Recently, the air has been filled with the smell of burning coals and sizzling meat as we dust off the barbecues for another year.
Appropriately next week is National Barbecue Week and the perfect time to get grilling.
Mostly barbecues consist of, and nothing wrong with it, sausages, burgers and steak. But this week I’m going to deviate from meat on the grill and focus on vegetables instead.
Placing vegetables on smoking coals changes their flavour profile completely. When you boil or steam vegetables their natural sugars stagnate, but add them to a hot grill and a kind of alchemy takes place.
Corn on the cob is a classic grilled vegetable – it’s user friendly as you just need to rub in a little oil and throw it on. The natural sugars in the corn caramelize with the heat transforming them into something much more sultry with a depth of flavour.
Sweet vegetables really benefit from intense heat. Carrots work wonderfully on the grill.
The first recipe calls for them to be marinated, grilled and then scattered with coriander yoghurt and dukkha. Dukkha is a spicy hazelnut and sesame condiment that really livens up most things. It adds crunch to the soft grilled carrots. To add zip, there’s a coriander and lemon yoghurt. Carrots and coriander are from the same family, so always work well together.
The first of the season runner beans are appearing now and nothing gives them a lease of life like a go on the grill. Blanch them slightly and scorch over hot coals. While they grill, do the same with a couple of lemons and use the juice with some feta and basil to make a dressing for the crunchy beans. Delicious on their own or even better with barbecue chicken.
Muhammara is a rich Middle Eastern red pepper paste with walnuts, pomegranate molasses and cumin. Grill the peppers straight on the bbq and then peel and chop them. This mixture is fabulous with grilled mackerel or salmon but I’ve paired them with courgettes. These abundant summer vegetables can be a bit watery and flat but quarter them, toss in oil and get them on the grill to liven them up no end. The muhammara completes the transformation.
One of the abiding memories of my childhood is when we wrapped potatoes in tin foil and pressed them into the glowing embers of a fire. They were unwrapped and generously anointed with butter. Crunchy, nutty skin belying a soft fluffy centre. I’ve upped their game in my last recipe. Hasselback potatoes are when you slice potatoes thinly but just cut short of going through the base. They’re then roasted and concertina open. I’ve added a crispy pancetta and thyme butter and they’re wrapped in foil and baked in the embers.
Just before they’re ready would be the time to put a few juicy steaks on the barbecue to have with them!