Summer gets me every year: the sun finally pops just an inch above the clouds, the entire population parades around in far too few clothes for the ‘actual’ temperature, Pimms sells out across the country and the wonderful smell of barbeque drifts lazily from gardens and terraces. But then, when you attend said party, and your mouth waters as several men desperately fan the barbecue to the perfect heat – disappointment strikes as you bite into what looks like a tasty kebab or succulent burger. Those years spent re-creating British cuisine have been thrown out the window for grilling season – bland meat, dry fish, stale buns and soulless vegetables… it’s a travesty! What is it that makes the most wonderful cook forget about seasoning, herbs, dressings and just because they’ve lit a barbecue? It’s as though we’re so excited, and so certain that the sun will very quickly return behind that fast-approaching cumulonimbus that we forget about taste. We probably forget just how much we spent on the various ingredients and apparatus involved too, which really deserve a bit more effort.
Thus the traditional bland barbecue is never that difficult to resist and consequently fairly conducive to keeping that beach body all summer – not so bad after all! However for me that isn’t quite good enough, I want to have my cake and eat it (literally!) The following should be enough to let you and some friends sink your teeth into at least one barbecue feast without adding a centimetre to the waistline. You will see that there are no carbs here – this is because I want to wear my bikini at my barbecue as well, and carbs just bloat – so fill up on the veggie nibbles. The same goes in general for meat, although I have included one chicken recipe as it is so utterly perfect that I couldn’t possibly leave it out.
Some recipes need a barbecue and some don’t – buy a selection of gorgeous chutneys and sauces for the table, provide cutlery and paper napkins and let people dig in. Cox & Cox sell some lovely herb-infused firelighters and wonderful party bits and pieces.
First things first – the drink!
British Summer Mule
This fabulous summer cocktail makes the best of English ingredients which are in season now (but any fruit will do – this can be adapted for all seasons).70cl Gin 1 punnet strawberries Cloudy apple juice 50cl 1lr diet ginger beer Lemons, strawberries and mint to garnish.
1. In a Kilner jar infuse one punnet of strawberries with the gin. Leave for 48 hours.
2. In a long glass filled with ice add: 50mls Strawberry Gin, 75mls apple juice and a squeeze of lemon. Stir together and top with ginger beer, add a sprig of mint to garnish and half a strawberry to the rim.
Starters and Salads
Moro’s Beetroot with Yoghurt (Serves four)500g beetroot 200g low fat Greek yoghurt 1 lemon Small bunch flat-leaf parsley 1 clove garlic 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 tablespoons semi-skimmed milk ½ teaspoon cumin seeds Sea salt and black pepper.
1. Wash the beetroot carefully without piecing the skin, place in a saucepan of cold, salted water and bring to the boil. They will be ready when you can slip a sharp knife easily into the centre.
2. Drain and rub away the skin with your fingers under a cold tap.
3. Cut into 1cm rounds and arrange on a plate.
4. Dress with lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper.
5. Crush the garlic to a paste, add to the yoghurt, add the milk and check for seasoning.
6. Drizzle the yoghurt over the beetroot, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with the cumin seeds.
An adapted version of Ottolenghi’s Seafood, Fennel and Lime Salad2 small fennel bulbs 8 tiger prawns (peeled and de-veined) 350g cleaned baby squid Half thinly sliced onion Juice and grated zest of one lime 2 crushed garlic cloves 2 tablespoons chopped dill 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley 1 seeded and chopped chilli (mild) 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons chopped coriander Coarse sea salt and pomegranate seeds to garnish.
1. Trim the bases and tops of the fennel bulbs, then slice width wise as thinly as you can. A mandolin would be useful here. In a large bowl, mix the fennel and red onion with the lime juice and zest, garlic, dill, parsley, chilli, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and ½ teaspoon of salt. Set aside.
2. Mix the prawns and squid with the rest of the oil and a pinch of salt. Grill them on the barbeque, turning after one minute and continuing until just done (roughly one more minute for the squid and 2-3 for the prawns). Transfer to a chopping board and slice the squid into thick rings.
3. Add the seafood to the salad bowl and toss together. Stir in the coriander, taste and season. Chuck on some pomegranate seeds to garnish.
1. Crush the garlic in a mortar and pestle with a good pinch of salt until you have a smooth paste.
2. Using a blender, puree all the vegetables and bread until smooth.
3. Put ¾ of the mixture through a sieve to give a finer texture.
4. Season the soup with garlic, vinegar, oil (optional) salt and black pepper.
5. Put in the fridge for two hours to cool.
6. Check the seasoning once more when the gaspacho has chilled.
Mains and Salad
My Mum’s Chicken Brochettes6 chicken breasts (free range, and cut into large cubes) 2 small tubs Greek yoghurt (0%) A splash of olive oil The juice of 3 large lemons 5 garlic cloves (crushed)
1. Soak 4 wooden skewers in water(this will stop them burning when they go on the barbecue)
2. Mix together all the ingredients except the chicken.
3. Place the chicken into the yoghurt marinade.
4. Cover and put in the fridge for 1-3 hours.
5. Skewer all the chicken and put onto a plate, pouring the leftover marinade over the kebabs.
6. Grill on the barbecue for 20 mins (or as long as it takes to cook through)
7. Serve with salad (and if you are not planning on wearing a bikini, with hot crusty bread!)
Juice and rind of 3 limes
Bottle of sweet chilli sauce
1 soft mango (finely diced) Tabasco and Worcester sauces
1. Mix 2/3rds of the lime with a generous dash of Tabasco and Worcester sauces and three glugs of sweet chilli sauce.
2. Place the salmon fillets into the mix; ensure a good covering, leave to marinade for 20 minutes.
3. Get the fillets onto a cool barbeque (only for 1 minute on each side – they’ve been cooking in the lime juice already).
4. Mix the mango with the rest of the lime, and a splash more sweet chilli and Tabasco.
5. Plate-up the salmon, spooning some of the mango mixture over the top.
A proper green salad
Take a bag of spinach leaves and mix with sliced green peppers and a sliced green chilli. Use a potato peeler to shave off thin slices from a raw courgette, blanche some mange tout and add to the mix.
For the dressing, mix honey, soy, Worcester sauce, sesame oil, salt and plenty of pepper.
If they are in season, grill some chunky asparagus on the barbeque and whack them in too.
You are supposed to be wearing a bikini – you are not having a dessert – not even fruit! It will make you bloat if you have it after all this as it digests so much more quickly. Just have another drink!