x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

1,001 Arabian Bites: the charcoal grill is the only one for me

Many foods are so much better grilled - here is a list of 10 that deserve the transformation.

Monday brought a euphoric but exhausting end to a seemingly endless ordeal. To celebrate closing on the sale of my house, I hit the grocery store for steaks and left it with hot dogs: August's answer for the cook who's too tired to actually cook. A rosy beef frank in a snappy natural casing is a beautiful thing: good steamed, good boiled and good after a roll around a hot pan. Unlike burgers, hot dogs require no grinding, no prep and no supervision other than to make sure they are heated through. And unlike freshly ground beef, the contents of a hot dog maintain a certain … mystery.

At any rate, on Monday, when I deposited 20 hot dogs on my friend Jeff's kitchen counter, he suggested grilling them. His exact words: "Let's char the heck out of these." While I'm normally a wild fangirl for any bandwagon promising blackened, blistered sausage, there was one small problem: Jeff grills with gas. I play for the other team, and my bias is firm.

My first grill was a portable Weber Smokey Joe - a perfect starter version for a dabbler who doesn't mind squatting for long periods of time. But for the past few years, I've used a Weber Silver kettle grill that was handed down to me by a friend who had upgraded to the Weber Gold. Having cooked on both, I can personally assure potential buyers that the Gold is worth the extra dirhams: when the wind dares to blow, the Gold's ash catcher is a godsend while the ash plate on the Silver will only make you hate yourself. Still, it's an adequate arrangement that will suffice until I someday fulfil my dream of owning a tandoor or a Japanese-style kamado grill.

If you haven't already fallen in love with charcoal grilling, please start. Here are 10 foods that are spectacular, if not better, grilled:

1 Bread. The natural synergy between bread and fire is impossible to duplicate in a traditional indoor oven. This also applies to pizza, which doesn't warrant a separate listing in this case. The crust is where the magic happens. Amen.

2 Corn. Naked or in its husk.

3 Meat. I know it's been said a grillion times before, but I want to give a special shout-out to lamb chops, rib-eye steaks, chicken wings, chicken thighs and the obvious burgers and dogs.

4 Sweet and hot peppers of all kinds. Red bell peppers, jalapeños, yellow hots, you name it.

5 Whole fish or squid if you can find it. While I'm not crazy about grilled shellfish because I think the smoke of the grill can compromise its succulent, delicate sweetness, I love grilled calamari so much I'd gladly forgo ever eating it fried again. If you're working with smaller pieces, use a wire mesh grill basket.

6 Root vegetables, bulbs and tubers, by which I mean: beets, onions and sweet potatoes.

7 Fruit. Pineapple, in particular, turns out smoky, tangy, rich with caramelised sugar and refreshing, all at the same time. Brush it with olive oil first to keep it from sticking to the grates.

8 Thickly sliced beef tomatoes. Otherwise, countless cherry tomatoes piled into a wire mesh basket and hit with direct heat. Just keep them moving, so they neither incinerate nor explode.

9 The irresistible trifecta of aubergine, courgette and yellow squash.

10 Green salad ingredients, especially romaine lettuce, spring onions and avocado. Hit them with just enough indirect heat to get some pretty grill marks on them, then let them cool. Dress as usual. Be transformed.

Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who lives and cooks in New Mexico


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