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Dress your kebabs with a rich za'atar yogurt sauce

In the Middle East, kebabs – called kofte – feature ground meat (not chunks) mixed with lots of spices and fresh herbs that is formed around metal skewers and quickly grilled.

We like them dressed with a za’atar yogurt sauce; the kebabs’ spices and extreme savor are contrasted with welcome herbal freshness and tang from the za’atar while the creaminess from the also-tart yogurt cuts through the richness.

For the kofte, the biggest challenge was getting the patties’ sausage-like texture right. We found that adding a small amount of powdered gelatin to the ground lamb helped the meat firm up and hold fast to the skewer.

Ground pine nuts added to the meat prevented toughness and contributed their own pleasant texture and a boost in richness. A concentrated charcoal fire setup mimicked the intense heat of a kofte grill.

Serve with rice pilaf, or make sandwiches with warm pita bread, sliced red onion, tomatoes, and fresh mint; just make sure to drizzle with the spiced sauce. You will need eight 12 inch metal skewers for this recipe.

Grilled Lamb Kofte with Za’atar Yogurt Sauce

Start to finish: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Servings: 4-6

1/2 cup pine nuts

4 garlic cloves, peeled

11/2 teaspoons smoked hot paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb

1/2 cup grated onion, drained

1/3 cup minced fresh parsley

1/3 cup minced fresh mint

1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1 (13 by 9 inch) disposable aluminum roasting pan (if using charcoal)

1 cup Za’atar Yogurt Sauce (recipe follows)

Process pine nuts, garlic, paprika, salt, cumin, pepper, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon in food processor until coarse paste forms, 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Add lamb, onion, parsley, mint, and gelatin and knead with your hands until thoroughly combined and mixture feels slightly sticky, about 2 minutes. Divide mixture into 8 equal portions. Shape each portion into 5 inch-long cylinder about 1 inch in diameter. Using eight 12 inch metal skewers, thread 1 cylinder onto each skewer, pressing gently to adhere. Transfer kebabs to lightly greased baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

  • For a charcoal grill:
  • Using skewer, poke 12 holes in bottom of disposable pan. Open bottom vent completely and place pan in center of grill. Light large chimney starter two-thirds filled with charcoal -briquettes (4 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour into disposable pan. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
  • For a gas grill:
  • Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high.

Clean and oil cooking grate. Place kebabs on grill (directly over coals if using charcoal) at 45 degree angle to bars. Cook (covered if using gas) until browned and meat easily releases from grill, 4 to 7 minutes. Flip kebabs and continue to cook until meat is browned on second side and registers 160 degrees farenheit, about 6 minutes. Transfer kebabs to serving platter and serve, passing yogurt sauce separately.

Za’atar yogurt sauce

We prefer to use our homemade Za’atar, but you can substitute store-bought za’atar; different za’atar blends include varying salt amounts.

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

1 tablespoon za’atar (recipe follows)

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice

Salt and pepper

Whisk yogurt, za’atar, garlic, and lemon zest and juice together in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate so flavors meld, about 30 minutes. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.)


Za’atar is an aromatic eastern Mediterranean spice blend that is used as both a seasoning and a condiment. The thyme gives it a round herbal flavor, the sumac lemony tartness, and the sesame seeds richness and subtle crunch.

1/2 cup dried thyme

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

1 1/2 tablespoons ground sumac

Working in batches, process thyme in spice grinder until finely ground, about 30 seconds; transfer to small bowl. Stir in sesame seeds and sumac. (Za’atar can be stored in airtight container for up to 3 months.)

Nutrition information per serving: 359 calories; 222 calories from fat; 25 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 77 mg cholesterol; 530 mg sodium; 9 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 28 g protein.

For more recipes, cooking tips and ingredient and product reviews, visit . Find more recipes like Grilled Lamb Kofte in “Spiced .”

America’s Test Kitchen provided this article to the Associated Press.

Healthy breakfast on a busy school morning? It's not so hard

Breakfast, as you may have heard, is the most important meal of the day. That’s especially true for kids returning to school, who need fuel for energy and learning.

But serving a healthy breakfast can feel like one more challenge for parents trying to get themselves and their kids out the door on time.

Never fear. With a bit of planning, breakfast can be a great opportunity to get dairy, fiber, fruits and even vegetables into a child’s diet. And it doesn’t have to be complicated.

“It’s not like there’s one perfect breakfast,” says Jessica Jaeger, a registered dietitian at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York.

Just try to include a mix of proteins, complex carbs from whole grains and healthy fats. “This helps stabilize blood sugar and appetite,” Jaeger says.

Diane Dembicki, an associate professor of nutrition who works with Jaeger at Adelphi, suggests involving kids in decision-making, and even in prep work the night before.

Avoid the packaged frozen breakfast sandwiches and “breakfast bars” that have names that suggest nutrition but are often high in sugar and fat, Dembicki says.

A few strategies for planning good breakfasts on school mornings:

Eggs can be easy

Try make-ahead egg cups or breakfast burritos. Kirsten Clodfelter, a mom of three from Louisville, Kentucky, does meal prep on Sundays with the help of her oldest, who is 7. They scramble eggs with a variety of chopped add-ins (sausage with diced onion and peppers, or perhaps bacon and spinach), and then put the eggs in a tortilla with a bit of cold cheese and wrap it in foil (for reheating in the oven the next morning) or plastic wrap (for reheating in the microwave), and freeze it. You can cut the burrito in half for little kids. Choose whole-grain tortillas or flatbread.

Another make-ahead option: Fill the cups of a muffin tin with a mix of egg, veggies and meat, then bake. Once they’ve cooled, pop them out and freeze or refrigerate the individual egg cups. Then quickly microwave them at breakfast time, served with a piece of fresh fruit.

For easy eggs prepared in the morning, Kate Wehr, a mother of four in Montana, suggests combining some chopped veggies and perhaps meat with a well-whisked egg and a bit of butter or olive oil in a ceramic bowl. Cover with a paper towel and microwave for about 45 seconds. The eggs will be ready to scoop into a whole wheat wrap, and breakfast is ready.

If you’re running late, wrap it in wax paper and your child can eat it on the way to school.

Grains can be quick

Try topping whole-grain toast or a whole-grain waffle with natural nut butter, sliced bananas or other fresh fruit on top, and perhaps a drizzle of honey.

Use natural peanut butter or another natural spread, rather than a brand that’s high in sugar. “I found that starting my kids early with natural peanut butter meant they really didn’t ask for the sweeter stuff,” says Sarah Shemkus, of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

This breakfast hits the macro-nutrient goals of protein, whole grain and healthy fats, and the fruit adds vitamins. A hard-boiled egg made the night before can provide extra protein.

Dembicki also recommends avocado, which has healthy monounsaturated fat and is high in vitamins. Consider a quick avocado toast on whole-grain bread, served with a hard-boiled egg and piece of fruit.

Another whole-grain option: overnight oats made in a Mason jar, or oatmeal set up the night before in a slow-cooker. Let kids choose their ingredients, including fruits and nuts. By flavoring the oatmeal yourself rather than buying pre-flavored, the sugar is kept low.

Shemkus sometimes cooks quick oats in a bowl in her microwave with grated carrot and raisins, then tops it with maple syrup, cinnamon and milk: “We call it ‘carrot cake oat bowl,’ and the 3-year-old loves it.”

Cold breakfast can be cool

For kids who prefer a cold breakfast, try Greek yogurt with flaxseed, granola and fresh fruit mixed in, and perhaps a bit of honey. Hard-boiled eggs also go well with this.

Some families pack an entire breakfast into a blender to create smoothies. Fresh fruit, yogurt or milk, peanut butter and even greens can go in. Clodfelter got her kids to embrace spinach in smoothies by adding it to a berry blend and calling them “Christmas smoothies,” since the green flecks of spinach were combined with red berries.

Or bake healthy muffins in advance. Search for recipes with plenty of fruit or nuts and whole grains. Make a large batch and freeze them. Veggies can be hidden in many muffin recipes, and are front-and-center in recipes like carrot-raisin muffins.

And don’t forget dinner for breakfast: Not every kid likes typical American “breakfast foods,” and that’s fine, Dembicki says. If they have favorite dinner meals, make extra and pack leftovers in small containers for easy reheating the next morning.

The Family Table: Quick, delicious and simple summer salad

I can recall as a youngster playing outside in what felt like the endless days of summer.

There was swimming, sleeping out on the deck, running through the neighborhood or walking through the woods. I’m pretty sure the words, “I’m bored,” never passed my lips. Perhaps that was because I was so thankful that I wasn’t sitting in a classroom.

One of the highlights of my summer was always “helping” in my parents’ garden.

I put quotes around helping because that’s what my dad kindly called it. In reality, it was more like me picking what I wanted to eat at any given moment, handing it to him and asking him to clean it.

My favorite to pick, clean and eat were garden onions (or scallions, as proper chefs call them). I ate those the way some kids ate candy – one after another. My breath must’ve been amazing, but at the time, I was ignorant of that concern.

Actually, until I was well into adulthood, I didn’t realize that, from June to August, most people didn’t keep a glass of water in the fridge with trimmed garden onions to grab as snacks.

Second to my love of the onions was my love of tomatoes: straight off the vine, ripe and juicy.

Those garden fresh tomatoes and onions, along with cucumbers, made up one of my favorite simple summer dishes.

My mom used to toss them with sour cream, salt, pepper and herbs. It was a staple on our dinner table once the garden was in full production, and I always looked forward to its fresh taste.

No matter how much she made, it never quite felt like I ate enough.

Now that we have our own garden, I look forward to making it for my family in the summer. I tweaked the recipe a bit and use Greek yogurt in place of sour cream. I like the creaminess better, plus I’m more likely to have plain yogurt on hand than I am sour cream. And depending on whose at home to eat it, I sometimes add a tablespoon of well-cleaned, minced jalapeno (the only pepper we seem able to effectively grow).

Sometimes the simple things are the best, and with this quick and easy summer salad, that’s definitely the case!

Tomato Cucumber Salad


1 1/2 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved (or 2 large tomatoes cut into bite-sized pieces)

1 cucumber, sliced

4 garden onions, whites and greens thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced jalapeno (optional)

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

Juice from 1/2 a lemon

2-3 tablespoons minced fresh dill

1 clove of garlic, grated

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, grated garlic and olive oil. Add a splash more of olive oil if you prefer a thinner dressing. Stir in dill, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as you prefer. Pour the dressing over the tomatoes, cucumber and onions and gently stir. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes before serving. I really love this mix served over lettuce, as a more traditional salad. Add a little protein, and you’ve got a great work lunch!