Wisps of fragrant barbecue smoke drifting over fences, the sublime sweetness of a ripe melon slice, and the sound of laughing kids running through sprinklers– this is how we like to remember the last weeks of summer and the first days of Fall. For much of the country, late September and early October are part of those lazy-hazy final days of heat before the coolness of autumn sets in.
Many of us recall childhood scenes of family and friends gathered in easy conversation around barbecue grills, eagerly waiting to feast on steaks, hot dogs, and hamburgers. But these days, what’s on the grill is more likely to be leaner and healthier fare. Nothing is off limits now. Everything from carrot spears to smoky potatoes or sweet gala apple slices can land on the grill and beckon the hungry with delectable odors.
September just happens to be a peak harvest time for several vegetables whose flavor is enhanced by grilling. If you haven’t tried grilled vegetables, you’re in for a treat! Carrots, corn, eggplant and summer squash are just a few of the vegetables that pick up great flavors when cooked over an open fire.
The first thing to remember is that locally grown veggies tend to ripen naturally and will be more flavorful than produce trucked in from far away. Corn is especially sensitive, since the sugars in the kernels begin changing to starch the minute it’s harvested. Farmer’s markets are the best place to find fresh corn. Look for plump kernels and a lot of creamy colored silk (not browned or slimy). Husks should be bright green and moist, not dried out.
Try a parsley-garlic butter to slather on the grilled corn: In a small dish mix together 5 tablespoons of softened butter, half a teaspoon of garlic powder and 2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh parsley. Refrigerate until ready to use. To grill corn—slather corn with butter and wrap tightly in an aluminum foil packet. Grill 30-35 minutes over the hottest part of the grill. (Alternatively, you can remove the silks, tie up the husks around the ears with string, and soak for 45 minutes in water before grilling in-husk).
Sage-infused Pork-Turkey Burgers
Grilled meats too, are leaner and healthier than in decades past. Ground turkey is one of the best choices for a low-fat alternative to ground beef in many recipes. Unfortunately, much of the enjoyable smoky flavor of grilled meat is due to the fat dripping and smoking on hot coals and since ground white-meat turkey has virtually no fat, if used alone, it can be kind of dry. So I like to add some ground pork to enhance the smoky flavor and keep the patties moist. Here is my favorite recipe for grilled turkey burgers.
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 dash salt
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 pound ground turkey
- 1/4 cup finely chopped bell pepper (optional)
- 4 tsp. ground dried sage
- 1/2 tsp. ground pepper (optional)
- 1/4 tsp. mild paprika (or smoked paprika)
- Olive oil for brushing
In a small saucepan, combine the wine with the salt and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat for about 2 or 3 minutes, until reduced by about a third to a half. Pour into a measuring cup and let cool a few minutes. (The alcohol boils off.)
Meanwhile, mix the meats with the bell pepper and seasonings. When thoroughly mixed, pour the wine over the meat and mix that in also. Shape into four thick burgers. Brush the burgers on both sides with olive oil and grill over a hot fire for about 6 minutes per side, or until nicely browned outside and well cooked inside. Serve hot, on hamburger buns. Although these burgers are great with mustard or barbecue sauce, they are so tasty they don’t really need it!
By the way, this burger recipe is infinitely flexible—here are some other ways it can be changed up for variety, or to suit more sensitive bladders:
- Double the recipe, add 2 Tbsp. of rice or torn bread bits and an egg, then shape into a meatloaf. Cook as you would a ground beef meatloaf—though it may cook a bit faster, so watch carefully.
- Substitute 4 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage for the dried sage
- For a spicier version, you can substitute chipotle chili powder for the paprika. For a milder version (which I’ve made when my bladder was flaring up), leave out the paprika and pepper and just use a little extra sage and salt.
- Sensitive bladders may do better with white pepper than black pepper, and those who are oxalate-sensitive will do better with red bell peppers rather than green ones (or leave them out altogether).
- These burger patties can be served without buns too— cook in a skillet and melt a slice of mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese on top.
- Patties can be made ahead and frozen—they keep frozen for 3-4 weeks if kept airtight. (The flavors may also intensify!)