En español | By now it’s mid-grilling season, and you might be sick of throwing the same burgers, chicken and hot dogs on the grill. Don’t take your cooking back inside quite yet! Your grill can be just as versatile as your oven.
Exposing just about any food to flames produces a nice char, elevates flavor and keeps mess to a minimum. From decadent desserts to charred salsas, here are six unexpected items to make on the grill.
Lettuce may not be the first thing you think about tossing on the flames, but a warm romaine salad can be delicious. Just ask author Danny Seo, who features a version in his new cookbook, Naturally, Delicious Dinners. He chars everything in the salad — romaine hearts, lemons, onions and corn.
Seo first tosses everything except the corn in a maple-Dijon dressing, then grills the romaine, lemons and onions for 2 minutes per side. He blisters the corn on the cob on the grill, then shaves it over the salad once it’s cooled. For a final touch, he squeezes the grilled lemons over top.
You can do the same thing with a Caesar salad or a hearty cabbage, lightly tossing the leaves in olive oil and charring for two minutes per side, finishing with the dressing afterwards.
Grilled cheese — hold the bread — is a tasty option. Just pick a cheese solid enough to withstand the heat.
Halloumi cheese from Cyprus is a great pick; it develops a crispy exterior and a melty middle. Add a little olive oil to avoid sticking and grill just 3 minutes on each side to create the perfect topping for a salad with watermelon and mint, or greens and cucumbers tossed with a red wine vinaigrette.
Another great choice? Try northern Finland’s Juustoleipa, or bread cheese, as it’s more commonly known in the U.S. This cheese doesn’t contain any actual bread but has a bread-like texture when grilled. It makes a great addition to a grilled vegetable platter. A recipe from Wisconsin Cheese suggests coating the cheese in balsamic vinegar and then toasting for 2 to 3 minutes on each side on a lightly oiled grill. You can also add this cheese to vegetable kabobs — just skewer the cheese, along with tomatoes, chunks of bread and basil and then grill.
Another option: Paneer, a cheese popular in many Indian dishes, holds up well to strong flavors, so try seasonings like cumin, turmeric, chili powder, garlic powder and even cayenne, or prepare with classic tikka or tandoori spice mixes. You’ll want to cook paneer for around 5 to 7 minutes over the flame, depending on the thickness of the pieces.
3. Salsas and dips
You can make a flavor-forward, smoky salsa by prepping your ingredients on the grill. Lightly oil grill grates and put down halved tomatoes or tomatillos, a halved onion, jalapeño peppers, and garlic. Char to taste, then put everything in a food processor or hand chop when the vegetables are cooled. Add lime juice, salt and cilantro. (You can use extra grilled tomatoes for a Bloody Mary, too.)
Take that same thought into other dips — char scallions or onions for a more flavorful onion dip, char jalapeños to add another dimension to queso, and blister corn for a corn and crab dip.
Enjoy nature’s bounty with grilled fruit, but make sure to use firm varieties cut into large pieces to prevent cooked flesh from falling through the grates. Pineapple, peaches and watermelon all work well on the grill and can be used in desserts, salads or even cocktails. Pair grilled peaches with vanilla ice cream or add grilled pineapples to a pitcher of margaritas or a mai tai.
Bobby Yoon, a third generation restaurateur and owner of Yoon Haeundae Galbi in New York City, throws wedge-shaped watermelon slices on the grill until he sees a char mark, then tops them with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon and sunflower seeds. The result? A dish that reminds him of summers in Korea.
Putting lemons or limes on the grill (cut in half, face down) for a few minutes brings out the natural juices and makes a great squeeze over fish, a smoky addition to salad dressings, or even a twist to traditional lemonade.
5. French toast
Yes, you can even take breakfast outside. Breads Bakery in New York has a recipe for what is dubbed “Camp Style French Toast.”
Cut a baguette in half lengthwise, and then in half again crosswise to form 4 pieces. Whisk together 3 eggs, 1/8 cup sugar, 1 cup half and half, and a pinch of salt. Dip the bread into the egg mixture and let sit for a minute to absorb the liquid. Remove from the mixture and allow excess to drip off.
Oil the grill grates and cook over medium low with the lid closed, making sure to flip when grill marks appear. Serve with fruit or syrup for extra sweetness.
Flames are good for more than just s’mores. Make classic banana boats by vertically slicing bananas in the peel and then stuffing with marshmallows and chocolate chips. Wrap it all in foil and put on the grill.
Pound cake and angel food cake are well-suited for grilling, too: Give them a quick char and top with your choice of fruit and whipped cream. Instead of using the oven, take a cast iron skillet outside to make peach cobbler or apple crisp on the grill.
Samantha Lande is a contributing writer who covers food, health and human interest stories for several national publications. Her work has appeared in Real Simple, on Allrecipes, the Food Network and more.