Appetizer-sized skewers from the grill turn any gathering into a party. They always look tempting, and when done well, they tease the taste buds with a bite or two of an intensely flavored treat. In this case, we bathe chicken cubes and vegetables in saffron, mustard, and olive oil, skewer them together for grilling, and offer a basil mayonnaise for dunking. Vary the veggies according to the season and your whims, striving for a mix of colors and a balance of tastes. The kebabs lose nothing in appeal when served cool after a few hours in the refrigerator, allowing you to prepare them in advance for a special occasion.—Cheryl and Bill Jamison
For the sauce
2/3 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 plump garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon anchovy paste, optional
Coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
For the marinade
Mnced zest and juice of 3 lemons
Big pinch of saffron threads
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Several cups of mixed vegetables, such as baby zucchini or yellow squash, red or white pearl onions, multicolored bell peppers, baby button mushrooms, endives, tiny ears of corn, marinated artichoke hearts, and/or pitted black or green olives, cut if needed into neat squares no larger than the chicken cubes
Basil sprigs, optional
Soaked bamboo skewers, preferably 6 to 10 inches long
Make the sauce
1. Whisk together the ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate until time to serve.
Make the marinade
1. Combine the lemon zest and juice with the saffron in a small bowl and let sit for a couple of minutes. Mix in the remaining ingredients, then set aside about one-third of the mixture to brush over the skewers while cooking.
2. Place the chicken and vegetables in a large zippered plastic bag and pour the larger portion of marinade over them. Seal the bag, then toss back and forth to coat the ingredients evenly Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Cook the chicken
1. Fire up the grill, bringing the heat to medium (4 to 5 seconds with the hand test (see note).
2. While the grill heats, drain the chicken and vegetables, discarding the marinade. Thread just a couple of bites’ worth of chicken and vegetables on each skewer, without crowding.
3. Arrange the kebabs on the grill with the handles of the skewers off or away from the fire. Grill uncovered for 7 to 9 minutes, turning to cook on all sides. After about the first 5 minutes, brush the skewers all over with the reserved marinade. When done, the chicken should be firm and white and the vegetables tender, with a few crisp edges.
4. Arrange the kebabs on a bed of basil sprigs, if you wish. Serve hot or chilled, accompanied by the sauce.
Note: Place your hand a couple of inches above the top of the cooking grate and count the seconds until the heat of the fire forces you to pull away: one to two seconds means hot, three seconds indicates medium high, and four to five seconds denotes moderate.
Recipe © 2004 Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison. All rights reserved.