The Burning Love
Summer is nearly upon us, well almost, and it got me thinking about how much I'm looking forward to a summer barbecue. I'm not sure what the drive is for me, but nothing beats cooking outdoors in the summer. Even when I have a perfectly good cooker and kitchen indoors, I just love it. Now I'm no Jamie Oliver but I like to cook, especially on the BBQ, and I thought I would share some tips and ideas with you.
First, how not to BBQ. Many a time I have visited a friend's place for a BBQ and have looked on in horror at the grilled funeral pyre! Cheap meats burnt to death on the outside and bright pink in the centre. No vegetables to been seen, just an industrial bucket of salad which everyone avoids, making a beeline for the pile of highly refined, dusted in white flour, cheap carbs to wrap your poor E-coli filled gut-busting eco time bomb in! The only thing making it bearable for most people with a discerning tasebud or two is the full gallon of ketchup slathered all over it, pouring out of the end at the first bite. Nasty.
I get the thinking behind all this. If you spend a lot of money on food, you don't want to waste it by wrecking it on the BBQ. So you just buy the cheapest and nastiest meat - after all, it's only a BBQ.But surely it's worth buying good quality meat and making the effort to learn to cook on a BBQ properly? Less is more when it's the good stuff. Better still, forget the meat and do a veggie BBQ. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you for it.
That brings me onto my next observation: vegetables. Many of my friends eat well and have a good diet so why, when it comes to a BBQ, do you suddenly decide it's ok to eat 3kg of cheap meat but avoid all the lovely veg available: fresh, succulent, and really good for you? In my book the perfect BBQ involves loads of vegetables. They taste fantastic skewered on sticks, as veggie kebabs. And they make a fabulous accompaniment to all that meat.
Lighting the BBQ is a whole other department of interest. Woman and Man strive to tame fire, feeding the hungry hunter-gatherers. Well, when I say 'tame' I mean pour more than a litre of lighter fluid on the charcoal then proceed to stand over this newly made bomb, hand shaking in agony as the cigarette lighter flame laps at your fingers, willing the sorry mixture to catch fire. When it finally does go, there's a very thin line between heat up time (white ash), raging inferno and spent fuel. Somewhere in all this chaos you have to cook for a group of 12, serving up 'delicious' food tainted with lighter fluid food. The horror!
How to cook on a barbeque
There are plenty of good guides out there on the internet, by some really great cooks. But this is my way, and here are the things I have found out along the way.
First the barbecue itself. The best I have found is the type that has a lid. I only use charcoal briquettes. I can't see the point of gas, since you will not get those lovely smoky flavours. The lid helps to cook the food more evenly and gives you more control over the temperature, because you can place more delicate items away from direct heat. If you are using a disposable barbecue try laying some foil over the food as it cooks, to bounce some of the heat back in.
For lighting the BBQ I use one of these chimney tower things and it is brilliant! Fill it with charcoal or briquettes, place one or two cube fire lighters or newspaper underneath on the charcoal grill of the bbq, then light the firelighter and place the chimney on top. Go get a beer, as there is nothing else to do for the next 30 minutes or so. This process is completely automatic and I have yet to mess it up. The smell is intriguing at this point as you get a sort of steam train smell from the coals heating up in the chimney. It's all very atmospheric.
Nice steam train smell?
As a side note, writing this reminded me of the time I went to New Zealand in my 20s to see a friend. One day we decided to go the beach for a BBQ. I was oblivious to the fact that we had brought food but did not have a BBQ at the beach. To my amazement there were electric barbecues on the beach provided for people to use.
Three of four of them nestled amongst the pine trees in the sand set back from the water's edge. Sort of stainless steel tables built on bricks, where you had to insert a coin to start the heat. I took it all in my stride then but thinking back, how cool was that!
See, I didn't dream it!
Image credit: The Kiwi Blog Bus
Anyhow... one beer later the coals will be glowing red hot in your chimney. Grab a glove, making sure you no little ones are around you, and pour the hot coals onto the charcoal grill. Now you're ready to rock 'n' roll!
I tend to start with the vegetarian and vegan food first, as I don't want to contaminate the grill and BBQ vegan burgers cook well. I just need to keep an eye open and make sure they are not drying out too much. A little brush with coconut oil can help, but you need to warm it up to turn it into a liquid.
One of my favourites is a simple chickpea vegetarian burger
- 400g Chickpeas, drained
- Zest of a lemon plus the juice
- Herbs - go with what you have, but I love coriander in these
- 1 egg
- 100g breadcrumbs
- 1 red onion - half sliced and the rest well chopped up
- Splash of olive oil
- Small wholemeal buns
- Extras for the filling i.e tomato cucumber, chilli sauce, whatever you fancy really.
Ready for smashing!
Whizz up the chickpeas in a blender or smash up by hand, blend in the rest of the ingredients together and mix well. Keep some breadcrumbs and coriander back to roll the patties in and put in the burger afterwards. Place it in the fridge to firm up before cooking.
In the fridge with you, my lovelies.
You might want to cook on a layer of foil if your mix is a little crumbly. And don't forget to toast your buns on the grill just before serving.
As for some veg, some really simple and great tasting things to do:
- Whole corn on the cob buttered and wrapped in foil cooks beautifully on the BBQ just remember to keep the lid on to really get the heat in
- Peppers, just wash and chuck them on. They will go a little charred and baggy on the outside but taste wonderfully sweet when cut up and served.
- Asparagus tossed in a little olive oil and salt and pepper, placed straight on the the grills. This also tastes amazing as the grill locks in the flavour instead of being washed out by boiling water. Not to mention the smoky flavours from the BBQ.
It's all going very well.
Ready for eating!
To complement all this lovely food I go for a bulgar wheat salad or couscous, either will do. Follow the instructions on the pack. I use a vegetable stock cube, organic if you have it, in the hot water to absorb into the bulgur wheat. Then add finely chopped red onions, tomatoes and fresh basil. Plonk in a good glug of olive oil and a twist of salt and pepper. And that's about it, but you can add anything you want. It's really flexible.
One type of cooking I really fancy is having a go on a Dao Taan - fire pot, cooking with a Wok. I think the mega heat you can generate would prove really interesting. It could even lead to some Asian street food experiments. Also pizza on a BBQ! I love the sound of that, and I love pizza! Next blog think….
Anyway, just remember that a barbecue doesn't have to be rubbish, full of cheap meat. A superfood veggie feast can be rustled up in the outback of your own garden or picnic spot. Let us know your thoughts, tips and tricks - we would love to hear them. Now get out there and get cooking!