Desperately Seeking Salads…and Grilling Fruits and Vegetables
May 20, 2014 Chengdu, China
What do I miss here in China? Mediterranean foods! Hearty breads, okra, olives, fresh herbs, and salad greens. They just don’t eat raw foods here. Even cucumbers are popped in the wok or steamer for a few seconds or minutes before they serve them in cold dishes. I’m growing mesclun and arugula, basil and dill, oregano and marjoram, and parsley and thyme on my balcony. Plus my Bulgarian tomatoes. And I can buy rosemary at the big German Costco-like Metro store, but it’s on the other side of town. Cilantro is everywhere. I order limes from Yunnan province. I can find prosciutto and an occasional whole-grain baguette that isn’t as fluffy as Wonderbread (though only once did I find such a baguette, in a French supermarket also on the other side of town). They wash everything in antibacterial soaps, even if it’s to be peeled and cooked. I guess they’ve learned their lessons after centuries of night soil. There is a big organic movement going on here, but just because the label says organic doesn’t preclude night soil. I make do with what’s available.
Recently – I don’t remember where – I had a salad of Chrysanthemum coronarium leaves, simply dressed with mostly sesame oil.
Grilling Fruits and Vegetables (from The New Southern Cook)
When I say that I grill everything, I’m hardly exaggerating: bananas, pineapple, grapefruit, underripe peaches and pears, green and red tomatoes, leeks, cabbage, onions, garlic, eggplant, squash, peppers, and bread, not to mention all the fish, fowl, meats, and game.
Nearly all of these foods are prepared in basically the same way: lightly oiled and seasoned, then grilled to taste. I use some of the grilled foods as part of other recipes (For example, see my instructions for grilling vegetables to go in frittate from the blog on May 7, 2008.)
A few notes on my mixed grill follow. Though I generally recommend a medium flame for most vegetables, I actually like to use very hot coals, as is necessary when you are searing the skins of peppers in order to peel them.
Hard-skinned fruits: Don’t peel bananas, pineapples, or grapefruits, though you should quarter the pineapple and grapefruit lengthwise. All are good with fish; the pineapple is good with pork. You can put them directly on the grill; oiling the fruits is optional.
Soft-skinned fruits: Don’t peel peaches or pears, but lightly baste them with a flavorless oil and cook them just to warm through.
Tomatoes: Green tomatoes are just as good grilled as fried. Cut them into 1/2-inch slices, oil and season them with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste, and grill until they just begin to soften and are warmed through. You can also dust them in seasoned cornflour as if you were frying them if you want a crispy coating.
Red ripe tomatoes are delicious grilled. Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally and place them on a plate, cut sides down. Oil the skin sides and place the oiled sides down on the grill. Cook until the skin starts to pull back, drizzle some more oil on the top, then turn to cook on the other side or drizzle some seasoned bread crumbs, grated cheese, or minced basil leaves on the tops, then cover the grill and cook for a few more minutes just to warm through.
Onions, Leeks, and Garlic: Grill whole onions just as you do red tomatoes, slicing them unpeeled in half horizontally. Oil the skin sides, place them oiled sides down on the grill and cook until they begin to give to the touch. Drizzle oil on the cut sides and turn to finish the cooking. Trim after grilling but before serving. Sweet onions are particularly good like this. Split leeks lengthwise down to but not into the base. Wash well under running water until there is no sign of grit, then shake off the excess water. Oil well and season with salt and pepper. Grill until the leek softens and is slightly charred all over. Remove from the grill and slice off the base and the outer leaves and discard. Whole heads of garlic can be roasted either on a covered grill or down in the coals. They will take about 1/2 hour, depending on the heat. Oil them lightly. If you place them down in the coals you should wrap them in aluminum foil.
Corn on the Cob: Several methods, but the easiest is to simply soak the entire ears in a bucket of water before putting them on a medium grill. Alternately, you can carefully pull back the corn husks without removing them from the ear of corn. Pull away the silk, then lightly oil the corn kernels. Pull the husks back up around the corn and grill until done to your liking. Many new varieties of corn are so sweet that they really don’t need to be cooked, but just warmed through. Don’t let it dry out!
Cabbage: Quarter small cabbages or cut larger ones into eighths. Don’t bother to remove the outer leaves. Oil the cabbage, season it with salt and pepper, and grill on each side until it just starts to become translucent and it is richly branded by the grill.