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Sunday, August 19, 2007

AL FRESCO EATING - VEGETARIAN BARBECUE & HISTORY OF BBQ IN INDIA

BARBECUE - A Fashion Statement and a means of Socializing

Al Fresco Eating is the fashion statement of today for young Indians who migrated abroad in the recent years. The fever hasn’t caught on in India yet.

Staying Abroad changes the way of socializing and celebrating as we tend to adopt a lot of practices of the western people and Barbecue is very popular in the West.

Getting together for a barbecue party is something relatively new for the younger generation of Indians who migrated abroad in the recent past

VEGETARIAN BARBECUE

Barbecue has always been associated with non-vegetarian items and hence attending a Barbecue party for a vegetarian is simply not very happening.

But you will be surprised that such a lot of vegetarian recipes can be cooked on the barbecue with much of it being similar to that at a traditional barbecue and they taste very good, with the added benefit of being lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. You can easily say that it is cheap, fun and healthy. And your neighbours wont get annoyed with the smell of burning fat.

Living in Singapore and having regular barbecue events kind of left me in the lurch because here Non vegetarian barbecue is very popular and there are a lot of frozen ready stuff available to go on the grill for the meat eaters. But for people like me, we have to be limited to the tomatoes and onions and maybe the salads. Since we had a huge Indian presence in our group and all were open to vegetarian barbecue, it led me to think what we could add to our menu so that even the vegetarians can enjoy. I am very lucky as we have 2 grills, one for the vegetarians and one for the non-vegetarians, so we don’t have to mix up and usually the vegetarian stuff is grilled first because non-vegetarian items emanate a strong meat and fat smell.

Peppers, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes and onions can simply be halved or quartered and cooked directly on the grill, while more robust vegetables such as squashes and potatoes can be wrapped in foil and baked amongst the coals. Spring onions, garlic and many herbs will find a place in marinades and dressings while lettuce, cucumber, peas and beans form key ingredients of tasty side salads.

BARBECUE CULTURE IN INDIA

Barbecue parties are not celebrated commonly in Indian cities, although we do have Tandoori food and Tandoor is a traditional grill used to barbecue food.

But you will be surprised to know that barbecuing was always done in India. In the traditional style, in the fields, a small pit was made and coals were burnt and fresh vegetables from the fields would be roasted on it and people would happily sit around the fire during cold winter nights and eat the grilled vegetables with some salt and lemon and sometimes with masala (spice) powders. Corns, brinjals, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes and many other vegetables would be barbecued and eaten with great relish.

Barbecue Tradition can be seen in a state like Maharashtra, where Bajra and Jowar (sorghum) are grown in abundance. The young jowar or bajra which is at a pre-stage is cut from the plant and roasted over a coal fire. The sorghum has a sweet and succulent taste and is usually eaten with a pungent chillies and green garlic ground to make a tongue-scorching chutney or Maharashtras famous lasoon chutney (dry garlic chutney) or some people like it with just a dash of salt and lemon.

(Refer to the Chutneys and Sauces section of my blog for the recipe of the Lasoon Chutney.)

First timers must go slow on this delicacy as it may not be so gentle on your stomach

In December - January Agriculturists/Farmers usually invite neighboring villagers, families and friends to celebrate the onset of a successful season of the Jowar crop. Sholapur is very famous for its “hurda” parties and it is a social or family event in these areas to go to the fields early in the morning to have the hurda and the associated goodies. “Hurda”. Parties are also becoming an increasingly popular activity with city dwellers who want to get a slice of this rural pleasure, people get together and book a place in the fields on the outskirts of the city and have the hurda party.

Barbecued food is not new to India, as the Moghuls brought in grilled kebabs and breads as an addition to our already rich cuisine. This food is popularly known as Tandoori food and is cooked in a Tandoor (which a traditional grill)

BARBECUE - How to go about it?

Barbecue is usually an outdoors thing and hence when people in the western countries meet outdoors they celebrate by grilling food so they can eat hot and freshly cooked food usually enjoyed with a cool drink.

Nowadays a lot of different grills are available in the market. There are portable grills and all the equipments like fire starters, tongs etc available in one section of the supermarts. Even a beginner can host a fine barbecue party.

Grilling is more art than science. It takes a few go-rounds to get the knack of working with whatever equipment you have, be it a fancy gas-powered unit or a simple barbecue pit in the ground. Remember, though, that expensive equipment is not necessary to create a tasty outdoor meal. It's more a matter of learning about the coals and woods befitting your particular grill, how to light them easily, and how long to let the hot coals die down in your unit before putting on the food. Generally, it takes 30 to 45 minutes for hot coals to reach the right temperature for grilling foods.

Having a barbecue doesn't have to be an expensive or complicated undertaking either. At the simplest end of the scale, an al fresco meal for one or two could be cooked on a grid over a bucket of charcoal. At the other end of the scale you can feed the five thousand on a sophisticated gas or electric barbecue - the choice is yours.

Barbecued or grilled food is fun way of eating vegetables dipped in a marinade and barbecuing them on a grill, you can do it even on the terrace or patio or backyard. Just pour yourself a tall cool drink and select a couple of dressings and dips and you are ready to chill out on a party of your own right there in your backyard.

BARBECUE EQUIPMENT

It is very realistic to want to purchase new and exciting tools to assist in the preparation of your barbecue. A jumbo barbecue turning tool works well for turning food. The ideal model is large enough to flip two burger patties at one time.

Another time saving barbecue tool is the barbecue basting brush and bottle. This unique basting brush is complete with a silicone brush at one end and a bottle with a stand able bottom on the other end. This reasonably priced barbecue tool is very useful in evenly basting grilled foods while they are cooking.

When shopping for barbecue tools, it is very important to remember that barbecue tongs are an important tool that makes grilling foods much easier. These barbecue tongs make rotating items such as corn on the cob, large pieces of food much easier.

The most important barbecue tool is the grill cleaning brush. Without a doubt, each new grilling season demands that a new grill brush replace the previous seasons. While these barbecue tools are sold to last a long time, I have yet to have discovered a grill that could hold up to the heavy demands of a barbecue season in my home. So rather than worry about trying to make the grill brush last more than one season, just buy a quality brush and figure that it has certainly gotten its use out of it by the end of the season.

BARBECUE ON THE BEACH

Ah, what can be better than a great barbecue on the beach? The beach is definitely one of the best locations to have a barbecue. After all, the nature of grilling and barbecuing as a cooking technique is that it's fun, exciting and very rewarding. Similarly, the beach pretty much exudes the same atmosphere. There are a lot of fun and exciting activities to do at the beach. It's a place where people can be themselves in their 'bare essentials' and the relaxation factor is definitely rewarding. Putting these two wonderful concepts together, a barbecue on the beach is pretty much a recipe for a great time!

But before you pack your stuff, gear up your grill and hit the sand for one hell of a barbecue on the beach party, bear in mind that there are various safety procedures and other rules governing beach areas so it would be best to consult authorities and secure the proper permissions before you even think about organizing a beach barbecue party.

SAFETY FIRST

ALWAYS make sure that the barbecue is on a firm heat-proof surface, away from buildings, trees, fences and anything else that might catch fire.

NEVER leave the barbecue unattended

KEEP CHILDREN away from the barbecue area

It is a good idea to rope off the cooking area to prevent accidents.

ONLY use proper barbecue lighters, NEVER use paraffin, petrol, white spirit or lighters to fuel the barbecue.

USE long handles tongs and oven gloves to avoid burning yourself.

TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL BBQ

Prepare as much as you can before you start cooking. Good organization makes for a relaxed barbecue.

Bring your marinated vegetables in a cooler or in airtight boxes and take them out only when you're ready to start barbecuing to avoid spoilage. Further, the last seasoning you would want on your barbecue on the beach is sand right? So keep them covered!

Food keeps fresher and cleaner if kept inside until needed; keep prepared food covered where possible.

It is imperative to practice basic food hygiene.

Incase, you are using a public BBQ pit, then clean the grill well with an antibacterial soap and water. Soak the grill in water if there are stubborn remnants, before scrubbing them well with antibacterial soap and water. Come early and prepare, so that you can have a hygienic BBQ.

LIGHT THE BARBECUE 45 minutes before you start cooking.

Relax. Wait until the flames die down and a layer of ash forms. If you start cooking while the coals are still glowing, the food is likely to burn.

Lightly brush the cooking rack with a little oil to help prevent the food from sticking.

Wooden skewers are great for vegetable kebabs soaking them in water for 30 minutes stops them catching fire.

Vegetables that don't have a strong flavor benefit from a tasty marinade and basting during cooking - barbecues do not lend themselves to subtle cuisine.

To prevent your food from becoming overcooked or burnt on the outside wrap it in foil as a protective barrier.

Throw a handful of herbs on the charcoal and enjoy that delicious aroma.

Spare a thought for the global environment. Use environment friendly charcoals, this automatically reduces the demand for fuel made from tropical hardwoods.

Then at the end of the BBQ hand your guests a trash bag and encourage them to take part in the great clean up. It’s a very good practice to clean the grill and the area that has been used during a BBQ party, which serves people who come after using the place.

Before, you leave just sprinkle some water on the burning coals to extinguish the embers, so that there is no accident, after you leave.

PLANNING THE FOOD

Planning a cookout is not as easy as some very organized people make it appear to be and actually requires BBQ plans be made on different fronts to be a success. Some of the details are obvious such as how many people and in what age groups will be in attendance as well as the type of food wanted for the cookout. The number of people is part of a larger equation, determining the different types of food that will be needed. Keep more of the popular foods which you will learn with experience and limit the other items to one to two pieces a person.

The only part of BBQ plans the organizer will have no control over is the weather and the sponsor of the party will be responsible for making alternate plans in the event of bad weather and decide if the party must go on or reschedule for another time. Most cooks’ at large barbecues can be prepared with appropriate weather protection to keep themselves and the cooked food dry and available. However, the attendees will want someplace dry in which to eat the bounty.

Timing is very crucial for food to be ready at mealtime. If it becomes late, the people won’t eat well leading to the food getting wasted. Part of the BBQ plans will include what time the food should be ready and will help the cooks decide what time they have to start cooking. With good BBQ plans in place, all the different foods should be ready at about the same time, with some coming in later to be hot and fresh as those at the end of the line make their way to the food. Cooking the correct amount of each different food item is not an exact science and making good BBQ plans can help bring it together on the day of the big event. Most organizers plan about 10 to 15 percent more food than they expect to need to feed those who unexpectedly show up and for those who may be a little more hungry than others.

Many BBQ plans will also include the responsibility of supplying condiments and other items such as potato chips, side dishes and salads if needed. The plates and plastic ware should also be planned will ahead of time to insure the supplier will have what is needed on the day it is to be picked up.

CLEAN A GREASY, GRIMY, NASTY CHARCOAL GRILL

I've yet to meet anyone who says, "Boy, I just love to clean my grill." In fact, that ranks right up there with toilet cleaning and washing the deep fryer. But, it's a necessary evil. No one wants food served from a filthy grill—not healthy and not appetizing. So, grill cleaning is one of those deeds that must be done.

CLEANING TIPS FOR CLEANING YOUR BACKYARD CHARCOAL GRILL

Using foil eases your Grill Cleaning Job

One clean up short cut that I would not recommend as far as preparation is to cover the grate with tin foil. Though it's easier to clean a grill that is covered with tin foil, the result is that food is basically fried and not grilled. The food does not taste as good, and it's not as healthy. You're better off cooking inside over the tin foil method. It really defeats the whole idea of grilling out.

Tonight or Tomorrow Morning?

One big problem with charcoal grill cleaning is that the grill stays hot for a good period of time after cooking. There are two theories as far as the best way to handle this hot situation.

One camp leaves the grill running wide open. The thought is that the fire bakes off a lot of the grease. This does greatly extend the time between cooking and cleaning, since the grill stays hot for a long time if left to burn off.

The other approach is to put the lid on the grill and close down all the vents. This caps the fire, and unless it's a late night party, the grill is often cool enough to clean before bedtime.

I generally let the fire burn out. This eliminates the need to dispose of the extra unburned coals. They simply burn up. And, a lot of the grime does cook off the grates and sides of the grill. This does mean, however, that I'm usually grill cleaning the day after. Or, I forget about cleaning the grill and then have a mess to deal with before the next cook out.

Down and Dirty

Once the grill is cool (or not hot enough to be painful), clean out all the old coals and dust. These need to go in a bag and in the garbage. Charcoal mulch is not good for the garden or the yard. The acid level is too high. Throw that in your vegetable bed, and you're not going to have a productive season.

Squirt a good Kitchen Grease Cleaner on the grill and grates. This will save you from the rigorous scrubbing. The basic cleaning gets some but not all the grime. A second cleaning with a scrub brush and/or a scratchy pad (those green 3M rectangles sold in the grocery) is necessary. Brushes are more appealing with the handle, but it's hard to find a good brush and one that will hold up. I find that brushes last only a few cleaning sessions (and I've tried a number of brands), so I often use the less expensive scratch pads. Squirt on Kitchen Grease Cleaning Liquid and rub away. Most of the mess comes off.

For those really stubborn remnants of food particles stuck to the grates, keep them soaked in a soap solution overnight. In the morning, it will be soft and can be easily scrubbed off.

Touch Up and Pack Away

A good cleaning usually takes care of grill grunge. Give the grill a quick look over and touch up any spots still needing attention. Then, cover the grill. There are covers made for various grills, and trash bags or homemade coverlets (old quilts or towels) can also be used. If using plastic, don't seal up tight. Sealing traps moisture and can cause the growth of things better not mentioned. If you do end up with a science project growing in the grill after cleaning, it does clean off pretty easily, but it is not a good pre-meal sight.

Fun? No! But, a Clean Grill is a Happy Grill

If you stay on top of your grill cleaning, it's much easier to take care of the messes and much more likely that your family will be "up" for a barbeque. Grills also last much longer if they are tended to. There are a variety of ways to approach this rather unpleasant task, and some products that make the clean up much easier. There's room for error too. We've really disrespected our grill a few times, but it's always cleaned up and continued to give good service with a little extra loving care.

Worth the Effort? You Bet!

Whether you're new to grilling or dealing with a nasty, messy grill, you can do this. It takes a little time and effort, but when you're eating a big juicy steak hot off the clean grill, you'll be glad you took the time buy and keep up a charcoal grill.

Please check out my tongue tickling Vegetarian BBQ recipes in the Vegetarian BBQ Recipes section of My Blog.

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