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Middle Eastern Chicken and Veggie Kebobs with Spiced Yogurt Sauce

By Heidi Allison

Image of Middle Eastern Chicken and Veggie Kebobs with Spiced Yogurt Sauce
Middle Eastern yogurt, Labneh, is traditionally used in kebob marinades to tenderize meat. And, science backs up this culinary trick: the lactic acid in yogurt breaks down the connective protein collagen and acidifies the muscle fibers. In other words, tough proteins transform into tender and juicy cuts of meat when grilled. In case you can’t find Labneh in your market, use full-fat, plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt and add 4 tablespoons of good quality, full-fat sour cream to up the fat content—you’ll get product that is in the ballpark to labneh.

Beyond adding tenderness and flavor to meat, yogurt creates a beautiful, caramelized crust. In contrast to oil and acid-based (lemon juice, vinegar or red wine) marinades, yogurt has a higher PH, which gently tenderizes the meat. While 8 hours can do the job, you are better off marinating kebob meat for 24 hours. This marinade does double-duty in this dish: use half as a marinade and save the other half to serve as a seasoned dipping sauce on the side. 

Play with the basic marinade recipe to change things up; switch out the paprika for saffron, and the chicken takes on a brilliant orange-yellow color and a more refined, subtle flavor in the finished dish (lovely with chicken breast).

Rather than mixing chicken with onion and bell pepper on a single skewer, I prefer to separate these four items since they cook at different times; thighs on one skewer, breast meat on another skewer, and bell peppers and onion pieces on separate skewers. The one caveat while grilling is not to pile the marinade on the meat or veggies — the skewers will stick to the grill and burn before cooked. What you are looking for is a thin, even layer of marinade that is painted on with a pastry brush right before the kebob hits the hot grill.

If grill space is tight, cook the meat first — this step allows the meat to rest a few minutes before plating.

Image of Ingredients for Middle Eastern Chicken and Veggie Kebobs with Spiced Yogurt Sauce

Kebob Ingredients:
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 chicken breast, skin and bone removed
1 red bell pepper; quartered, veins and seeds removed
½ yellow onion, peeled

Using kitchen scissors, cut any grizzle from chicken thighs.

Image of butterflied chicken
With a large kitchen knife, cut the breast in half horizontally (butterfly) and place on the plate. Gently pound breast meat with a mallet until it's flattened to about ¼ inch height.
Image of marinade in bowl
1 cup labneh (can substitute with full-fat, plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt with several tablespoons of full-fat sour cream)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ yellow onion, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of ½ lemon, about 1 tablespoon
1¾ teaspoon kosher flake sea salt
5 cloves garlic, peeled
¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Place all ingredients into a Ninja Bullet or high-efficiency blender and puree ingredients till combined, about one blend cycle.

Place chicken into a large Ziploc® bag, pour half of the marinade into the bag, and massage it into the chicken — close bag and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Save the remainder of the sauce in the fridge and use for basting and serve as a dipping sauce.

Remove chicken from refrigerator one hour before grilling. Soak bamboo skewers in cold water for one hour. Gently shake off excess marinade, then gently pat dry with a paper towel. Cut thigh meat, against the grain, into 1-inch pieces and set aside. Cut breast meat lengthwise into strips and set aside — prep veggies by cutting into 1-inch pieces.

Image of marinated chicken in pan
Thread thigh and breast meat onto pre-soaked skewers, leaving a bit of room between meat pieces (about 1/8 of an inch), and place on a foil-lined baking sheet — dust with kosher flake salt. Thread red bell pepper and onion pieces onto skewers and place them on a plate.
Image of Chicken on grill
Place cast iron grill on a stove grate and wipe with paper towels dipped in oil. Heat on medium-high until hot. Place chicken on the grill pan and cook until crusty, with charred bits on ends, about 5 minutes per side. Check to see if the meat is done by cutting into a piece of meat: if still pink, leave on the grill a bit longer, or place under the broiler for a few minutes until done.

Lightly brush veggies with a thin layer of olive oil or marinade and dust with flake salt. Place on grill and cook till soft and charred on ends, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and use a fork to remove veggies from skewers.

Plate chicken kebobs and loose veggies on a plate and serve with a wedge of fresh lemon and green salad with extra marinade on the side.

Serves: 3-4

Image of Kabobs
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