Recipe: Rosemary & Lemon Harissa Kebabs

Summer still catwalks through the August air, unabashed and sizzling.

There’s still time to grill, still time to sit out under the stars without a coat, or even a hoodie.

There’s time to wear out those flipflops and kick back in sunglasses.

And there’s still time to try Uganda’s kebabs, adapted  from Marcus Samuelsson’s beautiful cookbook Discovery Of A Continent – Foods, Flavors, And Inspirations From Africa

The flavors are intense.

Bright lemon juice starts of the explosion. A long marinade brings out bright sparks from the citrus.

Then there’s a needling burn from the Harissa, a traditional spice often found in North African cooking.

How much heat is there? As much as you can handle. Or as little as you’d like.

Tip: You find Harissa mix at Whole Foods in the spice aisle (to be combined with water, olive oil, and crushed garlic), or you can buy a canned paste at a Middle Eastern market. Be sure to add this to taste, as some mixes may be spicier than others. IF you use the mix from Whole Foods, don’t worry about adding the olive oil and water. There’s enough liquid in the marinade to more than make up for those ingredients. Just add a couple of garlic cloves instead.

In the background, rosemary and peanut oil do a dance.

All in all, these kebabs are totally unusual; they’ll wake up your grill rotation.

Beef is the meat of choice in Uganda, but you could also make this recipe with chicken or goat.

Serves 3-4


1 1/2 lb sirloin steak, in 2″ cubes
1 bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2″ squares
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2″ squares
1 onion, quartered
10-20 cherry tomatoes, as desired

For the marinade:

1/2 cup peanut oil
2 lemons, juiced
2 tsp harissa, (or to taste)
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped


Cube the meat, peppers, and onion.

Place the steak, peppers, and onion into a zip lock bag.

Whisk together the marinade and pour on top.

Refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.

Meanwhile, take a walk through beautiful Uganda.

Murchison Falls seen from river Nile. Photo by Albert Backer.

Murchison Falls seen from river Nile. Photo by Albert Backer.

Thread the meat and veggies onto the skewer, including the tomatoes. Alternate colors for the best look.

Grill over medium heat (on a well-oiled grill) until cooked as desired. Generally you’re looking at about 5 minutes per side.



This is our neighbor Jonathan… “Hi Jonathan!”

(I taught him how to press the skewer into his plate to steady it while he uses his fork to slide off what he wants onto his plate).

For Ava, these kebabs were serious business.
What about you?

Are you into this unusual combination of flavors?

Or is rosemary, lemon, peanut oil, and harissa a normal mix for you?

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  1. I never had anything this good in Uganda. But it is authentic. Still, you haven’t done Uganda unless you try matoke. (but since it tastes yucky you are wise not to include it on your menu)

  2. For nearly a year, I have been volunteering at a local soup kitchen here in Tulsa. And for nearly a year I have hearing stories about you and your meals from your delightful neighbor, Jonathan. So today, while planning a menu of Ethiopian foods, I came to your blog for inspiration. So fun! I have spent hours reading and drooling. So fun to finally “meet” you.


  1. […] me one simple fact: the cuisine is a celebration of peanuts. Peanut oil is used in kebab marinades [Recipe]. Peanut sauce drapes over rice, potatoes, and especially matoke, a.k.a. cooked green bananas. For […]

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