Cocktails and Cuisine
By Mehr Fatima

Spice Up Your Summer!

Summer is finally here and people are anxious to make the most of it by spending as much time as they can outdoors. The last thing you want to do in this weather is cook an elaborate meal in a hot kitchen. Take advantage of summer and fire up the grill to create a tasty homemade meal that is quick and easy, not to mention low in calories.

Summer is a great time for adopting healthier eating habits. Farmer’s markets and South Asian grocery stores are full of vibrant, fresh produce waiting to be sampled. If you’re looking for an alternative preparation for traditional vegetable bhajis, grilling is a great way to reduce calories and increase flavor. Food cooks quickly on the grill without much oil, and caramelizing the sugars in food adds a unique taste to the ingredients. Be adventurous with produce and try something new or combine your favorites to create a fresh twist on a classic dish.

I’ve selected some of my favorite summer ingredients to make a simple but flavorful meal. Kabobs are a popular item in my household, especially when served with piping hot naan (flat bread). I use lush green herbs and vegetables to season boneless chicken breast for zesty kabobs. Since the kabobs have a kick to them, I pair them with a sweet and savory salsa to balance the flavor. I use mango as the base of the salsa (since every South Asian family is full of mango aficionados), and I combine it with other fresh flavors. Served either with white basmati rice or naan, this meal is sure to get you out of the kitchen, enjoying the warm weather and good food.

Green Chicken Tikka Kabobs
Makes six servings

2 pounds boneless chicken breast, cut into 2” x 2” cubes
1 medium onion
1 bunch cilantro, bottom stems removed
5 green chilies, adjusted to taste
2 limes, juiced and zested
2 tablespoons garlic or about 5 large cloves
2 teaspoons ginger
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons cumin powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons cooking oil of your choice

1. In a blender, puree onion, cilantro, chilies, lime juice and zest, garlic, ginger and all spices.

2. Reserve 3/4 cup of blended mixture to serve alongside the chicken.

3. Combine the blended mixture with chicken and marinate; refrigerate for several hours up to overnight.

4. Before cooking, thread chicken onto skewers, about four to five pieces per skewer.

5. Heat grill thoroughly and brush the cooking surface with oil.

6. Place the skewers on the grill and allow each side to cook for about five minutes before turning. Juices should run clear.

7. Serve with white rice or naan and reserved marinade.

Photos by Mehr Fatima

- To juice and zest your lime: Using a metal rasp or fine grater, gently grate the green exterior of the lime against the metal, avoid getting the white pith in the mix due to its bitter taste. Then, roll the lime and cut it in half to extract the juice.

- If you are using wooden skewers, soak them in water for about 30 minutes prior to usage to prevent burning.

- If you do not have an outdoor grill, you can use a grill pan (use double the oil or the marinade may stick to the pan) or bake the chicken in the oven and then broil for 1 minute to achieve a slightly charred effect.

- Thread some red onions or grape tomatoes onto the skewers for added color and flavor. The vegetables will just warm slightly and have grill marks on them. You can also grill them on separate skewers if you prefer them fully cooked and then rethread the vegetables alternating them with chicken pieces before serving them.

- Try substituting portobello mushrooms or paneer (farmer’s cheese) for chicken to create a vegetarian alternative. The mushrooms will cook quickly and need about five to seven minutes on the grill for one-inch cubes. The same size cubes of paneer will need approximately eight to ten minutes to cook.

Tiranga (Tri-Colored) Salsa
Makes six to eight servings

1 large mango, diced
1 medium daikon (white radish), diced
1 cup fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons chives, chopped
1 lemon, juiced
3 teaspoons jaggery (unrefined cane sugar, available in South Asian grocery stores)
½ teaspoon amchur (dried mango powder, available at South Asian grocery stores)
1 teaspoon black salt
1 teaspoon white pepper

1. Combine lemon juice and all spices in a bowl.

2. Add mango and daikon, mix with spices.

3. Toss mint and chives into the mixture just before serving.

Note: To prevent excess maceration of mango, add it to the mixture just before serving.


Mehr Fatima currently resides in Rochester, NY. She loves to spend time in the kitchen experimenting with eastern and western flavors. She welcomes comments and suggestions at