Chicken and vegetable kebabs on skewers

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With warmer weather comes our desire to grill — but the notion of grilling usually conjures up images of fatty pork, heavy beef or troublesome chicken. We would like to cook outdoors, but we also want to eat less meat and more vegetables, and a weeknight dinner for the two of us has to be fast and easy.

Then we remember our stainless steel skewers — flat ones, to prevent the food from spinning.

Amy cuts the vegetables into skewer-friendly sizes — onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers (or better yet, poblanos, for a little heat). Zucchini works well, but we had none last night.

For the chicken kebabs, we prefer thighs over breasts, especially for grilling. Thighs are juicier and have better flavor. Bite-sized pieces will cook more thoroughly than larger chunks.

All of this food is tossed in a big bowl with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and usually some thyme. From there, Amy skewers it up.

Meanwhile, outside, I have wheeled out our little Weber grill and set up our chimney starter.

I never use lighter fluid. Instead, I wad up a couple of sheets of newspaper and put them in the bottom of our Weber Chimney Starter. This chimney starter sits inside the grill, where it is filled with natural wood charcoal, such as Cowboy Charcoal Royal Oak. Natural wood charcoal lights more easily and burns hotter than pressed briquettes. Also, it should be free of petroleum additives.

One match is all it takes to light the paper, and the fire spreads up through the charcoal in the chimney. About 15 or 20 minutes later, when there are visible heat waves pouring up from the chimney and the topmost coals are visibly burning, I use a silicone oven mitt to pour the hot coals from the chimney to the kettle.

The grill grate, placed over the coals, is allowed to heat and then brushed clean. Finally, I use tongs and a folded piece of paper towel soaked in olive oil to lube it up immediately before cooking.

As soon as the kebabs are on the grill, I put the kettle’s lid on. This slows the hot fire, distributes the heat more evenly, and contains the smoke for a smokier food flavor. The top and bottom vents, of course, are wide open, and soon there are wonderful food smells added to the smoke pouring from them.

After about three minutes, the kebabs get turned. The timing all depends on the heat of the fire. Another three minutes or so on the other side, and it’s about time to eat. Obviously, you want to pay close attention to the chicken pieces, making sure that they are opaque and firm with some light charring, yet still juicy. Some cooks prefer to skewer meats and vegetables separately for better control over each, but in this case I like the flavors to mingle.

When the chicken kebabs are done, the kettle vents are closed to kill the fire and save remaining coals for next time. Start to finish, we have spent only about a half hour, yet we have cooked ourselves a delicious and inexpensive meal on the outdoor grill. Add a glass of red wine, and we’re laughing at all the fast food joints in town. Plus, we have leftovers for lunch the next day.

A fragrant, long-grain rice — like jasmine rice, basmati rice, or pecan rice — makes a good accompaniment, but sometimes we skip those calories and stick to chicken and vegetables alone.

Monday night dinners often feature this kind of rededication and resolve.

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