A couple of weeks back we drove east from Los Angeles to camp in Joshua Tree. From there we headed south to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park - if you’ve never been, it’s magical. That said, the weather was conflicted! It was hot during the days, then big rain one night, and white-knuckle windy while driving. We agreed that the highlight on the cooking front was these spicy yogurt-slathered veggie kebabs. I make them often at home, year-round, but they are extra special when enjoyed under the stars. I love that they can be grilled or baked, all your ingredients marinate in one container until you’re ready to skewer & cook your kebabs, and you can adapt to whatever ingredients you have on hand.
Top of the List Veggie Kebabs
I tend to prep some easy meals whenever we go camping and these spicy yogurt-slathered veggie kebabs are always top of the list. They are pictured here made with paneer cheese, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and onions. I’ll talk more about the marinade down below. The recipe you'll see below is written incorporating the ingredients pictured, but I just want to make sure you don’t feel limited to this combination. Half the fun in cooking veggie kebabs is playing around with what you put on the skewers. For example…
Favorite Ingredients for Veggie Kebabs
- mushrooms: I can’t remember the last time I cooked veggie kebabs without mushrooms as a main component - they’re a must. Have fun with different types - the standards (cremini, button, Portobello,etc.) are all great and easy to source. Also keep an eye out for king oyster mushrooms, maitake, matsutake, oyster, lobster mushrooms and the like. Mix it up with more than one type if you can.
- frozen artichoke hearts: I like to thaw these the day I plan on marinating the veggie kebab ingredients, then incorporate them into the mix. I usually thread the artichokes onto the skewer through both ends, so they’re folded over, although I’m noticing I didn’t do that in these photos. Meant to!
- paneer: once I figured out just how well paneer freezes, I always have some on hand. Whenever I go to the Indian market I stock up on 4-5 blocks, then freeze most of them for later use. Unlike tofu, which changes texture dramatically after freezing, paneer stays very similar to its pre-frozen state once thawed.
- peppers: I love adding shishito peppers to my kebabs, but red or green bell peppers are easy to find and popular.
- corn - cut into rounds or half-moons: When corn is in season this is a great addition.
- tofu: I don’t typically use tofu for these veggie kebabs, I much prefer the paneer with this marinade and flavor profile. That said, if you’re looking to make a vegan or dairy-free version, you can certainly experiment with tofu and a dairy-free yogurt.
- broccoli or cauliflower florets: I always regret not adding more broccoli to the kebabs.
- onion wedges and/or shallots: These add great flavor and structure. The key here is cutting the shallot or onion large enough to easily thread onto the skewer yet small enough that it cooks through.
There are a lot of things I love about this marinade. It’s yogurt based and the sort of marinade you might see used to tenderize meat in many traditional cuisines (Indian tandoor, Turkish, Greek, etc.) before grilling or placing in an oven. Tenderizing meat isn’t a factor here, but using yogurt marinades, I love the way they brown, set and caramelize when heated (especially on direct flame). Yogurt marinades often have a yogurt base paired with a citrus juice (often lemon), and then whatever herbs, spices, salts, and seasonings beyond that. Here you'll see I like a jolt of mustard, a good amount of spice, relish for dimension, and some turmeric for earthiness and color.
Veggie Kebabs = Make Ahead
The other great thing about this marinade is the ingredients can marinate for a while if needed. Up to three, maybe four days - depending on what you’re marinating. I do it regularly, where I grill veggie kebabs one night, but don’t use up all the ingredients. Then come back two days later and skewer up the rest of the kebabs. So basically, whip up the marinade, and toss your ingredients. Then whenever you're ready, skewer and cook.
How Should I Cook these Veggie Kebabs?
You have options! The short answer is to use whatever you’ve got. I typically go for the grill, but it really depends a lot on the time of year and where I am. These kebabs are equally good baked in a hot oven on a sheet pan, or baked (also on a sheet pan) in a pizza oven. We have one of those propane-powered portable pizza ovens and that’s what you see in the video below. We’ve found keeping them toward the front when using the pizza oven works best, and rotate often.
Veggie Kebab Video
Tips for Making the Best Veggie Kebabs
There are a couple things to keep in mind on this front, but in general keep it simple and embrace a marinade you love. Beyond that:
- Start with great in-season ingredients.
- Cut ingredients into similar sizes: This makes for nicely balanced kebabs where ingredients are more likely to cook evenly.
- Grill or bake using appropriate heat: You want the inside of each ingredient to cook nicely in the same amount of time it takes to develop good color and flavor on the outsides. If you cook too hot the outside could burn while the middle remains raw - not good!
What to Serve with Veggie Skewers
So many things work great alongside these veggies kebabs. I love to serve them over a flavor-boosted slather in a shallow bowl. For example, something like this Beet Caviar, or this Mung Bean Hummus, this Seed Pate, or the Peace, Love & Energy Dip. I also love to add a grain component and these kebabs are great alongside a big scoop of quinoa or something along the lines of this Super Orange Citrus Rice, this Sesame Coconut Rice, or Bryant Terry's Amazing Green Rice.
Do I Need to Soak Wooden Skewers Before Grilling?
The last thing I'l mention before we get to the recipe is that I always forget to soak my wooden skewers before grilling. I intend to soak them for about 30-40 minutes before skewering, but similar to the way I always burn pine nuts, I never remember to soak the skewers. What to do? It's ok, even ten minutes is better than nothing, do what you can. If you're short on soaking time another thing you can do is really stack up the ingredients so there is minimal wood exposure. It makes the kebabs a bit more challenging to handle, but the skewers will hold up better.
Grilled Veggie Kebabs
As I mentioned up above, the vegetables listed in the ingredients here are simply suggestions. A starting point. I’ve listed a bunch of alternative up above, so choose a few favorites and have at it! And along those lines, experiment with your favorite relishes here - I’ve tested the recipe with a number of straight-forward sweet relishes, but there’s an incredible range of relishes out there and the versions of these kebabs I’ve made with various Indian relishes, or a kimchi relish have all been v. good!
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 2 tablespoons orange juice or grapefruit juice
- 3 tablespoons pickle relish
- 2/3 cup Greek yogurt
- 8 ounces paneer cheese, cut into 1-inch squares
- 8 ounces mushrooms, trimmed
- 2 small-med onions, cut into wedges
- 2 cups of frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
Combine the cayenne, turmeric, mustard, salt, juice, and relish into a medium-large storage container. Add the yogurt and stir until uniform in color.
Add the paneer, mushrooms, onions, and artichoke hearts to the marinade. Toss gently to coat everything evenly. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or up to 3-4 days.
If you’re using wooden skewers, give them a soak in water, this will help prevent them from burning on the grill or in the oven. When you’re ready to cook the kebabs, thread alternating ingredients onto the skewers.
If you’re grilling the kebabs, place on a medium-hot grill. Flip the kebabs once or twice along the way, grill until the kebabs are nicely golden and ingredients are cooked through. Alternately, if you're using an oven, bake at 375F flipping once or twice along the way, until the kebabs are nicely golden and ingredients are cooked through.