Now that summer grilling season is here, think about this simple, healthy recipe, Yogurt Marinated Shish Kebabs. The flavor is outstanding; interesting with the faintest hint of heat and the marinade ensures they are tender and moist, even when using breast meat.
I’ve had this on my list of things to make since I saw it in a 2009 Bon Appetit and am so glad I pulled it out and made them. I’ve tweaked this recipe a bit here and there, but the credit for this recipe def goes to Chef Musa Dagdevien. This recipe was originally posted in 2012 and I’m updating in 2020; these days I agonize over whether to keep recipes like this on my site, developed by someone else. Sometimes they are just too good and too much of a family favorite not to. Even my fave octogenarian, my Dad exclaimed “If all chicken tasted like this I like it more!” He’s a big beef eater, my “Da.”
About Yogurt Marinated Shish Kebabs:
Bon Appetit had this to say about the recipe author:
“Musa Dagdeviren is the go-to guy if you want to know about Turkish barbecue… He’ll start with chicken thighs marinated in creamy Turkish yogurt, chile paste, and garlic—to be grilled on skewers over charcoal…the combination of creamy yogurt, pungent garlic, and smoky pepper flakes produces the sort of chicken that has made the Turks the Near East’s undisputed grill masters for centuries.”
I guarantee you, these kebabs will make you a grill master, too! They made me one. 🙂 Easy, simple and fun, plus mostly make-ahead (if you skewer the chicken ahead you only have to toss it on the grill) designates this recipe as being right at home for an easy family dinner or a great party/company meal! You can really make it in almost any quantity.
The Spice Level & Aleppo Pepper:
The bit of spiciness in the recipe comes from Aleppo pepper which can be a challenge to find but does give these kebabs some of that elusive Turkish flair. Aleppo pepper is mild and just a little fruity and the kebabs aren’t “hot” or “spicy”. They’re a beautiful thing to serve anyone.
The yogurt mutes the spice, too, and the longer they marinate the more the heat dissipates. When I first made this recipe, I wanted to give it a try and cooked up a couple of test kebabs after marinating for an hour. I did detect some good heat. The next day, not so much. If you’re a heat seeker, keep that in mind. Add a little more Aleppo pepper, marinade for less time and/or supplement with some crushed red pepper flakes and/or cayenne.
If you can’t get Aleppo pepper, use a combo of both crushed red pepper and a little cayenne, instead. There’s a little flavor difference and the heat behaves just a little differently on the tongue; the substitute is more forward with no fruity notes while the Aleppo is a slower, more subtle heat. My Dad hands-down preferred the red pepper flake/cayenne version, by the way. I like either but I do like to add just a little cayenne in addition to the Aleppo pepper.
What to Serve with your Shish Kebabs:
I like to serve these Shish Kebabs with my very loose interpretation of Ezme, which is a Turkish “mezze“, almost a condiment. I just serve it in a salad form and I’ve dubbed it Bell Pepper and Tomato Salad, A little bit of Cucumber Yogurt Sauce and a Turkish Rice Pilaf round out the meal. Don’t be deceived by the simple looks of that pilaf; it’s really flavorful and sets off the kebabs beautifully. The variation in color depends on the type of broth used. I usually serve that Cucumber Yogurt Sauce as is, although the day I took these pics I used a hot and spicy version. There’s nothing to it. Just toss in something spicy; I used Harissa paste, but Sriracha or Chili Garlic Paste works, too.
Of course, you can’t go wrong with serving your kebabs with flatbread or pita and maybe a little green salad to go on top. Just give your bread a little spritz with some water and set it on a cooler area to heat through. When finished, brush with a little oil and place in a clean towel to keep them warm.
Making Yogurt Marinated Shish Kebabs:
I love how easily this marinade comes together; there’s no prep to it at all. It gets mixed together and then it melds overnight onto that chicken making it tasty and oh so juicy! Of course, skewering those think slices of chicken, ribbon-style is a messy and tedious endeavor, so allow time for that, especially if you’re making a large quantity.
Note that the photos here are half a recipe, which makes six kebabs. normally you’ll have twice the amount. You might want to note, too, that my son grilled this batch up for me and somehow when they came inside, one was missing. Yep. Count them…there are five there, lol! They ARE that good! Usually, though, I make MORE of this recipe. It’s so nice to have this portioned in the freezer to thaw overnight and cook off the next day!
Do not discount how important the lemon in this recipe is, especially when serving. It IS a gamechanger and just brightens up the whole meal. Serve your lemon slices under the shish kebabs so that they get very gently warmed.
As you’ll see from some of the pics, this is a great make-ahead recipe. I like to make extra, portion it out in freezer bags, and then it marinades as it thaws overnight in the fridge.
Saving Money on Yogurt Marinated Shish Kebabs:
The first time I came across Aleppo Pepper was at World Market; it’s sold finely ground or crushed into small flakes; either one will work well in this recipe. I watch a lot of food television and read a lot of magazines. It’s becoming more popular in the US and more easily available, but there’s no shame in the game if you wish to substitute.
There’s no need to ever pay full price for chicken – it goes on sale too often. It pays to know the difference between a good sales price and a rock bottom sales price (usually about once a quarter) and stock up at the low. Often these are larger family packs so portion out in sizes suitable for meals for your family and freeze. Chicken thighs would be cheaper but I prefer breasts, so substitute if you’d like.
I habitually buy the large cartons of yogurt, even when I can get the individual ones on sale with a coupon, just because I try to avoid as many additives and as much sugar as possible and I find them to be a bit better quality, although these days that’s changing. Even so, the larger cartons are so great to cook with and in my book, plain is more versatile. If I feel like flavored yogurt, I’ll add in a bit of fruit to my bowl, or maybe a teaspoon of jam.
Watch for tomato paste on deep sale and stock up; keep any excess in a Ziploc in the freezer. It’s easy to break off whatever amount you need for a recipe and it’s far easier to use a Ziploc than to freeze in ice-cube trays.
In season in the winter months here, Lemons will also be at the best price then and bags will be available at a discount. That’s when you want to go wild with lemon recipes, but do watch for sales throughout the year. Weigh several lemons in your hand and pick the heaviest; it will hold the most juice. Minor imperfections in color don’t matter but don’t’ buy lemons that are drying out and browning.
To get the most from your lemon, roll it on the counter with a good bit of pressure and/or microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. You’ll always get more juice if you ream rather than squeeze. If you need a small amount of juice, “fork” the lemon by stabbing it with a fork and squeeze the juice out, then wrap and save for later. The rind holds as much or more flavor than the juice; even if a recipe doesn’t call to grate it, do so and keep it in a tiny Ziploc in the freezer, adding to it as you go. It will dry out but can be used in many recipes when you don’t have a lemon on hand.Print
Yogurt Marinated Shish Kebabs
- Total Time: 35 minutes + marinade time
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings 1x
- Category: Chicken
- Cuisine: Turkish
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper* or 2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper plus 2 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika, plus additional Aleppo pepper or paprika for sprinkling
- 1 cup plain whole-milk Greek-style yogurt** (8 ounces)
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled, flattened
- 1 large lemon; 1/2 thinly sliced into rounds, the other half reserved to top the finished chicken.
- 2 pounds skinless boneless chicken (thighs and/or breast halves), sliced into strips, 1/4 inch thick
- Special equipment: Flat metal skewers
If using Aleppo pepper, place in large bowl and mix in 1 tablespoon warm water. Let stand until thick paste forms, about 5 minutes. If using dried crushed red pepper and paprika combination, place in large bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons warm water and let stand until paste forms, about 5 minutes.
Add yogurt, olive oil, red wine vinegar, tomato paste, 2 teaspoons coarse salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper to spice mixture in bowl; whisk to blend. Stir in garlic and lemon slices, then chicken. Cover and chill at least 1 hour. Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.
Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Thread chicken pieces on metal skewers, dividing equally. Discard marinade in bowl. Sprinkle each skewer with salt, pepper, and additional Aleppo pepper or paprika. Brush grill rack with oil. Grill chicken until golden brown and cooked through, turning skewers occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes total. Transfer skewers to platter. Surround with lemon wedges and serve.
*A slightly sweet Syrian pepper with a moderate heat level; available at some specialty foods stores and from wholespice.com.
** A thick yogurt; If unavailable, place regular yogurt in cheesecloth-lined strainer set over large bowl. Cover and chill overnight to drain.
Note: One note about this recipe: I marinated overnight, but after about an hour and a half of marinating, I cooked up a “test” kebab. It was hot – but after their overnight soak, the flavors had mellowed and there was very little discernible heat. Consider this when planning for the recipe.
- Calories: 332
- Sugar: 2 grams
- Sodium: 386 mg
- Fat: 12 grams
- Saturated Fat: 2,48 grams
- Carbohydrates: 5 grams
- Protein: 48 grams
- Cholesterol: 128 mg
Keywords: Bargain Meals, Click here for Fabulous Food Posts and tagged Bargain Meal of the Week, Bon Appetit, Chicken, Grilled or Smoked, Hot Peppers, Lemon, Marinate, Shish Kebabs, Tomato paste, Turkish, Vinegar, Yogurt