Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Kebabs with Aleppo Pepper

Yogurt-marinated chicken is one of the world's best culinary inventions.  First there was tandoori chicken, delicious if done properly.  Then I started stumbling across other yogurt-marinated chicken recipes from all over the Middle East and India.  This is our new favorite yogurt-based recipe.  The yogurt marinade renders the chicken super moist, and it gives it a nice tangy flavor.  The lemon is nice and bright, plus the pepper gives it some wonderful slightly sweet heat.  It is such a wonderful blend of flavors.  I love trying new things - new seasonings, new cuts of meat, new everything.  That's how we end up with half of the produce in our refrigerator during the summer, and how we accumulated most of the spices in our kitchen cabinet.  And while I considered buying Aleppo pepper just to make this recipe, I decided that it was slightly silly to buy a spice that I had only ever seen once in a recipe.  Plus the alternative works beautifully in this recipe.  So I stick with the dried crushed red pepper (homemade by a family friend and super spicy) or cayenne pepper, plus sweet paprika blend.  I'm not sure how the recipe would taste with the Aleppo pepper, but I can attest to the fact that it is delicious with the substitution.

My favorite way to prepare this dish is to make the marinade while I am cooking dinner the night before, and then allow the chicken to sit in the marinade overnight.  Last night Alex whipped up the marinade while I started on our Hummus with Cinnamon Lamb and I was excited all day just thinking about the yogurt marinating away in our fridge.  But I have tried marinating it for just a few hours and it tastes wonderful that way too. 

Recipe after the jump!
Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Kebabs with Aleppo Pepper
July 2009

1 1/2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper* or 2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper (or cayenne) plus 2 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika, plus additional Aleppo pepper or paprika for sprinkling
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek-style yogurt (8 ounces)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 garlic cloves, peeled, flattened
2 unpeeled lemons; 1 thinly sliced into rounds, 1 cut into wedges for serving 2 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken (thighs and/or breast halves), cut into 1 1/4-inch cubes

Special equipment: Flat metal skewers (or you can just cook the chicken cubes solo)

If using Aleppo pepper, place in large bowl and mix in 1 tablespoon warm water. Let stand until thick paste forms, about 5 minutes. If using dried crushed red pepper and paprika combination, place in large bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons warm water and let stand until paste forms, about 5 minutes. Add yogurt, olive oil, red wine vinegar, tomato paste, 2 teaspoons coarse salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper to spice mixture in bowl; whisk to blend. Stir in garlic and lemon slices, then chicken. Cover and chill at least 1 hour. Do ahead Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

Prepare barbecue or grill pan at medium-high heat (or you could be like us this time and cook half on the grill pan and half in a cast iron skillet, which works fine too). Thread chicken pieces on metal skewers, dividing equally. Discard marinade in bowl. Sprinkle each skewer with salt, pepper, and additional Aleppo pepper or paprika. Brush grill rack or pan with oil. Cook chicken until golden brown and cooked through, turning skewers occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes total. Transfer skewers to platter. Surround with lemon wedges and serve.

*A slightly sweet Syrian pepper with a moderate heat level; available at some specialty foods stores and from wholespice.com.

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