July has arrived and summer is upon us. With the temperature rising, it’s time to get out of the kitchen, dust off the barbeque and do some outdoor cooking. Everyone loves grilling, even the hesitant cooks. It doesn’t take prior cooking experience to become a competent backyard chef, starting with the basics of grilling burgers or dogs, one can learn as they go, building up a repertoire of more complex dishes and having fun doing it. Outdoor cooking is one of the highlights of summer, gathering friends and family in the backyard for a relaxed afternoon of conversation and good food. And let’s not forget, grilled food just tastes better than traditionally cooked foods. The hot grill sears in the flavors and provides that savory grill taste we all know and love.
When thinking of grilling, the first thing that comes to mind is the meat. There are tons of marinades, rubs and seasoning mixes out there on the market, but I find the simple combination of salt, pepper, garlic and dry basil or oregano to be the best. It’s inexpensive, no unknown added ingredients and best of all, it doesn’t require a trip to the market, as I always have these items on hand. If you want to spice things up, add some cayenne, chili flakes, or other interesting herbs or spices. For those vegetarians out there, the same applies to fish, tofu, or even veggies. Portabella mushrooms grill beautifully and make a nice substitute for animal protein, using the same spice combo above and a generous drizzle of olive oil.
To accompany the main dish, I like to think beyond the expected mayonnaise-based potato salad and coleslaw, and go summer fresh, with internationally-inspired dishes like Thai cucumber salad, Mexican roasted corn and pepper salad, and Italian bread salad, with fresh summer tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Or try the traditional with a light twist, with Greek potato salad, German potato salad, snap pea potato salad, Asian coleslaw, apple jicama coleslaw, or cilantro lime coleslaw. Grandma’s potato salad will still be a hit, and even more appreciated with other fresh options to add to the plate.
While the grill is still on, we like to toss on some olive oil-drizzled crusty bread slices and start thinking about dessert. Have any fresh fruit on hand? Fresh fruit is a healthy choice anytime of the year and the fresh flavors are enhanced over a grill, extracting the fruits’ natural sugar and caramelizing the surface. Cut peaches, pineapple, bananas and mango can be placed straight onto the grill, or skewered on a stick with some strawberries as a grilled fruit kebab. Add ice cream or fresh whipped cream and dessert is done.
More of a dessert traditionalist? Fruit cobblers are made for summertime. Toss strawberries, raspberries, cherries or other seasonal fruit with a little sugar and flour, pour into a baking pan and top with a mixture of 1 part sugar, 1 part flour and 1 part butter. Bake until bubbly and golden brown. Mmmm!
Summer is no time to be spending hours in a hot kitchen preparing meals. Gather the whole family, some friends and neighbors and get outside for a grill party together. It’s how summer is meant to be!
Roasted Corn and Pepper Salad
1 sweet onion, chopped
6 ears fresh corn, cut from cob
2 red bell peppers
2 limes, juiced
1 tablespoons chili powder
handful cilantro, chopped
optional: cotija cheese
Drizzle a bit of oil into a hot pan and saute the onion over medium-high heat until translucent. Add corn and peppers, stir to combine and leave to get a nice char on the corn and peppers. Once the corn has gotten some color, remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients. Toss to combine and serve.
Thai Cucumber Salad
¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ cucumbers, halved and thinly sliced
1 red onion, sliced
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons peanuts, chopped
Whisk first five ingredients in bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, combine cucumbers, onions, mint and cilantro. Toss with dressing to coat. Let sit for 15 minutes to an hour to meld flavors. Top with peanuts and serve.
Greek Potato Salad
2 russet or 6 red potatoes
1 red bell pepper, small diced
1 cucumber, chopped
½ cup feta cheese
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
½ red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 Tablespoons champagne or red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Place potatoes in large pot, add water to cover potatoes, add salt, cover pot and bring to a boil. Cook potatoes until a sharp knife can pierce the potatoes easily, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and let cool until warm. Peel if using russets, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
In a large bowl stir together the olive oil, vinegar, salt, olives, red onion, garlic and oregano. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss to combine. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes to meld flavors.