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Different Flavors for a Barbecue-Picnic
Every summer I go through the same routines of hauling out the barbecue, donning my ratty apron and cooking up enough grilled ribs and chicken, potato salad, and corn on the cob to feed the nation's hungry. And, at the end of each meal, with sated appetites and barbecue sauce-covered fingers, I always wished I tried something just a little different.
Oh, don't misunderstand me. I love my simple American barbecue food; it's soul-satisfying and always delicious, but I sometimes long for different flavors to grace my summer outings.
So, this year, determined to make a memorable difference at one of my summer picnics, I developed recipes that use the expected staples of the American barbecue in unexpected ways by mixing a variety of ethnic flavors in a meal.
Ribs are replaced by a tender, succulent pork roast, slow-cooked over long-burning hardwoods. Oak, mesquite, or fruit woods are wonderful for this because each imparts its own subtle flavor to the roast. After the cooking, the roast is cooled then shredded and added to a spicy, sweet Asian-inspired sauce that tickles every mouthful with the taste of fresh ginger and star anise. Mounded high on your favorite bun, this entree substitute is guaranteed to win praise from your family and guests. An added bonus is the previous day's grilling of the roast which frees up your time to spend with your guests on the day of the picnic.
Chicken will also get its own wrap in a pita pocket after grilling on skewers with peppers and onions. A peanut-coconut marinade adds a nice dimension of flavor and a touch of sweetness as the heat from the fire caramelizes the honey from the marinade.
Instead of the usual chilled mayonnaise-based salad, I'm dressing small potatoes with a creamy feta cheese-lemon-garlic vinaigrette while hot and serving them while warm. The briny bite of imported black olives blended deliciously with the warm, mealy potatoes and creamy, lemony dressing.
Corn is cut off the cob and lightly steamed for a crunchy, fresh-off-the-vine taste in this salad mixing cherry tomatoes, red onion, bell pepper, jicama and a cilantro-lime dressing. No more struggles with greasy hands and dental floss from eating it off the cob!
Desserts can be anything that reflects the fresh fruits of the season: chilled fruit salad, berry tarts, homemade fruit-based ice cream. I always gravitate to my old and much appreciated standbys of wedges of watermelon and mixed berry shortcakes piled high with whipped cream. After all, I don't want to make waves by changing everything familiar in my summer picnics, now do I?
All recipes serve 6-8 people, depending on their appetites.
Asian Barbecue Pork Sandwiches
1-5lb. shoulder pork roast
2 inch piece ginger root
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch green onions, white part only
3/4 cup soy sauce
1 cup bottled hoisin sauce
1/3 cup Asian sesame oil
3/4 cup honey
1 cup catsup
1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
3 star anise
Wash the roast and trim any fat. Set aside. Process the ginger root, garlic, and green onions until minced. Add the soy and process again. Pour this and the remaining ingredients in a medium sauce pan and gently heat for 20 minutes. Pour over the roast and let marinate for at least 24 hours (up to 48 hours).
Remove roast from the marinade and reserve the marinade. Grill over hot wood or hardwood charcoal, adding more to keep the heat as the roast cooks. This will take approximately 2-3 hours, depending on your grill and the type of fuel you use. When finished, remove and cool.
Meanwhile, bring the marinade to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes. Reserve for later use.
Shred the pork and blend with the barbecue sauce. Pile high on your favorite type of roll.
Grilled Chicken in Pita Pockets
3 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch chunks
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup "lite" coconut milk
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 inch piece ginger root
2 sweet onions, cut into quarters
2 bell peppers, cut into chunks
4 pita pockets, cut in halves
Place the chicken in a bowl. Reserve.
Blend the peanut butter, coconut milk, honey, soy sauce, and ginger root until smooth. Pour over the chicken pieces and marinate overnight.
The next day, light your grill a half hour to one hour before eating.
Skewer the chicken pieces separately from the vegetables. Cook the chicken 7 minutes on one side, then turn to cook the other side an additional 6 minutes. Place the vegetable skewers on the grill 10 minutes before the chicken is done.
Serve the chicken and some grilled onion and peppers in the pita pockets.
Warm Feta-Lemon Potato Salad
1 dozen small potatoes, halved
1/2 cup sheep's feta cheese
juice 2 lemons
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh oregano
1 green onion
1/2 cup imported black olives, pitted and slivered
Boil the potatoes until just soft, approximately 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, place all the remaining ingredients except the olives in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until creamy smooth. Reserve.
When the potatoes are done, drain well and place in a deep bowl. Pour the feta sauce over them and the slivered olives and toss gently but thoroughly.
Southwest Inspired Corn Salad
6 ears sweet corn
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/8 red onion, diced
1/4 red or green bell pepper, diced
1/2 small jicama, diced
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, washed
juice 2 limes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon canned, mild green chiles, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
Remove the kernels from the ears of corn and lightly steam for 1-2 minutes. Rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain well and place corn in a medium-sized bowl. Add the tomatoes, red onion, bell pepper, and jicama.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, place the cilantro, limes, cumin, salt, and chiles. Process until the ingredients are blended and minced. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil. The dressing will thicken. Stop the machine and pour this over the corn salad.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Rosemary Furfaro is a freelance food writer.