that holding them up front when the pizza oven is in use and rotating them often works best.

Veggie kebab video

Tips for making the best vegetarian kebabs

There are a few things to keep in mind on this front, but in general, keep it simple and adopt a marinade that you love. Furthermore:

  • Start with great seasonal ingredients.
  • Cut ingredients into similar sizes: This makes for nicely balanced kebabs where the ingredients cook more evenly.
  • Grill or bake at the appropriate heat: You want the inside of each ingredient to cook well in the same amount of time it takes to develop a good color and taste on the outside. If you cook too hot, the outside could burn while the middle stays raw – not good!

Joshua Tree Campground

What to serve with vegetable skewers

So many things work great next to these vegetable kebabs. I love serving them over a flavored slather in a shallow bowl. For example something like this Beet Caviar or this Mung Bean Hummus, this Seed Pate or the Peace, Love & Energy Dip. I also love adding a grain component and these kebabs go great with a large scoop of quinoa or something like that Super Orange Citrus Rice, Sesame Coconut Rice, or Bryant Terry’s Amazing Green Rice.

Veggie kebabs on a plate

Do I have to soak wooden skewers before grilling?

The last thing I want to mention before we get to the recipe is that I always forget to soak my wooden skewers before grilling. I intend to soak them for about 30-40 minutes before skewering, but similar to how I always burn pine nuts, I never think of soaking the skewers. What should I do? It’s okay, even ten minutes is better than nothing, do what you can. If you’re short on soaking time, you can really stack the ingredients so that there is minimal exposure to the wood. It makes the kebabs a little harder to handle, but the skewers hold up better.

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