(un)Comfortably Spiced (Turkish Kebabs, Pomegranate Relish, Tahini Yogurt)

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve officially branched out. Not too far, now. I’m not building cakes out of mashed potatoes and meatloaf or drinking turtle’s blood sakes. Oh no, I’m not branching out that far. Maybe twigging out would be a  more appropriate phrase.  I’m just slowly poking my head out of the hole that is my culinary comfort zone.

I grew up on a fairly ’plain’ diet. Somewhat bland, typically spice-free, keep-the-flavour-to-a-dull-roar type of diet. Mashed potatoes and chicken strips, hamburger helper, pasta with jarred sauce… you know the diet I’m talking about. I should mention, in case either of my parents are reading, that this was the type of food I chose to eat. I bet my dad would have loved if I were to sit down and ask for a big plate of liver and onions, as we so often joked about as kids.

As I’ve learned to cook, and become more comfortable with different flavours and textures, I’ve tried to incorporate a bigger variety of spices, vegetables, oils and vinegars to my food. However, I’ve done so in a very comfortable way that hasn’t forced me to stray from the foods I’m used to. Until now.

Eating healthily is not always exciting or flavourful, but if you learn to use spices in place of butter and salt, you’d be surprised at how much flavour you can get out of your food without any added fat/sodium.

My best friend, Amanda, is Lebanese and comes from a family with a very dedicated and talented mother who cooks extremely health conscious, fresh, delicious meals everyday. She has a giant garden that she cooks from in summer months and tends to preserve everything the season’s bounty has provided her with. I’ve been privileged, on more than one occasion, to eat her food and have never tried anything I didn’t like. I have to say that her steak tartare is one of the best I’ve had. Full of flavour and such a nice texture. She knows how to make the best of the spices and ingredients she has.

When I saw Ana Sortun’s recipe for a middle-eastern inspired dish in this month’s Bon Appetit, I knew if there was anytime to branch out and cook a style of cuisine I was unfamiliar with, it was now.

These kebabs are good. I’m not usually a huge fan of chicken breast but when soaked in a marinade of grated onion, baharat, oil and lemon juice, it becomes moist and full of flavour. The colourful pomegranate-pistachio relish and cooling tahini-yogurt sauce were the perfect accompaniment to the perfectly spiced chicken.


Turkish-Style Chicken Kebabs with Pomegranate-Pistachio Relish and Tahini-Yogurt Sauce
Recipe from Bon Appetit

Baharat Seasoning
1 1/2 tablespoons dried mint 
1 tablespoon dried oregano 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

Tahini yogurt:
3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
1 tablespoon Baharat seasoning
1 large garlic clove, pressed 
1/2 cup plain whole-milk Greek-style yogurt 
1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste) 

Pomegranate Relish:
1 1/4 cups pomegranate seeds 
2/3 cup shelled unsalted natural pistachios, coarsely chopped 
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley 
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil 
2 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 

1/2 cup coarsely grated onion 
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
2 teaspoons baharat seasoning
4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves, each halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 3 pieces 

Warm pita breads  (optional)

Baharat Seasoning:
Using pestle or blunt end of wooden spoon, mash all ingredients and 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper in mortar or small bowl 2 to 3 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill.

For tahini yogurt:
Combine lemon juice, Baharat Seasoning, and garlic in medium bowl; stir to blend. Let stand 5 minutes. Whisk in yogurt and tahini. Season tahini yogurt to taste with salt. DO AHEAD: Can be made up to 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

For pomegranate relish: 

Mix all ingredients in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

(the best way, in my opinion, to get the seeds out. Place a mesh sieve in a large bowl, cut pomegranate in half, face cut side down in your hand, rap on the back with a big wooden spoon until seeds are released. Great for anger management, too!)

For chicken:
Whisk first 4 ingredients in large bowl. Add chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Marinate at room temperature at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours.

Preheat broiler. Thread 6 chicken pieces onto each skewer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on small rimmed baking sheet. Broil chicken until cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Arrange kebabs on platter. Serve with tahini yogurt, pomegranate relish, and warm pita breads.