Orange Tamarind Beef Kebabs
I love to cook. Puttering around in the kitchen, circled by 4 boiling pots, three full cutting boards and about 17 dirty bowls is really where I find my zen. However, as soon as the ice melts off our driveway all I can think about is being outside, digging around in the ‘garden’ (one day, hopefully, I won’t have to use that term so loosely), and finding a bit of late spring redemption in the fresh air and cool breezes. All of a sudden my kitchen haven begins to feel cloistered and stale. I don’t want to stand over a stove for hours on end when I COULD be outside, busily killing off the seedlings that I just bought from Home Depot, and turning my back yard into random heaps of dirt and rubble. That means, of course, less boiling pots and more sizzling barbecues.
The other benefit of cooking outdoors is that….well, I don’t have to do it. It’s not that I can’t barbecue, and I’m certainly not one of those old fashioned biddies who think that barbecuing is for the menfolk while we’s ladies mix up a good ol’ batch of puhtater salad. Really it has more to do with the fact that Mike likes to cook almost as much as I do, and I rarely give him opportunity to do so from the realm of my kitchen monopoly. As far as our dispersion of culinary real estate goes, I staked claim to the kitchen a long time ago, and that leaves him only with a rusted out grill in the backyard or his choice of toppings on a late night pizza. I can hardly take such tiny pleasures away from him.
Really though, if I were to be completely honest, I’m really rather selfish when push comes to shove and this way I still get to enjoy the best of both worlds. I can futz around and make a mess in the kitchen, completely dictating what will be served and how, before passing the torch over to my beau who is tasked with grilling it up to perfection. He gets to pound his chest over a blazing fire, and I get to drink wine on the deck while my dinner gets cooked. It’s a win-win. I’m only standing inside for a half hour or less as I set things to marinate or thread them on skewers, and the rest of the time I can spend doing other things, like pulling out all of my carrots because I thought they were weeds.
So there you have it: be prepared, you’re in for a BBQ heavy couple of months.
Orange Tamarind Beef Kebabs
- 1 kg (2.2 lb) boneless top sirloin *
- 1/3 cup tamarind paste
- 1/3 cup hot water
- 1.5 tsp white or yellow mustard seeds
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 5 black cardamom pods
- 2 crushed bay leaves
- 2 tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin **
- 5 cloves garlic
- fat 1.5″ hunk of fresh ginger
- 1 navel orange (1.5 tbsp zest, juice of whole)
- 1 lime (zest and juice of whole
- 1 medium yellow onion, grated
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 long green chili peppers
- 3-5 Thai birds eye chili peppers ***
- salt and pepper to taste
For the kebabs:
- 1 green pepper
- 1 yellow pepper
- 1 red pepper
Optional for serving:
- slices of fresh lime
- coarsely torn or chopped cilantro
* Don’t feel bound by the top sirloin option. An eye of round would be a great choice too, or you could even use a tougher cut of meat because the marinade will do wonders in terms of tenderizing it. If you’re not a beef eater, pork would be an excellent substitute.
** I prefer to use cumin seeds, but if you ran out (as I apparently did) the ground cumin does a fine substitute.
*** Thai birds eye chili peppers are HOT HOT HOT! If you like a milder heat you can choose to use just 3 and be sure to remove all of the ribs and seeds from the peppers.
Put the tamarind paste into a small bowl and cover it with the hot water. Muddle it about with your fingers until you can feel it start to dissolve and then let it sit and soften while you get started on other things.
Pound the mustard, coriander, cumin, cardamom pods and crushed bay leaves in a mortar and pestle until you’re satisfied that they’re fairly ground. I would say, “until they’re finely powdered” but let’s not kid ourselves here – after about 7 minutes of honest pounding I’m willing to call it a day, husks or no husks.
Transfer the crushed spices to a large non-reactive bowl or dish. Finely mince or grate the garlic and peeled ginger, and add these to the mix. I will fully cop to the fact that I’ve gotten despicably lazy, and I almost never mince these by hand because a microplane rasp makes short work of them in less time than it takes to say, “is THIS fine enough?” Oh, and then the handy rasp can be used to zest the citrus fruit as well, so it’s like one stop shopping…without the hassle of cleaning multiple tools. But anyway, that’s just me.
Zest off 1.5 tbsp from the orange (that’s about 3/4 of a naked navel orange) and squeeze in the juice of the fruit. Zest the entire lime and squeeze in that juice as well.
Grate the onion and add the pulp as well as any onion juice that drizzled off into the bowl, along with the 2 tablespoons of tomato paste.
Give a last muddle to the tamarind paste to make sure that it’s all softened and mostly dissolved. Remove any seeds and stringy bits before adding the pulp to the bowl as well.
Cut the stem ends off the chili peppers and finely mince them. If you want to reduce the heat a little bit you can split them in half and remove the seeds and membranes, but I like to leave the seeds in about half of the birds eyes. I’ll deseed the green chili, however, because those seeds tend to be tougher and don’t particularly contribute a lot of spice or flavor. Add the peppers to the rest of that marinade mash and season it with salt and pepper.
Now then, the marinade is set! Let’s get on to the beef. Trim away any silver skin and sinew that you see on the meat. If you like (and I do) you can also trim off most of the visible fat. Fat is flavor, true, but these skewers don’t need the help. Also, Mike dissects the fat off of his meat in a less than surgical process that’s somewhat painful to watch, so if I can get rid of it in advance and spare us both that hardship, well, I’ll do so.
Cut the beef into chunks (about 1″ – 1.5″ large) and try to make sure that they’re all roughly the same size.
Toss the meat in with the marinade and make sure that everything is coated.
Cover the container with cling wrap or a lid and leave it to marinate in the fridge for 4-6 hours. This oven safe ceramic dish is a recent addition to our home. My fabulous friend Sooli bought it for us, and I have to say that it might be just about the cutest thing in my kitchen right now. I want to use it for everything, and if I could eat cereal out of it in the morning I probably would.
Chop up your vegetables into large chunks about the same size as your cubes of meat. When the beef has had a chance to soak up all that flavor for at least 4 hours, start threading the meat, alternated with vegetables, onto long skewers. If you have flat metal skewers they would be ideal. Bamboo skewers ( all that I have, pauvre moi) will get burnt to bejeezus even if you soak them in water for at least a half hour. Such is life, however, and what’s a bit of char between friends?
Discard the gloopy mass of marinade that’s left in the bottom of the bowl. It has played it’s part, and now we need to just let it rest….in the compost…..
Barbecue the skewers over a hot grill for 3-5 minutes per side, or until they’re cooked to your desired doneness. All that these kebabs need for garnish are a few slices of fresh lime for squeezing and some coarsely torn cilantro leaves.
If you use the ‘feel’ test to tell you when your meat is done, I should warn you now – the marinade makes these kebabs incredibly juicy and succulent. Even when the meat is well done it will still have a bit of give and softness to it. Unless you’re a grey shoe leather kind of person, use a bit of caution and keep an eye on the clock so they don’t get overcooked.
The scent billowing away from your BBQ as these are cooking is absolutely mind blowing. Really. The sweet orange, exotic East Asian spices, tangy tamarind and….beefy beef. I think we officially need to sell our house and move to a place where barbecues can happen for more than just 3 months out of the year.
We served these kebabs with a side of spiced basmati rice, spicy lime pickle and some fresh homemade roti. I’ve only made roti once or twice before, and this clearly wasn’t my greatest achievement. I have yet to figure out exactly how thin to roll them. Last time they were a bit too thick and they seized into fat little doughy plates. This round was too thin and they ended up getting a bit snappy and hard. However, I’m willing to take a lesson from Goldilocks…hopefully the next batch will be just right. In the mean time, however, ‘a bit snappy’ doesn’t mean that we had any trouble wrapping them around the skewers and feasting until our plates were licked clean, so I shouldn’t be so fussy.