Grilled Caesar Salad
Grilled Caesar Salad. (Photo: Annabel Cohen)

Even the most obvious choices — burgers and dogs — can still be gourmet if you prepare them beautifully.

Without question, the finest aromas and flavors of summer come from the grills and barbecues that define the season. Just as the backyard becomes your living room, Mother Nature is the perfect party planner. Food sizzling on the grill keeps us outdoors and gives the kitchen equipment a vacation. And grilling is cooking food PDQ — fast and furious (unlike barbecue, which requires slow even heat). Super-heat means speedy searing so that juicy juices stay put within meats, vegetables … everything.

In summer we want extra ease and tend to seek the most effortless formulaic fare, which works because once you throw something on the barby, you’re practically guaranteed scrumptious results.

Even the most obvious choices — burgers and dogs — can still be gourmet if you prepare them beautifully. And change-up the toppings. A thick slice of grilled eggplant is delicious atop a burger. Sausage, in any number of forms and flavors, are a welcome swap to traditional dogs, especially when served with a slaw instead of relish.

Especially this summer, the outdoors has magical powers when it comes to our collective positive frame of mind. 

BEEF BURGERS WITH RED PEPPER AND CORN RELISH

Ingredients

Burgers:

  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 2 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes
  • 1 Tbsp. granulated garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste

To serve:

  • 6 good quality onion rolls or big hamburger buns

Relish: 

  • 1 cup chopped red or yellow bell peppers
  • 1 cup corn kernels (if frozen, thaw first)
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • Juice of one lemon (about ½ cup)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1-2 tsp. hot red pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
  • 2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • Kosher salt to taste

Directions

Make relish: Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and stir well. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Let cool on the turned-off stove to room temperature before chilling, covered.

Make burgers: Combine all burger ingredients and mix well. Chill the mixture, covered, until very cold. Form the burger mixture into 8 “balls.” Form the burgers by placing each ball on a square (about 6-inches) of wax paper or parchment paper. Center a dinner plate over the ball and press down until the burger is about ½-inch thick (they will shrink when cooked). Place another square of waxed paper over the finished burger and repeat with remaining balls. Stack the burgers and chill until ready to cook. 

Heat grill to medium-high. Spray each burger with nonstick cooking spray (one side only) before placing on the hot grill. Spray the top of the burger with nonstick cooking spray before turning over to cook the other side. Grill for 10 minutes or until burgers are to your liking. Serve on onion rolls with pepper relish. Makes 6 servings.

GRILLED CAESAR SALAD

Ingredients

Dressing:

  • ¼ cup mayonnaise (regular or low-fat)
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 anchovy fillets, drained, optional
  • ¼ cup freshly grated
  • Parmesan cheese

Salad:

  • 4 romaine hearts, each cut into six wedges
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing on lettuce
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • Croutons

Directions

Make dressing: Combine dressing ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. 

Grill lettuce: Heat grill to medium. Brush lettuce wedges very lightly with oil. Arrange the wedges (do not separated into leaves) on the grill and cook, turning once or twice, until just wilted and charred, about 1-3 minutes.

Remove from the grill, arrange on wedges on the plates or on a platter and drizzle dressing over (you may also chop the wedges and serve as a traditional salad). Sprinkle with fresh grated Parmesan cheese, fresh ground pepper and top with croutons. Makes 6 servings. 

HOT DOG CHILI

Ingredients

  • ½ pound ground beef
  • Water
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • ½ tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. Salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • Pinch cayenne pepper

Directions

Place beef in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add enough water to just cover the meat and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the meat is cooked through. Use a potato masher, hand-blender or fork to crumble the meat in the pot. Add remaining ingredients and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, or until the chili is thickened. Makes 4-6 servings.

RED POTATO SALAD

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½-1 cup mayonnaise (regular, lowfat or nonfat)
  • 2 Tbsp. yellow or Dijon mustard
  • 4 hardboiled eggs, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • ½ cup chopped mild onion (such as Vidalia) (optional)
  • ¼ cup sweet pickle relish
  • 1 tsp. celery salt
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Garnish:

  • Paprika and chopped fresh parsley 

Directions

Place potatoes in a pot of cold water over high heat. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat slightly and boil potatoes for 12-15 minutes until just tender. 

Remove from heat and drain the potatoes well (do not rinse), shaking colander to remove all excess water.

Place the hot, drained potatoes in a large bowl and sprinkle them with the vinegar. Allow the potatoes to cool to room temperature. 

Add remaining ingredients and fold gently to incorporate. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Adjust seasonings to taste at this point. Garnish with parsley and sprinkled with paprika just before serving. Makes 6 or more servings.

GRILLED CHICKEN SAUSAGE IN PITA WITH CILANTRO SLAW

Ingredients

  • 6 large chicken sausages (about 1½-2 pounds) any flavor
  • 4-6 pocket pitas, halved

Slaw: 

  • 8 cups shredded cabbage, red and green
  • ¼ cup chopped red or Bermuda onion
  • Cucumber slices
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup (or more) fresh chopped cilantro
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 1-2 tsp. hot red pepper sauce, such as Tabasco (to taste — I like it spicy)
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Make slaw: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss well. 

Grill the sausage: Grill sausage on a medium-high grill until charred on all sides and hot. Have the pitas and open to make pockets. Place a large spoonful of slaw in each pocket and top with the grilled sausage. Top with extra slaw, cucumber slices and serve with Dijon mustard. Makes 6 servings.

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