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In every World War II movie, one character was inevitably named Polaski. Another was Martinelli. Usually, there was a Horowitz, and often a Johansson.
There was also always a guy nicknamed Brooklyn, the most personable and happy-go-lucky guy in the company, a guy who could tell you the batting average of every Brooklyn Dodger. You didn't want to be Brooklyn. Brooklyn always got killed.
The unspoken point was that the entire melting pot of America was in this war together, each ethnic group fighting shoulder to shoulder. Except the Japanese, of course. You rarely saw a movie soldier, at least on the American side, named Takahashi.
On Monday, we celebrate Memorial Day, which for many people marks the unofficial start of the national grilling season. Across America, grills will be covered with millions of sizzling hamburgers and mountains of plump hot dogs.
But for this weekend, at least, let's think in broader terms. Let's remember those who fought and died for the country, let's remember the Polaskis and the Martinellis and the Horowitzes and the Johanssons — and yes, the Takahashis.
Let's make this weekend's cookouts international.
Grilling is a universal method of preparing food; it's practiced in every country in the world. In Norway, they cook herring and reindeer over an open fire. In Australia, it's kangaroo. Argentina has their beef, while in Thailand it's apt to be water buffalo.
I'm not suggesting you roast a kangaroo rump for Memorial Day. I'm just saying we can use the techniques and flavors from around the world to honor America's diverse history.
For instance, lamb is eaten much more commonly in other parts of the world than here. We tend to think of it as being a specialty of the Mediterranean region, but many experts agree that the best lamb comes from Down Under.
So for a grilled lamb dish, I looked to Australia and found a recipe for lamb steaks with Szechuan pepper rub. The rub also includes coriander seeds, and if you were to name two spices that you do not think of as being particularly Australian, Szechuan peppercorns and coriander would probably be high on the list.
But sitting as it does in the Pacific, Australia has long been the beneficiary of trade routes from Southeast Asia. Coriander and Szechuan peppercorns are right at home there.
But not necessarily here in Toledo. The peppercorns may be hard to find. Try specialty stores and gourmet food stores; I looked for them at the area's largest Asian food market, and they did not carry them.
I had some that were a few years old, so I used those. The rub is peppery and intriguing, with coriander adding just the right exotic notes. Toasting the spices before grinding them brings out their intoxicating aromas. The Australians know what they're talking about — the spices' bite brings a new dimension to the slightly gamy taste of the lamb.
For my next inspiration, I turned to the Bahamas, the land of Blackbeard, Bimini, and baskets. I expected the Caribbean nation to flavor their meats with a combination of citrus and spicy hot peppers, and I was not disappointed.
In his seminal book The Barbecue! Bible, Steven Raichlen writes, "On most of the islands of the Caribbean, it's common to rinse chicken and meats in lime juice before cooking." I found that sentence a lot more enticing than the one that followed it: "The practice probably originated in the days before refrigeration, when the citrus juice served as both a flavoring and disinfectant."
I decided to concentrate on the flavoring part. Mr. Raichlen's recipe for Bahamian grilled chicken calls for the chicken to be marinated in lime juice for 15 minutes before being additionally marinated in a mixture of paprika, garlic, onion, thyme, and hot pepper (the recipe calls for Scotch bonnet; I used habanero, which is close enough). Then onto the grill.
Mr. Raichlen prefers to cook his chicken over direct heat, 8-12 minutes per side, keeping one zone of his grill cool in case he needs to move the chicken there if flames flare up. But I've burned too many chickens over direct heat (admittedly, I didn't use the cool safety zone, which would probably correct the problem). Instead, I made this dish the way I always do: over indirect heat.
The chicken goes in the middle of the grill, the hot coals on either side of it. I cook the chicken, turning once, for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the pieces. It's perfect every time.
This dish immediately became one of my favorite ways for preparing chicken. You still taste the lime as an undertone behind each bite, but you also get a subtly heady mixture of garlic, onion, paprika, and thyme. I only used half of a habanero pepper for my marinade — I love hot food, but I treat the habanero with respect — and the dish was less fiery than I would have liked.
Actually, it wasn't fiery at all. Next time, I'll use at least one whole pepper.
The slipper burgers, on the other hand, were delightfully spicy — both in terms of heat and their heady mixture of aromatic spices (cilantro, ginger, coriander, cumin, garlic, and onion).
"Slipper burger" is apparently a translation of the name of a popular Pakistani dish, chapli kebab. Formed into large, flat ovals, the kebabs are said to resemble traditional Pakistani slippers or sandals. This is only a guess, but I'd imagine they taste a lot better than the shoes.
The spices are mixed into ground meat, along with a minced fresh hot pepper or two and some cayenne. Either ground beef or lamb can be used for the meat; I made mine out of beef, which resulted in a flavor intriguingly like an Asian hamburger. But I've had it before with lamb, and I think that makes it even better.
Finally, I decided to take the vegetarian route with a grilled eggplant dip from Trinidad. The dip, called choka, is different from the more familiar baba ghanoush in several ways. For one, the grilled eggplant is mixed with yogurt and cilantro to give it a fresh and creamy taste, and it is brightened with a significant amount of lemon juice. But the biggest difference is perhaps the way it is prepared. Before the eggplant is placed on the grill to char and roast and become delicious, half-cloves of garlic are inserted into the flesh.
That way, the garlic roasts right along with the eggplant, infusing it with its mellow, warm flavor
Be sure to have lots of pita chips on hand. The stuff is totally addictive.
Contact Daniel Neman at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-24-6155.
Grilled Eggplant Dip (Choka Dip)
2 long, slender eggplants, about 2 pounds in all
8 cloves garlic, peeled and cut lengthwise in half
½ cup plain whole-milk yogurt
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 scallions, both white and green parts, trimmed and finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
Using the tip of a paring knife, make 8 small slits in each eggplant. Insert a half clove of garlic in each. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. When ready to cook, place the eggplants on the hot grate and grill, turning with tongs, until the skin is charred all over and the flesh is very soft, 20-30 minutes; the eggplants will have lost their firm shape. Transfer the eggplants to a plate to cool. Cut the stem end off the eggplants. Then, using a paring knife, scrape off the charred skin. Transfer the eggplant flesh, with its garlic, to a medium-size bowl and mash to a coarse puree with a fork or puree it in a food processor. Stir in the yogurt, cilantro, scallions, coriander, ginger, lemon juice, and oil. Season the dip with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at once with pita chips.
Yield: about 2½ cups Source: The Barbecue! Bible, by Steven Raichlen
1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon coarse salt (kosher or sea)
4 lamb steaks, each one about 8 ounces and ¾ inch thick, see cook's note
Cook's note: Use steaks from the leg or shoulder. If desired, you can substitute 8 loin or 12 rib lamb chops for the steaks. Each loin chop should weigh 4-5 ounces and be 1½ inches thick (grill them about 6 minutes per side for medium-rare); each rib chop should be about 3 ounces and 1 inch thick (grill them about 4 minutes per side for medium rare).
Combine the Szechuan and black peppercorns, coriander seeds, and salt in a dry skillet (don't use nonstick). Toast the spices over medium heat until the peppercorns are very fragrant, about 3 minutes, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally. Transfer the spice mixture to a spice mill to grind into a powder, or you can use a mortar and pestle. Rub as much of the spice mixture as you wish over both sides of the lamb steaks. Place the steaks on a platter and let sit while you preheat the grill. Set up the grill for direct grilling, and preheat to high. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the lamb steaks on the hot grate and grill, turning with tongs, until cooked to taste, 3-4 minutes for medium rare (a meat thermometer will read about 145°). Transfer to a platter. Season with a little more of the spice mixture, if any remains, and serve at once.
Yield: 4 servings Source: The Barbecue! Bible, by Steven Raichlen
‘Slipper’ Burgers (Chapli Kebab)
1 pound ground lamb or beef
½ medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 serranos or other hot peppers, seeded and minced
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground or crushed coriander seeds
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper, or more to taste
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Combine the lamb, onion, garlic, peppers, cilantro, ginger, coriander seeds, salt, pepper, cayenne, and cumin in a large bowl. Knead and squeeze until thoroughly blended, 3-4 minutes. To test the mixture for seasoning, cook a small amount in a nonstick skillet until cooked through, then taste, adding more salt and/or pepper to the remaining mixture as necessary; the mixture should be highly seasoned. Line a large plate with plastic wrap. Divide the meat mixture into four equal portions. Lightly wet your hands with cold water, then form each portion of meat into an oval patty about 5 inches long and ¾ inch thick. As it is made, place each patty on the prepared plate. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1-2 hours. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the patties on the hot grate and grill, turning with a spatula, until nicely browned on both sides and cooked to taste, 4-5 minutes per side for medium. Serve at once.
Yield: 4 servings Source: The Barbecue! Bible, by Steven Raichlen
Bahamian Grilled Chicken
1 chicken, quartered, or 4 bone-in chicken breasts with skin, or 4 chicken leg quarters
1 cup fresh lime juice (from 4-5 limes)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½-2 Scotch bonnets or other hot chiles, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
Rinse the chicken pieces under cold running water, then drain and blot dry with paper towels. Place the pieces in a nonreactive bowl or baking dish and pour the lime juice over them; turn the pieces to coat. Let the chicken marinate, at room temperature, for 15 minutes, turning the pieces once or twice. Pour off and discard the lime juice, then add the onion, garlic, Scotch bonnet(s), thyme, oil, paprika, salt, and pepper and turn the chicken pieces to coat thoroughly. Let the chicken marinate in this mixture for at least 15 minutes or as long as 1-2 hours (the longer the better), covering and refrigerating it if marinating for the longer time. Set up the grill for indirect heating (coals on opposite sides of the grill or gas turned off in one zone), and preheat to medium. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Using a rubber spatula, scrape any bits of onion or garlic off the chicken pieces. Arrange the chicken skin-side down away from the source of heat (put it in the middle between the coals or in the zone without the gas) and close the lid. Cook, turning once, until the meat is cooked through — 50-60 minutes, or 45-50 minutes if cooking white meat only.
Yield: 4 servings Source: Adapted from The Barbecue! Bible, by Steven Raichlen