The first time I came across a backyard barbecue was in an Archie comic. Somebody was flipping burgers (must have been that poor girl, Betty), and Jughead was trying to eat them before they could land back on the grill. That was the time when most of us had backyards in India but a grill or a bbq stand was still a novelty. Now that backyards are becoming rare, grills are a dime a dozen. But I suppose that’s okay — after all, a lamb or a fillet of fish doesn’t really need the outdoors for a perfect grill.
What it needs is the right weather. Grills, actually, are perfect for a summer meal. Grilled food is not fried, as most of our dishes often are. With the right kind of dressing, it can lead to a satisfying meal indeed. There should be a nice green salad on the side, and perhaps chunks of chilled fruits (maybe even drizzled with some Cointreau) for dessert.
| Hibiscus and lime dressing with Brazilian palm hearts
So, what exactly are the right kinds of dressings? Chef Chiranjib Chatterjee of Afraa in Calcutta tells us that the dressing for a light grill should steer clear of heavy ingredients. Eggs, for instance, are a no-no. Cream should generally be kept at bay, though a small dollop of cream can enhance a sauce, he admits.
“What works very well is any kind of vinaigrette,” the chef stresses. “Sweet lime vinaigrette, for instance, is awesome,” he says. Lemon and extra virgin olive oil work well in light dressings, too.
The chef’s own favourite is a dressing that he prepares with hibiscus flowers and lime, and then serves with pan-seared Brazilian palm hearts. It’s an innovative dressing, he points out, and the colour of the hibiscus (the jaba kusum flower) adds to the taste of dish. Another of his favourites — prepared with raw mango, honey, ginger, green chillies and mustard — goes exceptionally well with slow cooked pork belly. “The combination of mangoes and chillies works very well,” chef Chiranjib says.
The chef believes that these dressings can be used as marinades as well. And unlike some dressings that have to be prepared way in advance or right before serving, these can be readied anytime. The one exception is the chorizo oil, which he drizzles on his grilled Kolkata bekti flavoured with basil and fennel.
| Raw mango, honey and mustard dressing with pork belly
For this, you have to fry thinly sliced chorizo sausages with bay leaves, rosemary and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Transfer this to a screw-top jar, and then fill the rest of the jar with extra virgin olive oil. You have to keep it for at least 24 hours and up to two weeks before use.
The other dressings mostly call for a smooth blending of ingredients. For the mustard-chilli dressing, for instance, he mixes sesame oil with crushed garlic, raw mango slices, pickled ginger, wild honey, de-seeded green chillies and mustard — and the dressing is ready. The sweet and wild taste of the honey and the heady straight-up-your-nose flavours of mustard give the dressing just the right kind of tang it needs.
What the dressings tell us is that summer food need not be boring. Just because the kormas and the biryanis have gone off our tables, it doesn’t mean that good food has done a vanishing act too. Get some nice plump fillets and juicy meat, grill them lightly, and then serve them in or with a light dressing. Let’s celebrate the summer the way we mark all our festivals — with good food, and good company.
Marinated lamb chops with frozen berry and balsamic gastrique (serves 4)
Ingredients: •8 lamb chops • 60ml extra virgin olive oil • 15g chopped fresh rosemary • 15g oregano • 1 bay leaf • 1 minced garlic clove • 5g grated lemon rind • 2g cracked black peppercorns • salt and pepper to taste
For the frozen berry-balsamic gastrique:
• 1 cup sugar ½ cup balsamic vinegar ½ cup water ½ cup raspberry puree • 3 cups frozen berries (any kind or mixed berries) • 1 pinch salt • a pinch of black pepper • a sprig of fresh rosemary, sage or any other herb that goes with lamb
Trim fat from lamb chops. In a shallow bowl, combine oil, rosemary, oregano, bay leaf, garlic, lemon rind, pepper and salt. Add the lamb, and coat from all sides. Cover and refrigerate for four hours, turning occasionally. Place chops on a greased grill over medium-high heat. Brush with the remaining marinade and grill, turning once, until medium-rare, for about eight minutes.
For the dressing: Boil sugar, vinegar, raspberry puree and water in a non-reactive saucepan. When reduced by half, add salt, pepper and herbs. Boil until the mixture is thick (for 8 to 10 minutes). Set aside and cool. Now add the berries. Remove sprigs. Serve with the lamb chops.