Striped aprons, baseball caps, long barbecue tongs, smells wafting, sounds sizzling, kids running, adults chillin’. It’s a Bob Marley kind of time.
Eating al fresco brings out the best of summer colour and fun, and we don’t need to do a lot of preparation for cooking either.
It’s more about assembly and making sure we have plenty of variety and interesting textures to nibble on while the barbecue delivers its deliciousness.
The tempting smells of cooking mean that our digestive juices get to work quickly so make sure you have plenty of salads and bread topped with interesting bits to pick at. Use the best of seasonal ingredients and make the day a healthy as well as tasty one.
Chop some fresh tomatoes and cucumber and add to cooked couscous, quinoa, rice or pasta and you have a decent meal, ideal for vegetarians.
The trick is to use loads of fresh herbs too – a large handful of each to a large bowl of grains. Chop parsley roughly, tear off small oregano or basil leaves and tear tarragon gently.
Small, young mint leaves can be left whole. I use a mixture of parsley, mint and coriander. Delicious!
For meat eaters add some grilled and chopped rashers or chicken. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice.
Raw courgettes are excellent grated. Leave the skin on and sprinkle with lemon juice.
Red peppers can be roasted whole on the barbecue. Slice them lengthways, rubbing off any burnt bits and toss in olive oil with a little salt, black pepper and a few fresh thyme leaves. Delicious on bread.
Slices of pear with a squeeze of lemon juice are delicious with prosciutto, Parma or Serrano ham. Grate a raw beetroot and drizzle with a little olive oil. Crumble feta cheese on top to finish.
Chickpeas, cooked and drained, are excellent fried lightly with a little dried cumin to cook the spice. Mix with chopped cucumber and mint.
Fish works well on the barbecue, and your choice will depend on whether or not you want to cook it directly on the rack or wrap it in something interesting.
I have used lettuce leaves here as an organic envelope.
Salmon with lemongrass, wrapped in seasonal Leaves
Place thick salmon steaks or darnes in the centre of large lettuce leaves.
Dip cabbage and spinach leaves first in salted boiling water for a minute to soften them.
Drizzle the fish with lemon juice and top with a knob of butter.
Place a sliver of lemon grass on top of the fish, or add a sprig of dill or tarragon.
Close up the lettuce leaf and wrap in a second one so each salmon piece is sealed in. Place on the coolest part of the barbecue.
Turn over after 5 minutes and leave for another 5 minutes.
If the salmon is thin allow a few minutes less. You can return it to the barbecue easily if it is undercooked.
If you don’t like skin that is not crisp, remove it before wrapping, but don’t waste it.
Sprinkle with salt and place it on the barbecue to crisp up, and serve separately.
If your barbecue has become very hot, wrap the parcels in foil to avoid burning.
When cooked, serve the parcels on plates and allow people to open them and smell the great aromas.
Add 1 dessp korma paste to 500g minced beef and mix well. Chop 1 spring onion for every two burgers and mix in. You can add 1 tbsp fine breadcrumbs too to lighten the mixture. Keep the burgers small so they cook through properly.
To avoid bacterial problems do not serve burgers pink, and make sure you keep the meathot before use. Cook as usual on the rack.
It’s hard to beat sweet potatoes on the barbecue as they don’t take as much time as regular potatoes and can be substantial enough for vegetarians, while being a good accompaniment to meat and fish.
Rub with a little olive oil mixed with paprika.
Wrap twice in foil and place on the hot coals for 15 minutes each side.
Unwrap, check they are cooked through, halve and crumble feta on top. A drizzle of Greek yoghurt is also delicious. Finish with extra paprika on top.
1 dessp pumpkin seed oil
3 tbsp grape seed or sunflower oil
1 teasp date syrup (from Asian shops)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
Mix well. Have the dressing ready, but don’t coat the leaves until just about to serve.
There are terrific breads in bakeries to slice or tear apart - serving as soakage or for mopping up juices from succulent tomatoes and dressings. Baguette is delicious as is any good sourdough.
Have olive oil for dipping, adding a little balsamic vinegar if you fancy it. Have a few bowls of it on the table.
Avoid butter and cheese if the weather is good, as they deteriorate quickly, though a hunk of Parmesan is great to serve with a little honey as a cross between dessert and cheese course.
Topping: This is like a hummus flavoured with anchovy, so for a shortcut liquidize or mash anchovies and chop parsley to add to shop-bought hummus.
Allow 1 teasp mashed anchovies to 1 heaped dessp hummous. Or make it this way in a blender:
1 can chickpeas (retain the liquid)
6 salted anchovies (from a can or jar)
1 dessp tahini paste or half cup sesame seeds
4 tbsp olive oil
1 heaped dessp finely chopped parsley
If using sesame seeds, blend or grind them to a fine paste.
Add the rest of the ingredients, except the parsley, and blend for 20 seconds until still a little rough.
Add the parsley and blend until mixed through.
Test for texture and add some of the salted water from the can of chickpeas to loosen it up.
If it’s too loose it will firm up after an hour.
This will keep in the fridge for a few days. It’s delicious on hard boiled eggs and as a paste to put on chicory leaves. They look great lined up on a tray.
Try the mix as a dip for carrot and courgette sticks too.
Chop 4 large tomatoes finely and mix with 1 dessp finely chopped thyme.
Drizzle with 1 dessp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Leave for 10 minutes before heaping onto bread.
Mint or basil instead of thyme is good too, but gently tear the leaves instead of chopping.
I sometimes add chopped olives. Simple and delicious.