Grill your way around the world


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Summer is fast approaching, and what better way to slip into vacation mode than by trading your oven mitts for some long-handled tongs so you can sink your teeth into something hot, juicy and deliciously smoky off the grill? May, after all, is National BBQ Month, a time when those of us who enjoy cooking out -- a non-discriminating group that includes practically every American home cook, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association -- breathe deeply of the fumes as well as the "flavor, fun and family ties of good barbecue."

With Memorial Day on Monday, I'll bet some of you already have started burning your way through that long-awaited first bag of charcoal or tank of propane gas. I know I have, much to my husband's, kids' and dog Harry's delight, despite the rain, or maybe just in spite of it.

But oh, how quickly the bloom falls off the rose.

As much as my family loves grilled food, I know they will eventually tire of the standard backyard fare of chicken, burgers, steaks and the occasional hot dog or veggie kebab. Even if the meat's the good kind, made from grass-fed cattle or free-range chicken, and the dogs come from premium cuts of 100-percent kosher beef.

PG VIDEO: GRILLING WITH GRETCHEN

Even if I remember to soak everything in a really good marinade or brush on a tasty barbecue sauce.

Even if the alternative is a bowl of cereal for dinner.

I get tired of the tried-and-true, too. To keep everyone salivating at mealtime, I've decided to get (and keep) this summer-long barbecue party started by going international, which is easier than you might think.

As this year's crop of grilling cookbooks so deliciously illustrates, America's tastes -- like its population -- are becoming increasingly multicultural. Here's just a sampling of some of the diverse world cuisines that are ready for their closeup on your barbecue's grates:

• Vietnamese and Indonesian ("On a Stick" by Matt Armedziz)

• Japanese ("The Japanese Grill" by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat)

• Peru, Patagonia, Cuba and Brazil ("Latin Grilling" by Lourdes Castro)

• Australia ("My Grill: Outdoor Cooking Australian Style" by Pete Evans)

• Iran ("Food of Life" by Najmieh Batmanglij).

Thankfully, we have a little more than 80 days to make this culinary trip around the world. Even if Pittsburgh's weather doesn't cooperate -- hate to break it to you, but it's supposed to continue to be colder and rainier than usual -- the recipes below are sure to keep your grilling fun, festive and delicious.

We'll cover more here, including sides and sauces, over the course of the summer.


Chicken Skewers with Spicy Yellow Chile Sauce (Aji de Gallina)

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We found this "spicy" yellow chile sauce to be on the mild side, so if you like fiery foods, double the amount of chile. You'll also want to season the chicken aggressively, as it's pretty boring otherwise. Or so my kids informed me as they reached for the salt shaker.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 serrano or habanero chile, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup walnut pieces
  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 3 limes, cut into wedges
  • 24 wooden skewers, soaked for at least 20 minutes

Prepare sauce by putting oil and garlic in a medium saute pan and set over medium-high heat. When garlic begins to sizzle, add onion, chile, turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon salt and saute until vegetables become limp and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Transfer vegetables to a blender and add evaporated milk and walnuts. Puree until smooth. Add juice of 1 lime and taste for seasoning. Set aside.

Slice the chicken against the grain into long strips, each about 1-inch thick. Drizzle with vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Remove skewers from water and thread chicken strips onto skewers. Starting 1 inch from bottom of each strip and treating the skewer like a needle, make "stitches" in the meat, weaving the skewer in and out every 2 inches or so.

Heat grill to high and close the lid. Wait at least 15 minutes before lowering the heat to medium-high. Oil the grill grates with a vegetable-oil-soaked paper towel held with a long pair of tongs. Place skewers on grill, lower lid and cook for 7 minutes, or until bottom of the chicken develops grill marks and turns golden brown. Turn skewers over. Leaving the lid open, grill for another 7 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Place grilled chicken skewers on a serving platter and garnish with lime wedges. You can drizzle yellow chile sauce over skewers or allow your guests to do so themselves.

Serves 8.

--"Latin Grilling: Recipes to Share, from Patagonian Asado to Yucatecan Barbecue and More" by Lourdes Castro (Ten Speed, 2011, $22)


IRAN
Skewered Ground Lamb Kebab (Kabab-e kubideh)

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I had to watch several YouTube videos -- in Farsi, no less -- before I got up the nerve to try this popular Iranian dish. I found the skewers, sumac and ground lamb at Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip, and the lavash bread at Trader Joe's in East Liberty. I mistakenly used saffron threads instead of powder, but I'm pretty sure it didn't affect the taste.

  • 2 pounds twice-ground lamb shoulder or twice-ground beef
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons rose water
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup sumac powder, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 medium yellow onions, finely grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
  • 8 to 10 flat 3/4-inch skewers
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 package lavash bread
  • 2 limes, cut in half
  • Fresh basil for garnish

Combine lamb, salt, pepper, saffron, turmeric, 2 tablespoons sumac powder, baking soda, onions and garlic. Knead with your hands for about 5 minutes. Cover the paste and let stand for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Heat grill as high as possible; if you are using charcoal, do not spread it thin.

Using damp hands, divide meat paste into equal lumps about the size of small oranges. Shape each into a 5-inch long sausage and mold it firmly around a flat, sword-like skewer. Arrange on baking sheet, separated from each other. Cover and keep in a cool place.

For the baste, melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the lime juice. Keep warm. Spread lavash bread on a serving platter.

Arrange skewers 3 inches above coals or grates (bricks on either side make good platforms; the meat should not touch the grill). After a few seconds, turn meat gently to help it attach to the skewers and to prevent it from falling off.

Grill the meat for 3 to 5 minutes turning frequently. Baste just before removing from fire. Avoid overcooking. The meat should be seared on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside.

Place kebab skewers on the lavash bread platter. Keep on skewers until ready to serve and cover with lavash bread to keep warm. Loosen meat from each skewer and slide meat off using a piece of bread. Sprinkle with sumac powder and lime juice to taste. Serve with fresh herbs and yogurt and cucumber dip. Nush-e Jan!

Makes 6 servings.

-- "Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies" by Najmieh Batmanglij (Mage, March 2011, $54.95)


VIETNAM
Bo La Lot

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If like me you can't find betel leaves, substitute grape or spinach leaves.

  • 4 bamboo skewers or toothpicks
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced lemongrass
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and minced ginger
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese five-spice powder
  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar (or dark brown sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 12 betel leaves

Soak skewers in water for about 30 minutes.

Place 2 tablespoons oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, shallots, lemongrass and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add jalapeno and ground beef, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add Chinese five-spice powder, palm sugar and fish sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 to 7 minutes, or until meat is cooked through; remove from heat.

Preheat grill or grill pan to medium-high and brush with oil.

Lay betel leaves shiny side down and place 2 tablespoons of meat mixture in the center of each. Fold in the sides, covering meat, and roll closed. Run skewers widthwise through stuffed leaves, 3 per skewer. Brush each with remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper.

Grill about 5 minutes on each side, or until leaves just begin to char. Serve warm.

Serves 4.

--"On a Stick" by Matt Armendariz (Quirk, 2011, $16.95)


INDIA
Tandoori Mushrooms

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These are on the spicy side, so you may want to add a bit more sour cream or yogurt to the marinade.

  • 2-inch piece peeled ginger, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder or hot paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
  • 12 ounces cremini, portobello or other mushrooms, trimmed

Place ginger, garlic, salt, cumin, chili powder, turmeric and white pepper in a food processor. Finely chop, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add lemon juice and 1 tablespoon oil and puree. Add sour cream and yogurt, and pulse processor in short bursts, just to mix. Transfer marinade to a glass, ceramic or stainless steel mixing bowl.

Wipe mushrooms clean with damp paper towels. Stir mushrooms into the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat grill to high.

Thread mushrooms on bamboo or metal skewers. Cook on grill until tender and golden, 3 to 4 minutes per side, 6 to 8 minutes total, basting with remaining oil.

Makes 4 servings.

-- Adapted from Bukhara Grill, Manhattan, via The New York Times


JAPAN
Scallion Beef

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  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound rib eye or sirloin, sliced horizontally paper thin (ask your butcher to do this)
  • 12 scallions, both ends trimmed, so each is about 6 inches long
  • 12 toothpicks

Mix together soy sauce, mirin, sake and black pepper in a bowl; set aside.

Divide beef into 4 equal portions. Arrange 1 portion into an approximately 6-inch-wide "sheet," overlapping the slices. Place 3 scallions lengthwise along 1 side of the beef: 2 with the white parts in 1 direction, 1 with the white part in the other direction. Roll beef around the scallions. Secure roll with 3 evenly spaced toothpicks. Repeat with remaining portions of beef and scallions to make 4 rolls.

Preheat grill to hot. Brush and oil grate well. Grill rolls for about 6 minutes total, turning every 20 to 30 seconds. If you have a flare-up, shift rolls to another part of the grate or use a spray bottle. After 3 minutes, brush on marinade. Keep grilling and turning rolls for 3 more minutes, brushing them with more marinade after every turn. When they're done, the rolls will be browned, glossy and glazed.

Transfer rolls to a cutting board and let rest for 1 minute. Remove toothpicks, cut each roll in 4 equal parts and serve.

Serves 4.

-- "The Japanese Grill" by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat (Ten Speed, 2011, $25)


INDONESIA
Red Curry Shrimp and Pineapple Skewers

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  • 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup Thai basil, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds tiger shrimp, peeled, cleaned and deveined, with tails intact
  • 1 small pineapple, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes

Place all marinade ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Add shrimp and pineapple and toss gently. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Thread shrimp and pineapple cubes onto skewers, alternating items.

Heat grill or grill pan to medium-high and brush with oil. Grill skewers on each side 4 to 6 minutes, or until shrimp is just cooked through. Season lightly with salt and pepper and serve.

Serves 4.

-- "On a Stick" by Matt Armendariz (Quirk, 2011, $16.95)


Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1419.


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