As the calendar starts to reach the other side of July, we are well into grilling season, enjoying the smoke and fire of the grill on longer relaxed evenings. Vegetables, red meat and seafood all work well with the sensuous kiss of fire, but when it comes to grilling, chicken is my personal workhorse.
I find chicken a way to showcase many flavors. A good, healthy marinade is all it needs to make it the star of the season. Add to it your favorite assortment of market veggies and you are in business.
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To keep your chicken dishes interesting, you’ll need some serious flavor options up your sleeve. Keep in mind, though, that you do not necessarily need to restrict your options to chicken breasts. You can also try drumsticks, wings or even boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
Marinating at least four hours will ensure a well-seasoned piece of chicken that is perfect over a salad or with your favorite grain, and the leftovers can be added to a simple green salad.
Here are a dozen seasoning ideas and three recipes to get you started on a mix-and-match journey. These ideas fall into three basic categories: sweet and savory; yogurt-based; and olive oil, garlic and seasonal herbs. For vegetarians, these seasoning ideas and recipes will also work well with your favorite fleshy vegetable — think eggplant– or even tofu, so you can also enjoy the fire and smoke of the summer season.
A touch of sweetness
- Sriracha, Mustard and Maple Chicken Kebabs: Sweet and spicy flavors come together in this dish. See recipe below.
- Chutney Spiced Marinade: Combine 1 cup of your favorite chutney (such as tomato or tamarind) with 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1/2 cup chopped mint or cilantro. Blend to a smooth paste and use as a marinade for up to 2 pounds of chicken.
- Apricot Sage Marinade: Combine 3 tablespoons apricot preserves, 2 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 or 2 jalapeños to taste and 1/4 cup chopped oregano. Blend into a puree and use as a marinade for up to 2 pounds of chicken.
- Maple-Red Pepper Marinade: Combine 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1 1/2 tablespoons red pepper flakes, salt to taste and 1/3 cup olive oil. This will marinate up to 2 pounds of chicken and would also work well for shrimp or tofu.
- Soy, Ginger and Brown Sugar: Blend 3 tablespoons grated ginger, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 1/3 cup olive oil to make a flavorful marinade. You can also use this as a basting sauce if you do not have time to marinade the chicken.
- Chicken Tikka Kebabs: Make a double batch to use in a salad. See recipe below.
- Garam Masala Marinade: Combine 3/4 cup Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger, 1 1/2 tablespoons garam masala and 1 tablespoon sugar and salt to taste for up to 2 pounds of chicken.
- Mint and Cumin Marinade: Combine 3/4 cup plain yogurt, 1 cup mint leaves, 2 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon powdered cumin, 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric, 1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Marinate up to 2 pounds of chicken for at least two hours.
- Ginger and Smoked Paprika: Combine 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon ginger and 1 teaspoon pink salt. Marinate 6 to 8 drumsticks for at least three to four hours.
- Malai Kebabs: Combine 1/4 cup sour cream, 1 tablespoon garam masala and 1/4 cup cashews and toss with chicken. Serve with freshly chopped mint.
When in a hurry, seasonal herbs and olive oil combine for tasty marinades. Here are a few favorites.
- Ginger and Lemongrass: For a touch of Thailand, whisk together 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sauce and 3/4 cup of chopped Thai or regular basil. You can also add 2 tablespoons sriracha and 1/4 cup coconut milk depending on your tastes.
- Mint and Black Pepper: Blend together 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup of mint chutney and 1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper and salt to taste.
- Mock Tandoori: This dairy-free version marinade is great if you want the flavors of tandoori without the yogurt. Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons garam masala powder, 1 tablespoon ginger paste, 1 tablespoon powdered cumin, 1 tablespoon powdered coriander and salt to taste.
- Herbs of Valhalla: This marinade highlights the profusion of summer herbs. Combine 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil; 1 serrano pepper, stem removed (and seeded if you prefer a milder flavor); 2 cloves garlic; and 2 cups mixed herbs, such as chives, cilantro, basil and mint and blend into a paste.
- Lemon Herb Chicken Kebabs: Combining lemon juice, olive oil and a few basic spices is all you need to create a flavorful meal of chicken and squash. See recipe below.
Sriracha, Mustard and Maple Chicken Kebabs
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes
Total time: 45 to 50 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1/3 cup sriracha
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds chicken, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 nectarine, stoned and cut into eighths
1 medium red onion, cut into eighths and separated
2 tablespoons olive or mustard oil
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1. Mix together the sriracha, mustard, ginger, maple syrup and salt and toss the chicken into the mixture. Let it rest for 30 minutes.
2. Skewer the chicken with the nectarine and red onion.
3. Brush well with the oil and grill for about 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently.
4. Remove from the grill. Sprinkle with the nigella seeds and cilantro.
5. Serve with rice or warm pita.
Lemon Herb Chicken Kebabs
Prep time: 1 to 2 hours (plus time to marinate)
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 1/2 hours to 2 1/2 hours
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
4 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt to taste (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
3 to 4 zucchini, cut into 1/3-inch (1-centimeter) slices
1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme, plus more for garnish
Lime or lemon wedges to garnish
1. Cut the chicken in 1 1/2 -inch chunks and place in a mixing bowl.
2. Add in the garlic, cumin, black pepper, red pepper and olive oil.
3. Stir in the lemon juice and salt and toss well to coat and mix the ingredients.
4. Stir in the zucchini and the oregano and the thyme and set the mixture aside for 1 or 2 hours at room temperature (up to 65 degrees) or refrigerate longer or overnight.
5. When you are ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and thread onto skewers.
6. Prepare a grill and place the skewers on the grill and cook for about 15 minutes, turning the skewers every 4 to 6 minutes, allowing the chicken to turn crisp at spots and cook through. The zucchini will also soften and turn darker at spots. Baste and brush the chicken with olive oil while cooking.
7. Remove the skewers from the grill. To serve, remove the chicken and zucchini from the skewers, garnish with additional herbs if desired and serve with the lime or lemon wedges.
Chicken Tikka Kebabs
You can watch a video for preparing this recipe.
Prep time: 4 to 6 hours, including marinating time
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: About 6 hours
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 cup low-fat yogurt
1-inch piece ginger
3 cloves garlic
2 to 3 green chilies
1 tomato (optional)
1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) (optional)
4 tablespoons tandoori masala
2 teaspoons salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Cooking oil or spray
1 medium sized red onion, sliced
Lemon or lime wedges
1. Place the yogurt, ginger, garlic, chilies, tomato, fenugreek, tandoori masala and salt in a blender and grind into a paste.
2. Mix the paste with the chicken and set aside at least two to three hours but optimally four to six hours.
3. Skewer the chicken onto bamboo skewers.
4. Place a grill pan on the stove (this is what I use on weeknights, a regular grill or broiling works well as well) and spray evenly with cooking spray.
5. Place the chicken on the grill pan and cook 7 to 8 minutes and turn. (The chicken should have golden brown spots across the chicken.)
6. Cook another 5 to 7 minutes.
7. Add the sliced onion to the grill pan and toss for 2 to 3 minutes until they are slightly sautéed.
8. Sprinkle with sumac and serve with lemon or lime wedges.
Main photo: Grilled chicken and vegetables over rice. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya