My family has always had a penchant for picking up fun-looking cookbooks while on vacation or perusing bookstores. Consequently, we never have a shortage of recipes to try.
I was recently thumbing through the collection at my childhood home and found one with my late father's notes in the margins. "Made this with kielbasa instead of chorizo. Nice flavors!" one of his scrawlings said. My dad had the habit of taking recipes and tweaking the ingredients to make them his own, so this didn't surprise me.
One particular cookbook, The Book of Mexican Foods by Christine Barrett, stood out to me. Most Americans think of tacos, burritos or enchiladas when they think of Mexican food. But I'm interested in exploring different, less expected flavors. When I saw a recipe for veggie skewers stuffed with meat, I knew I wanted to put my own spin on them.
These skewers, which make a perfect summer supper, are made with small vegetables, stuffed with spiced ground beef and grilled until tender. I served them with two different sauces: a spicy chipotle sour cream and an avocado crema. For a heartier meal, I also made spiced strip steak — seasoned simply with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder, seared on both sides, then thinly sliced — and a salad of jicama and citrus on a bed of arugula.
For the skewers, I stuffed zucchini (my kids' favorite), small cocktail tomatoes (slightly larger than cherry tomatoes), and button mushrooms with the flavorful meat filling. Mini bell peppers would also work well. I cooked my skewers on the grill, but you could also broil them in the oven until the meat is fully cooked, about 10 minutes or so.
I don't know if my father ever made this recipe, but I can imagine what his margin notes would have been if he had. "Make plenty of these," he might have written. "They're a crowd-pleaser!"
- 3 small zucchini
- 1 package button mushrooms
- 1 package cocktail tomatoes or large cherry tomatoes
For the filling:
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 tablespoon adobo seasoning (This can be found in the Mexican section of most grocery stores — or use a mixture of salt, black pepper, paprika, onion powder, oregano, cumin, garlic powder and chili powder.)
- 1 egg, beaten
For the chipotle sour cream sauce:
- ⅔ cup sour cream
- 1 chipotle from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and 1 tablespoon of the sauce
- ½ avocado
For the avocado crema:
- 1 avocado
- ½ cup sour cream
- ⅛ cup milk
- zest and juice of 1 lime
- salt and pepper to taste
- 12 wooden skewers
- Soak the skewers in water while you prepare the vegetables. This will ensure that the wood doesn't burn on the grill or in the oven.
- Cut the zucchini into 1-inch chunks and steam for about five minutes, until tender. Use a melon baller or small spoon to scoop out the center of the zucchini (leaving the bottom intact) once it is softened. While the zucchini are steaming, carefully scoop out the centers of the tomatoes with a small knife or melon baller (leaving a mostly hollowed-out tomato) and remove the stems of the mushrooms, leaving the hollow mushroom caps for stuffing. (Save the mushroom stems in a bag in the fridge to use in another dish, like an omelet.)
- Prepare the meat filling by mixing all of the ingredients together, making sure the egg is well-incorporated. Stuff the vegetables with the meat and thread onto the skewers, filling side up. I like to make a pattern of vegetables on each skewer.
- Cook skewers on a hot grill — between 400 and 500 degrees — with the lid closed for about 10 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through.
- To make the sauces, blend together all the ingredients for each sauce until smooth.
- Carefully transfer skewers to a platter and serve with sauces. Use extra sauce on tacos or nachos, as a dip for raw vegetables, or as a condiment for burgers or sandwiches.