A Memorial Day Grill Fest: Grilled Lamb Kebabs with Turkish Spices

The Unofficial Start to Summer

Across the country, not just the Flyover States, Memorial Day serves as the unofficial start to the summer season. Pools open and cookouts beckon. The grills get fired up (and yes, I too plan to partake of this). In that spirit, I am sharing with you a recipe I’ll be grilling today: Lamb Kebabs with Turkish Spices. But before I do that, I want to take a look at Memorial Day, the holiday, the one without the potato salad and 40%-off sales

From Whence It Came: Decoration Day

Memorial Day got its start as Decoration Day back in the mid-1800s (May 30, 1868, to be exact). It was designed to commemorate the war dead—people were asked to decorate the graves of soldiers who’d perished in the Civil War, which ended in 1865. Approximately 20 years later, the name changed to Memorial Day, but the commemoration remained the same.

In the ensuing years, Memorial Day, which was once celebrated on May 30 but is now the last Monday in May, became associated more with the start of summer fun than a way to honor those who lost their lives in conflict. While I see nothing wrong with enjoying friends and family, I do believe it is important to remember the real reason for the holiday—a way to recall those who made the ultimate sacrifice. So, sometime this weekend, think of them, whether at a service or just a silent pause.

Grilling—The Warm-Weather Cooking Technique Returns

Okay, I haven’t fired up the grill since October, but with warm, summertime temperatures having arrived, it’s time to break out the charcoal (yes, I’m a purist—no gas for this girl!) and start generating that live-fire mojo. One of my favorite things to grill is local lamb, in this case lamb from Russell Sheep Company of Eaton, Indiana. Diane Russell’s smiling face is one of my favorite sights on my weekly trip to Minnetrista Farmer’s Market Saturday mornings. Her lamb is delicious and it’s local! I’ll write about Russell Sheep Company some other time, so you’ll learn all about it. But one form of lamb she sells is kebab meat, which I use for the kebabs (and I’ve also used it for stews and curries). And to round out my menu today, I’ll grill some local asparagus as an accompaniment.

Lamb Kebabs with Turkish Spices

Serves 4

What You’ll Need

  • measuring spoons
  • cutting board
  • sharp knife
  • bowl
  • garlic press (optional)
  • plastic wrap
  • skewers


  • 1 lb. lamb leg or shoulder meat, cut into 1-in pieces
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried thyme (or 1 Tbsp fresh)
  • ¼ tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (omit if you don’t like spicy food)
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cumin
  • 1-2 tsp ground sumac
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Pepper to taste

How To Make the Kebabs

Sorry, no pictures this time! I’ll add one after I grill them!

  1. In a bowl combine all ingredients except lamb. Taste for salt/pepper (add more if necessary)
  2. Pat lamb cubes dry and add to mixture in bowl. Toss to combine. Cover and place in refrigerator for about 4 hours
  3. Start a hot charcoal fire (direct high fire)—I said I was a charcoal purist!
  4. After coals have been started but before they are ready for grilling, remove lamb and thread onto 4 skewers (the flatter kind are best). When grill is ready, place skewers on grill and cook until a little charred (about 5-10 minutes). Turn occasionally to make sure that all sides get cooked
  5. Serve immediately.

And They Were Delicious!


Edited this post to show everyone my Memorial Day dinner!

Homemade Garlic-Chive Ricotta Spread

And by “homemade”, I mean that you’re making the ricotta as well.

It’s a Bit of a Family Reunion!

In that garlic and chives are both part of the allium family.

What You’ll Need

  • large saucepan
  • instant-read thermometer
  • colander
  • cheesecloth
  • knife
  • chopping board
  • bowl
  • measuring cup
  • measuring spoons
  • wooden spoon
  • garlic press (optional)


For the ricotta cheese

To make ricotta, all you need is whole milk, lemon juice1, and salt. And the salt is optional. Now, think about how impressed all your friends will be when you tell them that you made your own cheese. La-de-freaking-da!


  • 2 quarts (or liters) whole milk, raw or pasteurized (NOT ULTRA-PASTEURIZED!!!2
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt

For the spread

  • 4 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or put through a press
  • salt and pepper to taste

How to Make the Garlic-Chive Ricotta Spread

Make the ricotta cheese and impress even yourself with how easy it is

  1. Line a colander with a triple thickness of cheesecloth and place it in the sink.
  2. In the saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat to approximately 195°F (90°C), stirring the whole time to avoid burning the milk. Remove from heat.
  3. HeatMilk

  4. Add the lemon juice and salt, then give the mixture a quick stir to distribute the juice. Let stand for 5 minutes or so.
  5. By this time, the curds should have coagulated or clotted; you should see white curds in a thin, milky whey. If you don’t see this, add a little more lemon juice and wait for another few minutes.
  6. CurdsWhey2

  7. Carefully pour the curds into the colander and let drain for 15-30 minutes (or longer, if you want a very firm and dry ricotta).
  8. DrainCurds

  9. When finished draining, you can transfer your ricotta to a different container. Place it in the fridge if you want to make the spread later—it’ll firm up a bit more. You should have about 2 cups of ricotta cheese.
  10. FinishedRicotta

  11. Post a picture to Facebook, so that you can show all of your 1794 friends that you just made some cheese.
  12. Place one cup of the ricotta in a bowl. Add the chives and garlic. Using a wooden spoon, stir together until well mixed. Salt and pepper to taste. If it’s too solid or thick, mix in a little cream or half-and-half until the spread reaches the consistency you like.
  13. MakingSpread2

  14. Be real Pinterest-y and garnish with some more chopped chives.
  15. GarnishedSpread

  16. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, so that the flavors can meld together.
  17. Serve with crackers or raw vegetables.

1Lemon juice is a coagulant that enables the cheese curds to separate from the whey. Other coagulants include certain kinds of vinegar (e.g. a good white wine vinegar) and citric acid. But I’m assuming that you probably don’t have any citric acid next to the boxed macaroni and the Cheetos.

2I’ve never used raw milk—I live in Indiana and unless I join a cow share, or buy my own cow, I can’t get any legally. But I CAN get pasteurized milk. Ultra-pasteurized is heat-treated to a higher temperature, which affects the proteins; thus, you can’t make ricotta with such milk.



You thought I was going to say “Chia”, didn’t you?

The Harbinger of Spring in My Flyover Garden

Okay, maybe “garden” is a little euphemistic. Yes, I have a couple of 3×3 foot raised beds, but I also have a bit of a black thumb. Which is one of the reasons I so adore chives—they give so much love in return for so little care. In fact, they seem to flourish under my gardening system (aka “benign neglect”). Chives are one of the earliest plants ready for harvest in the cool Midwest, ready for salads and baked potatoes while we Flyoverians are still getting good use out of our fashionable boots and stylish coats. Yes, like those of us in the Flyover States, chives are frost-tolerant.


What the Flock are Chives, Anyway?

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are part of the onion family, a not-so-motley crew that includes varieties of scallions (also known as green onions), garlic, leeks, shallots, and ramps, as well as the onions we are so family-ar with (Family? Familiar? Get it? No shortage of puns on this blog, though that wasn’t one of my better ones.) Anyway, chives deliver a mild hit of onion-ness1, a subtle hint of flavor. Culinarily, chives are often found in salads (and dressings), soups (typically added at the end as a garnish), and in dips and spreads. Additionally, they pair well with eggs and potatoes (think of the classic sour cream-and-chive topped baked potato!)

The smell (and therefore the taste, since these two senses are related) of chives (and other alliums) stems from the presence of volatile oils that contain some sulfur. Their mildness, though, is testament to the smaller amount of sulfur present in chives compared to onions.

And They Look So Pretty!

Have you ever seen chives that have flowered? They are lovely, with a feathery, purple blossoms that can be used culinarily. Yes, chive blossoms are edible and make a pretty interesting garnish. Float some on top of soup, add some to a salad, or incorporate a few into a sandwich. And when you’ve eaten your fill, gather a bouquet of them and place them in a vase!


Chive recipe coming Thursday!

1Or garlic-ness, if you use or grow garlic chives