On Cooking Southern: Beat Summertime Heat With Stick Food

SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK

To love on: The action of being lovey-dovey with another person, including physical petting, hugging, kissing and making generally mushy-sounding small talk, including baby words. Related to lovin’, which is an action verb that applies to favorable consideration of activities, attitudes, people, places and things.


Folks around here love chicken on a stick.

In fact, we’re sort of famous for the popular local protein-on-the-run.  

It’s a fact, though — Oxonians didn’t invent chicken on a stick. It’s not even the first food ever threaded on a stick.

Humans have been applying the food-plus-stick-plus-fire concept to anything that runs, flies or swims since the first upright primate figured out that grilled food is tastier than raw. In communities on every habitable continent (Antarctica is excluded to date), people have their favorite forms of stick-grilled food, often produced over open flames on busy streets. Think about popular variations such as kebabs and brochettes.

However, I claim that our Southern ancestors perfected the art of stick grilling when scavenging for food during lean times. They discovered that stick-grilled foods provided the perfect vehicle for flora-based rubs and marinades concocted for the purpose of hiding inherent flavor flaws. Think roasted raccoon or opossum and sweet potatoes. Or – as our Vicksburg ancestors discovered during the terrible siege – roasted rat.

The concept stuck, so to speak. And like all shortcut-loving Americans, we modern Southerners love converting otherwise “normal” fork cuisine into fast food.

As some wag once pointed out, “necessity is the mother of invention.”

Summertime is here to stay, and the weather’s too soupy to turn on the stove. It’s time to get creative. Salads, desserts, side dishes and meat courses all adapt beautifully to the stick. But note: Use metal skewers instead of the inexpensive bamboo ones if the food requires grilling. Save the wooden skewers for the cold foods.


SKEWER THIS!

CAPRESE SALAD ON A STICK

5 T fine-chopped basil
1 tsp garlic powder
2 T large-crystal sea salt
Cherry tomatoes
Mozzarella balls
Large basil leaves
Balsamic vinegar
1 T olive oil

Fine-chop fresh basil and spread out on a cutting board to dry for about an hour.  Scrape into a large bowl and combine with the garlic powder and sea salt until they become a blended rub.

Whisk together the balsamic and olive oil.  Skewer tomatoes, basil leaves and mozzarella balls onto wooden picks, alternating until about three of each line the pick. Over a wax-paper lined pan, drizzle skewered salad with the balsamic oil and roll to coat all sides. Sprinkle with basil-garlic-sea salt rub and serve.


SKEWERED WATERMELON-STRAWBERRY-CUCUMBER SALAD

1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp poppyseeds
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
Watermelon chunks
Cucumber rounds, cut 1/2-inch thick
Sweet onion wedges
Large strawberries, capped and halved lengthwise
Green leaf lettuce leaves
Crumbled feta cheese

Whisk the first 6 ingredients until blended. Combine Veggies and fruit in a large bowl and add the dressing. Toss to blend. Refrigerate, covered, until 30 minutes before serving. To serve, thread on wooden skewers. Serve on a bed of green leaf lettuce, sprinkled with crumbled feta.


LEMON-THYME GRILLED VEGGIES

For a Latin flavor, substitute lime juice for the lemon, large jalapeño peppers for bell, and minced cilantro for thyme.

2 T fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 T honey
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
Bell peppers, cut into large wedges
Zucchini rounds
Onion wedges
Button or small portabella mushrooms
Butter lettuce leaves

Whisk lemon juice, chopped thyme, mustard, honey and seasonings together in a small bowl until emulsified. Add olive oil in a steady stream, whisking to blend until smooth. Thread bell peppers, zucchini rounds, onion wedges and mushrooms on skewers, alternating, with the pepper wedges serving to hold the more fragile veggies intact. Grill on hot grill, turning 4 times during 15-20 minutes, until all sides have been charred. Remove from grill, rake off into large butter lettuce leaves and drizzle with more lemon-thyme dressing. Top with salt and pepper to taste.


 HONEY LIME CHICKEN ON A STICK

1 c lime juice (about 5 limes)
1/2 c orange juice
1/4 c honey
1 to 2 tsp chili powder
1-1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise

Combine all ingredients except the chicken. Whisk to blend. Submerge the chicken in the marinade and refrigerate, covered, at least 2 hours. Thread the chicken on metal skewers; grill 4 minutes on medium-high heat; turning two to three times after 3 minutes, until center of chicken is 160˚F (opaque when cut). Serve while hot. Refrigerate leftovers and toss with leftover watermelon-strawberry-cucumber salad.


BRANDING IRON BEEF

1 T barbecue dry rub of choice (I use Rendezvous)
1 c apple cider vinegar
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 T garlic, minced
2 tsp brown sugar
1-1/2-inch-thick steak, cut into cubes
Baby Bella mushrooms
Onion, sliced into 1-1/2-inch cubes or wedges

Combine dry rub of choice with vinegar and whisk in oil, Worcester, lemon juice, mustard, garlic and sugar until blended. Pour marinade over beef in a large sealable bag. Seal and shake to coat evenly. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, turning the bag at least once.

Thread beef onto skewers, alternating with bellas and onion. Discard marinade. Grill on medium-hot grill, turning a quarter turn about every 3 minutes to sear all sides. Ready to eat when center of beef registers 125-130˚F.


PINEAPPLE POKE PIGGY

1 c soy sauce
1/2 c light brown sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 c peach preserves
2 lb large cubes of pork (loin or carnitas chunks)
Large cubes of pineapple
2 bell peppers, cut into large cubes
Cherry tomatoes
1 onion, cut into 1-1/2-inch wedges

Combine first 6 ingredients and bring to a boil. Cool and add the pork chunks. Marinate in fridge, covered, for 4 hours. Thread pork onto skewers, alternating with pineapple and bell pepper chunks. Grill 4 minutes per side on a hot grill, lid closed, turning at least three times, until center of meat reaches 145˚F.


Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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