Add some char to more (than just meat) this season
Story by Meredith S. Jensen • Recipes by Andrea Lewis • Recipe photos by John Halley
There’s nothing quite like a thick, juicy hamburger (or portabella mushroom, for our vegetarian readers) with crispy, well-defined char lines and the familiar flavor of smoke and flame. For many, grilling is a year-round affair — we beat a path through the snow on our deck, stand with an umbrella in the rain, and tailgate for our favorite teams, but sweet, sweet summertime is considered prime grilling season. With Father’s Day coming up, you’re about to be inundated with ads for grills, tongs, scrubbers, skewers, you name it. So break out the steaks, burgers, and brats baby! It’s grilling time.
You can’t help but have a primitive appreciation for a cooking style that’s been around since the dawn of humankind. At some point, it was decided that raw meat wasn’t a viable food option for our species, so we added fire. With a little bit of heat, we can unlock layers of flavor hidden within foods. The process of caramelization makes many vegetables taste sweeter when cooked. As fructose (sugar) is heated, it oxidizes, turning foods like onions a delicious honey brown. Meat, on the other hand, gets savory. When heated, the proteins are broken down into amino acid and create the “crunchy bits” you get on a nicely seared steak or those great lines on a burger. Couple this discovery with about 10,000 complex taste buds, and it’s a match made in culinary heaven.
Check out these tips to get ready for the summer grilling season:
- Befriend a butcher: Get your cuts of meat from a butcher shop or the meat counter for the best quality.
- Get good grades: Because you aren’t relying on a sauce or basting in a pan, you want the best grade meat you can afford.
- Keep it simple: You don’t need a gazillion tools, just some tongs and a wire brush for cleaning.
- Keep your marbles: Steaks with marbling, the white lines of fat throughout, stay juicier and more flavorful.
- Start warm: For even cooking, let your steak sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before cooking.
- Speaking of heat: Your oven has to preheat and so does your grill. To see if it is hot enough, hold your hand over the grate. If you have to pull back after two seconds or less, you’re ready!
- Crust is a must: Let your meat form a sear crust or grill lines before flipping it. Otherwise, it will stick to the grill grate.
Grilled Fennel Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette
- 3 fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced
- ½ tsp lemon zest
- 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tsp raw honey
- ½ tsp Dijon mustard
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Parmigiano reggiano shavings
- Trim the stalks and fronds from your fennel bulbs if they have them (Reserve some of the fronds for garnish)
- Cut off any hard and inedible outer parts and trim a tiny bit off the bottom, (don’t cut too much-the core helps to keep your slices intact)
- Holding your fennel bulb upright cut ¼ inch slices vertically from top to bottom.
- Brush each side with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
- Place slices on a medium hot grill turning until you get a nice char on each side and fennel is tender to the touch.
- Whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, honey and mustard, adding salt and pepper to taste
- Drizzle dressing over fennel
- Garnish with the shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano.
- Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
Grilled Artichokes with Garlic Aioli
- 4 medium–large prepared artichokes
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 1 tsp dried marjoram
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 lemon, sliced thick
- Boil a large pot of water.
- Trim excess stems from the artichokes and cut off the tops of the leaves that have the small thorn.
- Place trimmed artichokes in boiling water and let cook for 10 -15 minutes depending on size.
- Remove artichokes from water and let cool in a colander.
- In a bowl, whisk together olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and marjoram for the aioli
- When the artichokes cool, cut them in half and remove the choke with a spoon. (be careful not to dig too deep you don’t want to remove the heart)
- Preheat outdoor grill. If using a grill basket, spray basket with nonstick cooking spray. Place cut artichokes halves, cut side up on grill or in grill basket.
- Generously baste the artichoke halves with the aioli
- Let the artichokes begin to char (about 4 minutes). Turn artichoke halves with tongs (cut side of artichoke down).
- Add lemon slices to the grill
- Let artichokes char on grill for another 4-minutes or until you receive the charring marks on the artichoke that you desire.
- Transfer artichokes from the grill to a serving platter, top with grilled lemon slices and serve
Grilled Red Peppers with Quinoa and Lentil Stuffing
- 3 large, squat red peppers
- 3/4 cup cooked quinoa*
- 1/2 cup cooked lentils**
- 1/4 cup canned/cooked garbanzo beans drained and rinsed
- 1/4 cup cucumber peeled and diced
- 1/4 cup grape tomatoes quartered
- ¼ cup crumbled feta
- 1 Tbsp red onion finely diced
- 1/2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt
- ¼ cup disced cucumbers
- 1 clove minced garlic
- pinch of salt
- Cut peppers in half vertically, and lightly coat the skin with olive oil (pour a bit in the palm of your hand to manually coat)
- In a bowl mix all ingredients for filling. And toss until well blended.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the yogurt, garlic cucumbers, 1 tsp lemon juice and salt.
- Preheat the grill.
- Fill pepper halves with the filling mixture
- Place on the grill, and cook for 4-5 minutes to achieve a nice char. Close the lid for half the time to soften the peppers.
- When char level is achieved, transfer to a serving platter, and drizzle tzatziki over the top.
*Quinoa triples in size when cooked. For this recipe use ¼ cup uncooked quinoa with ½ cup water (can be prepared in advance).
**Lentils double to triple in size when cooked, for this recipe a good amount to prepare would be ½ cup split lentils with 1 ½ cup water.
Grilled Romain Salad with Bacon and Feta
- 3 Romaine hearts
- ¼ cup red onion, cut into thin rings (nearly shaved)
- two medium tomatoes, sliced
- 12 pieces of thick cut bacon
- 5 oz blue cheese crumbles
For the dressing:
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- cracked black pepper
- sea salt
- Fry bacon in a large skillet, until crispy, set aside – reserve the bacon fat
- Slice each romaine heart in half vertically
- Heat your grill up over high heat – you want very hot grates (you want to get a quick char without cooking the lettuce too much)
- Using a basting brush, lightly brush a little bacon fat onto the flat side of each romaine half
- When the grill is hot, place the Romaine halves flat side down on the grill and just keep them on there until they have light char marks – it shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds
- Transfer the Romaine halves to a platter.
- In a bowl and whisk together vinegar, oil, oregano, and minced garlic.
- Top each romaine half with 2 or 3 tomato slices (depending on size) a few onion rings. Add crumbled bacon and blue cheese on top.
- Drizzle dressing over the assembled salads and serve.
Another great way to eat his salad is with fresh blue cheese dressing.
Eggplant Caprese Packets
- 2 large, long eggplants
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
- 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
- 16 fresh basil leaves
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
For the vinaigrette
- 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp basalmic vinegar
- 1 tsp sun-dried tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- pinch of salt
- Cut off the stalks of the eggplants
- Slice each eggplant lengthwise into thin slices-a mandolin will give you the most even slices (goal is to get 16)
- Boil a pot of water, and add a pinch of salt.
- When water is boiling add the eggplant slices, to blanche, about 2 minutes.
- Remove from water and place on paper towels to remove the excess water
- Cut Mozzarella into 8 slices, and EACH tomatoes into 8 slices (don’t use the ends)
- On a cutting board, stack two slices of eggplant in a cross.
- In the center, stack a slice of tomato, basil leaf, slice of mozzarella, basil leaf, tomato. (you can lightly salt and pepper the stack before next step)
- Fold the ends of the eggplant around the stack to make a neat little package
- Repeat to make 8.
- Chill in the fridge for at least 20 min. before grilling.
- In a bowl whisk together ingredients for vinaigrette
- Preheat the grill
- Brush each packet with olive oil before placing on the grill. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side
- Transfer to a platter, and serve with vinaigrette.