Friday, June 6, 2008

In the world and of the world


Summer is finally edging into our dank little burg and its arrival sparks the re-kindling of my annual love affair. Forever faithful to my beloved red-haired vegan, the object of my affection is not built of flesh and bone, casting longing glances and whispering whimsy and intrigue. The object of my summer lust is forged from gleaming steel and iron. From its dark places comes not the emotional baggage of a tender yet tortured soul, but the blue-orange fire of creation and destruction, and it is not a deep-seated love for me that fuels this fire: it's liquid propane.

I have a very serious relationship with my grill. I'm not ashamed to say it and I resent the American cultural assumption that grilling is for men. Cooking out in the world is human event, taking us back to where we belong: in the world. While I love cooking in a well-equipped kitchen, the convenience and luxury of a modern kitchen sometimes feels overly-fussy and divorced from our station as another animal (an often clever animal) on this earth. Then summer comes around and, not wanting to heat up the sweat-box that is my tiny, counter-space-less kitchen, I venture outside, to eat what is of the world, in the world.

I purchased my beloved grill as a gift to myself when I obtained my PhD. It was a big step. A grill isn't like my yogurt-maker: something that you can ignore for a few months until you feel guilty for buying it in the first place and start using it again. A grill is major appliance and it means business. It's expensive, big, heavy, requires regular maintenance and could potentially explode. It needs to be taken seriously and if it is, it will bring joy and tastiness for years to come.

Many meat-eaters we know ask "Why do you have a grill?" The assumption is that the only thing a grill is good for is charring huge chunks of meat. I hope to eliminate that silly notion from all 5 of my readers over the next few months. I estimate that I can cook 90% of what I cook in my kitchen on my grill. Now, it helps that I have a 3-burner grill with 500 square inches of cooking surface and a side-burner that actually works. It is also noteworthy that my mom and my friend Blanche outfitted me with a handy collection of cast-iron cookware that allows for all sorts of pot and pan meals, using the grill as I would a gas range.

For this first grill post, I'm starting with our standard summer meal. Anyone who's had it loves it and it has endless room for variety: the vegetable sandwich. It incorporates two of my favorite foods: bread and peppers.

Bread
The selection of bread is important because this is essentially a garlic-bread vegetable sandwich. So, any bread that serves to make tasty, crusty garlic bread is what you want to choose for the sandwich. Our local grocery store just started making white-whole-wheat focaccia that is perfect. Another good choice is ciabatta, though it can get a little too crunchy on the grill.
Veggies
The vegetable selection is up to you. We always go for peppers (red and green) and onions. I also love mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant and so on. We've even used asparagus that I've steamed in foil on the grill and it was great.
Protein
If you want a little more protein (keep in mind there's quite a bit in whole-wheat), there are several choices: grilled slabs of tofu, seitan (cooked wheat gluten), hummus, or even the barely palatable vegan cheeses out there. Lots of people like grilled tempeh, but I can't stomach tempeh in any form, so you're on your own there. There also lots of processed meat alternatives alongside the ever-dull veggie burgers. Last night I picked up some pre-cooked slabs of tofu and heated them on the grill, but for lunch today, we had Yves Turkey deli slices (the red-haired man likes them but I find them foul in every way).

So there isn't really a 'recipe' per se. I guess it's all technique, but here goes:

Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches

Equipment
grill basket, perforated grill pan or cast-iron skillet
long tongs
vegetable oil (or other oil with a high smoke point)

Ingredients
2 bell peppers of any color
1 medium onion
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp minced garlic (powder is ok)
1 tsp minced ginger (1/2 tsp powder is ok)
1/2 tsp black pepper

bread for garlic bread
vegan margarine or olive oil
garlic powder
1 ripe avocado mashed with 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice

Methods:
1. Heat the grill to at least 350.
2. Oil the grill pan and space on the grill itself big enough to fit the garlic bread. To oil a grill, first fold a paper towel into a 3-inch square, dip it in vegetable oil then with tongs, oil the surface you'll use for cooking.

I usually grill peppers and onions in an oiled perforated grill pan. It takes about 10-15 minutes at 400F with tossing every few minutes. I'm weird in that I prefer to toss the veggies with a little dressing once they're cooked instead of marinating them. Most of the marinade is lost to the depths of the grill and causes a lot of flare-ups that lead to scorching and uneven cooking. I'm sure someone will disagree with me about this.

Throw together the soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and pepper and set aside. When the veggies are done, I toss them in a bowl with the sauce and coat everything.

Butter the bread with either margarine or olive oil and douse with garlic powder (more is better). When the veggies are about 2/3 done (isn't it terrible to have something like that in a recipe, I mean what is 2/3 done?), place the bread, fat-side down on the grill and lower the heat.

Watch the bread. Charred bread is not fun.

When the bread is done and the veggies are tossed with the dressing, assemble sandwiches at will. Oh yes, I did heat up the pre-cooked tofu on the grill right before I started the bread.

We like to smear the bread with avocado and I often like to use pureed artichoke hearts as well.

Pickles, slaw and a regular salad are good sides.

Upon opening the garden-shed last week, I found myself in a very Sex in the City moment. However, instead of being mesmerized by a pair of ridiculous shoes in a department store window, I found myself staring at my grill for the first time all season and saying "Hello, lover".
Let the affair begin!

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