Lynda Balslev: Put a bottle of pomegranate molasses in your cupboard
Skewered morsels of meat make for delicious finger food, especially when they are cooked on the grill. Small pieces of chicken, beef or lamb, threaded on skewers, present a bounty of edges and corners that crisp and caramelize over the fire for finger-licking goodness. Flavorful marinades enhance grilling success. Not only do they tenderize and infuse the bites of meat with sweet and tangy flavor, but the sugars in the marinade encourage crisping and caramelization.
In general, a good marinade will have a balance of sour, sweet, salt and heat. This is achieved with tart acidic ingredients, such as citrus and vinegar; a touch of sweetness from sugar, honey, maple syrup or fruit juice; and an aromatic infusion of spice, which can run the gamut in flavor and inspiration depending on your taste and desired heat level. This recipe is a nod to North African and Levantine cuisines, in which pomegranate molasses is a staple and a key ingredient in the marinade.
Pomegranates have a distinct sweet-and-sour flavor that might be compared to cranberries. Pomegranate molasses is a condiment made from the reduction of pomegranate juice. It’s rich, syrupy, fruity and puckery. Sugar and lemon are often added to the molasses to balance and brighten the tangy pomegranate. The molasses adds a glossy sheen to glazes and a satisfying astringency to sauces, stews and marinades.
You can make your own pomegranate molasses if you have access to many pomegranates or pomegranate juice. Alternatively, you can simply purchase pomegranate molasses in well-stocked supermarkets and Middle Eastern specialty shops. It’s a bottle worth having on hand for other uses. A spoonful or two will enhance salad dressings, sauces and dips. It’s a traditional ingredient in mouhamara, a traditional Syrian red pepper and walnut dip. Add a spoonful to meaty stews for a desired “oomph” in flavor, such as fesenjoon, an Iranian chicken and prune stew, or a simple and classic beef stew. Brush the molasses on roasted vegetables for a kick of flavor, or simply add a spoonful to cocktails or sparkling water.
Pomegranate Glazed Chicken Skewers With Yogurt Tahini Sauce
Active time: 25 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes, plus marinating time
Special equipment: Presoaked bamboo skewers
Yield: Serves 6
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
1 teaspoon Sriracha
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 to 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup whole-milk European-style yogurt
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Chopped pistachios, for garnish
Chopped fresh mint leaves, for garnish
Whisk the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Set aside 1/4 cup for basting.
Cut the chicken thighs into bite-size pieces. Place in a bowl, pour in the remaining marinade and turn to coat. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
Whisk the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate until use.
Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat. Thread the chicken on presoaked bamboo skewers. Lightly season with salt and black pepper.
Grill the skewers until the chicken is cooked through and charred in spots, 6 to 8 minutes, rotating the skewers as needed. In the last minute or two of cooking, baste with some of the reserved marinade.
Serve on a platter with the yogurt tahini sauce. Garnish with pistachios and mint.
Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area
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