I have a firmly held belief that life is too short for fast food. It is too short, in fact, to bother with treating meals as simply a source of energy — something to be boiled in a bag for five minutes before rushing out of the door, or something ordered by speaking into an intercom and then quickly gobbling it down in the car between appointments. The preparation and enjoyment of meals is a time to open up the senses and relish the company of family and good friends.
And at no time of the year is the enjoyment of food more intense than during the summer barbecue season, when the sizzle of meat on an outdoor grill is as prevalent as the hiss of sprinklers on grass. I have a special section of my recipe folder for my favourite barbecue dishes: skewers of fat tiger prawns alternated with ruby-red bell peppers; thick lamb burgers stuffed with feta cheese, seasoned with pepper, and studded with capers and chopped sun-dried tomatoes; and slow-grilled baby back pork ribs that have been marinated in peanut oil and hoisin sauce.
Barbecue season, though, needn’t be something that is looked forward to only by meat eaters. My friend Allison, a vegetarian for twenty years, is one of the most enthusiastic backyard grillers that I know. With the artful use of paper lanterns, fairy lights, and plenty of potted trees, she has transformed the large patio of her smallish condominium into a jewelled, bower-like sanctum. Taking pride of place in this refuge is a stainless-steel outdoor grill that she uses for preparing a host of colourful and absolutely delicious vegetarian dishes.
Amongst my favourite of these dishes are her grilled eggplant and mozzarella burgers served on whole wheat, sesame seed buns that she buys fresh from the bakery next door. The key, she tells me, is to buy the best quality mozzarella and freshest eggplant that you can lay your hands on. As for preparation, it’s simplicity itself. Just drizzle some olive oil on both sides of thick slices of ripe eggplant, then generously season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. The cooking time for the eggplant is roughly ten to twelve minutes, depending on the thickness of the slices, and involves the occasional turning between sips of white wine or Mojitos. Another two or three minutes on the grill will melt the cheese. Last night, she served these burgers with a side dish of vegetables (i.e., peppers, asparagus, and cherry tomatoes) cooked on the grill in tin foil packages.
Can you think of a simpler or better tasting way to load up on all of the anti-oxidants that vegetables have to offer?