When I asked wife Jan what she wanted for Mother’s Day dinner she looked at the list of Noom recipes she had given me. One of the few that she listed that I have not already done was chicken skewers. Looking at the Prevention recipe—Most, if not all, of Noom’s recipes are direct links to the Prevention site—it struck me as under-seasoned and dry. Jan suggested that she really liked za’atar, so I went with that. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend of thyme, oregano, marjoram mixed with toasted sesame seeds, salt, and frequently sumac—although each country, from Morocco to Iran, has their own distinctive blend.
With the main seasoning set, I started to think about what else to add to the marinade I was making. Many chicken marinades call for lots of olive oil and sugar—both of which are Noom “red foods,” things to be minimized. I decided to use yogurt and lemon juice as my major “fluids” in my marinade—both of these have the advantage of acting as tenderizing agents for the meat. To counteract the ingredient’s sourness, I chose to use agave syrup—while very sweet it is much lower on the glycemic index than sugar (17 vs. 63). Lots of garlic and some pepper and salt complete the marinade.
To add a bit of variety I thought to alternate some green onion—white part only—to the skewers. I had been to the farmer’s market and I found some green onions where the white parts were almost half an inch thick that were perfect for the task. Finally—Jan is always wanting me to add more vegetables—I decided that adding some zucchini would be appropriate.
Karl’s Za’atar Chicken Skewers
3 Tbs. za’atar, separate uses
5 oz. Greek yogurt
5 Tbs. lemon juice
5 cloves garlic
½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1½ lb. chicken thighs
4-6 green onions, thick white parts only
2 zucchini, cut in chunks
1. Add two tablespoons of za’atar and the rest of the marinade ingredients to a large mixing bowl and stir them together.
Tip: Put the remaining tablespoon of za’atar into a spice shaker bottle, to sprinkle on the meat while it is on the grill.
2. Cut the chicken thighs into ¾ inch sized pieces and add them to the marinade.
3. Toss to coat each piece with the marinade.
Tip: This is a good time to start soaking your bamboo skewers. Place them in a shallow lipped tray half filled with water and use a pot lid to keep them submerged. Soak them for at least one hour.
Note: Do not marinate the chicken for more that 1-2 hours. The acids in the yogurt and lemon break down the proteins in the chicken. While a little bit of this gives you a more tender piece of meat, marinating the chicken for too long will turn the meat mealy—a distinctly unpleasant mouth feel.
4. Add the onions and zucchini to the marinade and toss to coat them with the sauce.
5. String the zucchini onto their own skewers and place them on a tray.
Tip: Many skewered meat recipes call of alternating vegetables—like zucchini—with the chicken. However, zucchini cooks much faster than chicken. If you remove the skewer from the heat when the zucchini is done the chicken may be under cooked. If you wait until the chicken is cooked through the zucchini will be overcooked and mushy.
6. String the chicken and onion pieces on skewers.
Tip: Do not crowd the skewers by pushing the meat too close together. Depending on how much green onion you have you may alternate chicken and onion. I had only a few pieces of onions so I had one piece of onion after two pieces of chicken—and I still ended up with two chicken only skewers.
Note: You may be left with a fair amount of marinade left in the bottom of the bowl after finishing stringing your skewers. Save this to baste the meat and vegetables on the grill.
7. Grill the meat over a medium heat flipping the skewers every 5 minutes and basting with the leftover marinade.
Tip: After brushing on the extra marinade sprinkle on some more za’atar.
Note: The chicken is done when you have a light char and you can tear off a scrap of the chicken easily.
8. Grill the zucchini skewers, flipping every 5 minutes and basting with the leftover marinade.
Tip: The zucchini are done when you can easily insert the point of a knife in the thickest piece.
9. Tent the skewers in aluminum foil for five minutes.
10. Serve warm with chickpea salad and sangak on the side.