Grilling out and enjoying fresh produce during the summer months are about as classic as you can get. So why not bring these two culinary favorites together? South Carolina summers welcome an abundance of produce, and as these delicious ingredients flood the kitchen, finding new ways to prepare them can be a struggle. Fire up the grill for a host of novel methods to enjoy the summer’s bounty.
Perhaps one of the best reasons to reach for that bag of charcoal or turn on the gas this time of year is to keep the heat outside. While South Carolina is a state of high-powered air conditioning, cooking outdoors helps keep temperatures cool in the house. But if a grill is not available, the following recipes can be achieved on a stovetop or griddle.
Aside from keeping the heat outside, grilling provides benefits that are made evident in crisp flavorful meals. Think about the difference between boiled chicken and grilled chicken. Crispy skin and meat that really absorbs the seasonings makes grilled chicken a dish to which you can look forward. The same can be said for produce. On its own, a wedge of romaine lettuce is good. The crisp crunch is a great backdrop to other salad ingredients. When popped on the grill for a bit though, other flavors are brought forth, allowing the romaine to come through as more than a base ingredient.
Grilling fruits and vegetables may seem intimidating. They are more delicate than steaks and pork chops that thrive over a hot grill. Still, giving a wedge of lettuce a few minutes on the grill elevates the flavor profiles of the whole summer salad. However, keep in mind a few factors when grilling lettuces, in particular. Greens going on the grill should be fairly hearty; for example, heads of lettuce instead of mixed baby greens. When preparing a wedge, be sure to keep the stem intact so that the leaves all stay together. This works well for heads of iceberg, cabbage, and romaine, as well as broccoli and cauliflower. More grilling instructions can be found in the recipes below, but keep in mind that the goal is not to cook the wedge completely through but add flavor and texture through intense heat.
Classic Wedge Salad
The tangy dressing against a slightly charred wedge of iceberg is both refreshing and satisfying. Enjoy this salad as a side or add other ingredients like avocado, toasted nuts, or thinly sliced steak for an entree. Serves 6
1 head of iceberg lettuce
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/4 tablespoon celery salt
Juice of one lemon
Bleu cheese, crumbled
Thick-cut bacon, cooked and cut into 1/2-inch bits
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Mix together mayonnaise, buttermilk, sour cream, garlic powder, onion powder, celery salt, and lemon juice to make the dressing. Turn the head of iceberg so that the stem is facing up. Slice into six wedges, keeping the stem intact on each wedge. Lay wedges of iceberg over a medium flame and grill for 3 minutes with the grill open and then flip. Grill for another 3 minutes before removing the wedges. Place each wedge on a plate and top with crumbled bleu cheese. Pour dressing over the wedge and cheese. Top with sliced cherry tomatoes and bacon.
Caesar Wedge Salad
In this recipe, you will find all of the traditional components of a Caesar salad but with a grilled twist. Placing the romaine over the fire for a few minutes adds a layer of smokiness not typically found in this classic salad. Serves 4
2 romaine lettuce hearts
Caesar dressing (recipe below)
Croutons (recipe below)
Cut each romaine heart in half and brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Turn the grill on high and leave it open. Place the lettuce cut side down over the fire and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. It is important to leave the grill open while cooking so that the lettuce does not cook and become wilted. The goal of grilling is just to char one side of the romaine to add flavor and diversify the texture. Top the grilled romaine with Caesar dressing, croutons, and parmesan cheese.
Though this dressing can be purchased from the grocery store in a pinch, it is also very easy to prepare at home.
1/3 cup olive tasting oil
1/2 flat tin of anchovies
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Store in the refrigerator up to two days.
Croutons can be purchased but homemade are far superior in flavor and texture. Additionally, homemade croutons are an excellent way to repurpose stale bread.
3 cups of 2-inch cubed bread
1/2 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
Leave cubed bread out on the counter for one day to harden. Smash the garlic clove with the flat edge of a knife. Add garlic to a large skillet with olive oil and warm on medium heat until fragrant. After about 3 minutes, remove the garlic clove and add the salt. Place the bread squares into the skillet and toss, ensuring that each piece is coated in the garlic oil. When the bread cubes are consistently crispy, remove from skillet and set aside to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Shish kebabs are another excellent way to prepare fresh produce in the summer. The term shish kebab comes from a Turkish practice of grilling marinated meat on a sword or skewer, but this technique can be seen in a number of different culinary cultures, from France to Japan. Though the traditional rendition of this dish focuses on meat, incorporating vegetables is a great way to grill up a full meal this summer.
If using wooden skewers, be sure to soak them in water for 30 minutes before assembling kebabs to go on the grill. This keeps the sticks from catching on fire and ruining a whole meal. Additionally, make sure that the wooden skewers are packed tight. Space in between the layered ingredients exposes the wood, which can then burn and break over the hot flames. With metal skewers, this is not an issue.
Below are several recipes for kebabs, but assembling kebabs to personal preference is a fun way to get the whole family involved in preparing a meal. When assembling a skewer, try to pair ingredients that will cook at the same rate. Shrimp cooks very quickly, so a mushroom, which takes longer to cook, would not be the best pairing. Instead, pair a mushroom with steak and pair shrimp with a faster cooking vegetable, like cherry tomatoes or squash.
The recipes below give instructions for cooking on a gas grill, but the same instructions can be applied to a wood or charcoal grill.
The role of pineapple on pizza may still be up for debate, but transferring those flavors onto a kebab is a sure win. Sweet and savory come together on these skewers. A spicy marinade brings it all together for a tropical meal that will have everyone asking for seconds.
1.5 pounds pork loin with a good marble
2 cups fresh pineapple
2 bell peppers
1/2 white onion
1 tablespoon Jamaican jerk sauce (available at grocers)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Cube pork into 2- to 3-inch cubes (this can also be done by a butcher). Toss pork with Jamaican jerk sauce and olive oil and marinate for 2 hours. Slice pineapple, peppers, and onion into 2-inch cubes. To assemble kebabs, alternate pork, pineapple, peppers, and onion.
Heat grill to 550 degrees F. Place the skewers directly over the flame and close the grill. Cook for 5 minutes and then flip and close the lid. Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes or until the meat is cooked through and has a crispy char.
Shrimp Ribbon Kebabs
Shrimp does not take long to cook. Slicing the squash into thin ribbons ensures that each element of this kebab is cooked just right.
1.25 pounds of jumbo shrimp, raw and peeled
1 yellow summer squash
1/3 cup olive oil
5 basil leaves
5 stalks of Italian parsley
2 garlic cloves
Chop basil, parsley, and garlic together, allowing the flavors to begin integrating. Whisk the herb mixture into olive oil and set aside. Use a vegetable or potato peeler to slice the squash and zucchini into thin, wide ribbons. Place the ribbons and shrimp in two separate bowls, pour the olive oil mixture over each, and toss to coat the ingredients. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours. To assemble the kebabs, fold a squash and zucchini ribbon into an accordion shape and run the skewer through the center to hold the shape. Next, layer with a shrimp. Repeat this pattern until the skewer is full. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Heat grill to 400 degrees F. Place the kebabs on the grill, but not directly over the heat. Close the grill for 90 seconds. Flip kebabs and cook with the grill closed for another 90 seconds. The shrimp should be bright pink, and squash should be just crispy on the edges. Squeeze lemon wedge over the kebab and serve atop a bed of fresh greens or on top of buttery grits.
South Carolina Skewer
4 boneless chicken thighs
20 small to medium-sized okra
1 sweet onion
Carolina Gold Barbecue Sauce
1/4 cup of olive oil
Cut the chicken thighs into 2- to 3-inch pieces. Cut the onion into 3-inch chunks. Use the flat side of a knife to smash the end of the okra so that the skinny side breaks open, revealing the seeds. Leave the side that is attached to the stem intact. If the smashing with a knife does not break open the end of the okra, use a knife to cut lengthwise about 1 inch on the stem of the okra. This method of preparing okra will have the ends of the okra nice and crispy and help dry up some of the sliminess. Dip the okra ends in olive oil. Assemble the kebab by alternating between chicken, onion, and okra. Salt and pepper the whole kebab. Brush the chicken thighs liberally with the barbecue sauce and salt and pepper the whole kebab.
Heat the grill to 550 degrees F and place the kebabs directly over the heat. Close the grill and cook for 5 minutes, and then flip and cook for another 5 minutes with the lid closed. Serve with extra Carolina Gold barbecue sauce on the side.
Kebabs do not have to be limited to savory dinner entrees. Switch it up with this grilled summertime dessert.
16 fresh strawberries
2 fresh peaches
1/4 cup butter
Remove stems from strawberries. Cut the peaches into eight cubes. Slice the pound cake into 2-inch cubes. Assemble the kebabs by alternating between a piece of cake and a piece of fruit until skewers are full. Melt the butter and brush over the kebab.
Heat grill to 350 degrees F. Cook for 10 minutes with the grill open, flipping regularly to get all sides of the ingredients cooked consistently. The fruit should be juicy, and the pound cake toasted. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.