September 04, 2011

Pineapple, Pork and Vegetable Kebabs

I've lately been trying to use some of what we have in our freezers, so as to not let them be claimed by freezer burn (and thus go to waste) and also to clear up space for other things.   I recalled that awhile back I'd  purchased a huge, whole pork loin roast and had it cut into smaller segments for freezing.  I still had one big piece of that roast left, and I definitely didn't want to let that go to waste.   As usual this time of year, when thinking about what to do with a hunk of meat, my default answer this time around was "grilling."   And so I decided I'd cut up the roast and make kebabs.

Grilling chunks of pork on their own wouldn't result in something very flavorful, I knew, and this was especially the case with a super-lean cut like a pork loin roast.   Typical kebab recipes and traditions offered some good ideas how to boost the flavor of the meat, though.  Marinades and rubs of some sort are commonly used to give meat kebabs flavor, and cooking the pieces of meat along with something else flavorful is a basic kebab technique.   The key is to pick something to pair with the kebab meat that won't end up being burnt to an indelibly crisp or mushy mess before the meat is done.   Small onions or chunks of onion are one common pairing with kebab meat, but neither Juli nor I particularly enjoys eating big chunks of onion, grilled or otherwise.  Considering other options, I remembered a classic partner to pork:  Pineapple.  That gave me ideas for the marinade as well:  I'd go with tropical and Asian seasonings.

Since I was going to be grilling anyhow, I decided I might as well cook as much of the meal as I could on the grill, so I considered vegetable options that I could cook while cooking the pork and pineapple kebabs.  Tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini all grill up nicely and all take around the same time to grill (though one has to be careful the tomatoes don't overcook).  Better yet, since they all cook pretty quickly on a hot grill, I'd be able to cook them with indirect heat while I cooked the pork and pineapple over direct heat. 

With that all figured out, I made up a marinade for the pork, let it sit for a bit, then put everything on skewers.   The pork and pineapple went together on one set of skewers.  Marinated meat and juicy, fresh pineapple chunks are moist enough to grill without additional protection, and plenty flavorful on their own, so I just had to thread those on the skewers together.   The tender vegetables would be more prone to burning, though, even if I only cooked them with indirect heat, so they got a quick brushing with olive oil, plus a bit of pepper and kosher salt for seasoning.   That done, everything was ready for the grill.

The kebabs turned out great.  The meat and pineapple bore nice grill marks and just the right amount of browning, while the vegetables were tender without being mushy.  The only difficulty I ran into was that I didn't have quite enough metal skewers for everything, so I had to use some wooden skewers for some of the pork and pineapple, and even after soaking them, the wooden skewers didn't hold up well to the direct heat of the grill. Everything came out fine, though, and served together, it all tasted great.

Pineapple, Pork and Vegetable Kebabs

yield = 4-5 servings

2 1/2        pounds pork loin roast, cut into one-inch cubes
1              tablespoon rice wine
1              tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1              tablespoon pineapple juice
1              teaspoon minced garlic
1              teaspoon fresh, peeled and grated ginger
1/2           teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1              whole fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into inch-thick chunks
1              large zucchini, cut into one-inch chunks
1              pound button mushrooms, woody lower stems removed
2              pints plum or large cherry tomatoes
1              tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
                kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Combine pork, rice wine, soy sauce, pineapple juice, garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes in a large zipper-lock plastic bag.  Shake to thoroughly mix, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Thread the marinated pork pieces onto skewers, alternating with chunks of pineapple.  Arrange on a baking sheet.

Thread the zucchini chunks, mushrooms and tomatoes on skewers.  Brush on all sides with olive oil and sprinkle generously with kosher salt and black pepper.  Arrange on a separate baking sheet.

Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking with medium-high heat by spreading the coals evenly over half of the grill.  Cook in batches, arranging the pork and pineapple skewers over the coals (direct heat) and the vegetable skewers on the cooler side of the grill (indirect heat).   Cook, turning every couple minutes, until the meat and pineapple skewers are lightly browned on all sides and the vegetables have developed modest grill marks and are tender (about 10 minutes).  

Cover cooked skewers with foil and continue until everything is cooked, then serve.

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