When it comes to summer grilling, most cooks reach for the old standards: hamburgers, hot dogs, corn, steak, and chicken. Let’s face it: Tradition gets old.
Here are some basic ideas for taking your grilling game to the next level using inspired ingredients like avocado, cabbage, cauliflower, polenta, and nuts.
Avocados are rich, silky, and wildly popular at the moment, and there’s no shortage of reasons why they’re everywhere right now. And while the fruit is perfect sliced and piled high on top of toasts or salads, a little love over live fire will take its flavors to the next level.
Try halving your avocado, brushing the cut sides with a little mayonnaise or oil, along with a sprinkling of seasoning, then grilling those halves over a hot rack for a minute or two. Heat the avocado just until the cut halves warm slightly and have nice grill marks, then remove. Stuff the halves with cold salad, or slice and use in appetizers or over toast. The slight smokiness the grill imparts adds wonderful, layered flavor, and it’s always a crowd-pleaser.
Lettuces and Cabbages
Planning a summer salad? Consider grilling thick wedges or halves of romaine and endive or radicchio heads for added flavor and drama. Brush the cut edges with a little vinaigrette or dressing, then place over a hot grill just to lightly toast the cut edges. The quick grilling adds great savory notes to the dish.
If cooking over coals, try “caveman grilling.” Lightly oil and season a whole head of cabbage before wrapping it tightly in foil, then tuck into hot coals, tossing every few minutes until evenly charred on all sides. Remove the foil, and cut into wedges, then serve alongside romesco, ranch, or another flavorful sauce.
Fruit, in particular, shines on the grill, as the heat toasts the natural sugars, giving the fruit deep caramel notes. Brush cut halves of fresh figs, and toast quickly on the grill, just until you see grill marks, then remove and toss with a salad, or add to a charcuterie platter.
A covered grill can work just like an oven. Set the heat, add your ingredients, and wait for the grill to work its magic. Oysters are a perfect example. Whether you’re adding chopped garlic, herbs, and sprinkled cheeses or going old school with oysters Rockefeller or Bienville, carefully place the topped half shells on the grill rack (or use a grill pan, and settle the oysters in a bed of rock salt), and grill until toasty on top and the aroma is almost too much to bear.
Like fruit, vegetables love the grill. For simple cauliflower “steaks,” cut the veggie into thick slices — about an inch or so — lightly oil and season, then grill on both sides until you have good grill marks and the slices are tender enough to slice easily.
Alternatively, lightly oil and season the whole head before wrapping with foil and grilling “caveman style,” tucked in coals and tossed until tender and charred on all sides; or cut the head into florets and toss with oil and seasoning, or a vinaigrette and grill in a foil pouch until tender.
For a zippy take on polenta, cook the cornmeal ahead of time to a thick porridge, then spread it out into an even layer in a greased baking dish. Once the polenta is chilled and hardened, cut into slices, lightly oil, and place over a hot grill rack, cooking just long enough to warm and get good grill marks.
The grilled polenta makes a great base for an appetizer and also works well served alongside salads and main dishes. It even works well as a dessert, topped with ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce or macerated fresh berries.
When you’re using a grill, potatoes can be cooked in a variety of ways. One of the best is to pierce whole baking potatoes several times and microwave until tender, then cut into thick slices, and brush with a mayonnaise flavored with Parmesan cheese, garlic, and chives. Grill the slices until toasted and fragrant. (The mayonnaise actually helps to keep the potatoes from sticking to the grill racks.)
Alternatively, wrap whole greased and seasoned potatoes in foil, and tuck into hot coals until charred on all sides, or simply grill whole new potatoes, lightly oiled and seasoned, over gentle heat on a rack until tender and lightly browned. For a show stopping side, thread thinly sliced greased and seasoned potatoes onto skewers, and grill until fragrant and toasted.
Like fresh fruit, pound cake (and other dense cakes, such as angel food) has a ton of sugar and is magic on the grill. Place slices on a greased grill rack, and cook just until lightly toasted on each side, then top with your favorite ice cream or whipped cream, along with fresh summer fruit. Simple as this may be, it’s always a favorite with company and is always entertaining.
Brush thick slices with a little oil, flavored with a touch of rum, and grill just until the sugars in the fruit begin to caramelize. Use as a dessert component, or incorporate into a refreshing summer mai tai or summer cocktail.
Cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon may be the last things you’d consider throwing on the grill, but they are absolutely delicious. Find slightly underripe fruit (because they hold their shape best over the high heat), then grill quickly over a greased hot rack until softened and they’ve developed nice grill marks.
As the outer surface cooks, the caramelized sugars give the fruit an incredible depth of flavor. Use them in salads, as cocktail components, or served topped with yogurt or ice cream and a drizzle of honey and berries for a refreshing and colorful dessert.