Playing with Fire; or, How to Roast Grapes

In preparation for what promises to be a week straight from the fiery sandblasted surface of Mercury (OK, I may exaggerate a bit, but it’s supposed to get hot again this week), we hauled out the grill on Sunday afternoon to get some batch cooking knocked out for the week.  Because there’s nothing so amazing as arriving home from work, sweaty and hot and tired, and finding that dinner is waiting for you in the fridge in all it’s cool, already-cooked glory!

And you know how sometimes you get an idea in your head, and it just needs to happen rightnowthisveryminute?  No?  That’s just me?  Well OK then.  Anyhow.  Sunday afternoon found me staring at a bag of grapes and a freshly preheated grill.  I think we know where this is going, no?  Yes–the grapes were heading straight for the grill!  I don’t know if anyone has ever done this before (though I can’t be the first to decided that sweet grapes could use a liitle smoky undertone!), but it needed to happen in my back yard!

We have one of those grill baskets that’s essentially a sheet of metal with holes drilled through the bottom to keep smaller food pieces from falling through the grill grate–it was perfect.  I kept the grapes on their vines (well, I tried to anyway, some of them rolled off, as grapes are wont to do, but I barricaded the would-be escapees in between clumps that were still on their vines).  Once the coals were hot, I popped my basket directly over them (I wanted some blistering, blackening, and smoky flavors!).  It took just a few minutes to cook them, just till the skins started popping open.

Now, what do you do with freshly roasted black grapes?  Well, you eat a few while they’re still hot enough to burn your fingers (worth it; so so worth it).  And then, you turn them into a salad!  I had several ears of corn that we were also planning to grill (that’s why the grill was fired up, actually!), so I liberated a couple ears’ worth of kernels, added my grapes, some crispy-fried caramelized onions, and bit of bulgur.  Sort of like tabbouleh, without the tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley–OK, not at all like tabbouleh except for the bulgur, but you get the idea!

With all the sweet flavors in the salad, I decided it needed a tangy counterpoint, so I made a quick dressing out of yogurt, garlic, mint, and lemon juice.  The I chilled everything for the few hours till dinnertime.  It was the perfect salad for a toasty summer evening!

Roasted Grape & Corn Salad with Tangy Mint Dressing

  • 1 c. bulgur
  • 2 c. boiling water
  • 3 c. seedless black grapes
  • 2 ears sweet corn
  • 1 small onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1/2 c. plain yogurt
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 T. finely chopped fresh peppermint
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • pinch salt

For the salad:

  1. In a large bowl, pour boiling water over bulgur; cover and let sit undisturbed for 20 minutes, till bulgur is tender.  Drain off any excess water.
  2. Using a grill-basket or whatever apparatus works for you, grill grapes for 3-4 minutes, till skins start splitting.  Remove from heat and let cool a bit before removing from vines.  Add to bowl with bulgur.
  3. Grill sweet corn, about 10 minutes on a side.  Let cool a bit before shucking.  Remove kernels from the cob with a sharp knife.  Break up any “planks” of corn into bite-size pieces.  Add to bowl with bulgur.
  4. While grapes and corn are grilling, in a small saute pan, melt butter over low heat.  Add onions and let cook, mostly undisturbed, until caramelized and crispy.  Remove from pan.  Chop finely and add to bulgur mixture.  Add chickpeas and toss bulgur and mix-ins together gently.  Refrigerate till ready to serve.

For the dressing:

  1. Combine yogurt, lemon juice, peppermint, garlic, and a pinch of salt.  Stir to mix well.  Refrigerate until ready to serve (the longer you let this sit before serving, the better!).
  2. To serve, dish up salad on individual plates and drizzle with the dressing.

Serves 6-8 as a side.

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

The honest answer to this question?  Gnarly.  And it’s totally my own fault!  We planned out our garden semi-following the square-foot method, and sort of how I remembered my parents setting up their garden when I was little (but their plot was a LOT bigger than mine–keep that in mind).  And it sort of worked, except we forgot that plants grow, and we may, at times, want to actually get in between the plants to say, weed or harvest?  Yeah.  It’s a jungle.

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It’s better now that the radishes are pretty much done, so we have a couple square feet to step into to weed the rest.  Oh, and weeds!  While we’re on the subject, does anyone remember that Dudley Do-Right cartoon where Snidely Whiplash sells people crabgrass seeds instead of normal grass?  I never thought that was a particularly villainous move until I met crabgrass in person–it is the devil.  Each stem puts down roots of its own, so not only do you have to pull those roots, but you still have to pull the main root!

Our garden was also rather hastily planned out since we moved so late in the spring.  I’m already planning next year’s garden, and I can tell you it’s going to be a lot bigger than 8′ x 10′.  I’m also looking into crop rotation and succession planting, and right now I’m starting to look at what prep I can do at the end of this season to make next year’s garden even easier!  A few things on my list:

  • raised beds of some sort running 2/3 the length of my backyard
  • where to plant 4 red currant bushes this fall
  • getting rid of the ugly spirea and hosta plants in the front of my house and turning some or all of the side beds along the front walk into brassica beds (kale, cabbage, broccoli, etc.)
  • kills the weeds.  all of the weeds.  somehow.
  • possible sunflower patch in our boulevard
  •  mobile herb pots for next year (they do NOT like where they are now).

The real question is how much of my back yard am I willing to give up to garden (a lot, if we can get the weeds under control!), and how best to design that garden for future years (I do not want to be redesigning it every year!).  We’re also planning to put in a small brick patio under the dogwood in the backyard, and a sauna somewhere out there, too…so good design is my key priority so that all this can happen harmoniously!

For the immediate moment, though, I’m headed out to weed my tomato thicket.  Wish me luck!

Refrigerator Pickles

Our garden has developed an interesting habit…at random intervals (with little to no warning), it will produce a cucumber the size of my forearm.  But just one.  This may or may not have something to do with a proliferation of weeds hiding under the cucumber leaves, obscuring cucumbers of smaller stature.  Maybe.  Regardless, when faced with a cuke (or two) of giant proportions, I turn to refrigerator pickles, for three reasons:

  1. They’re dead easy.
  2. They’re fast.
  3. They’re delicious.  And did I mention easy?

The great thing about fridge pickles is that there’s a tremendous variety of brines you can make, and you can really focus on the flavor instead of making sure the acidity is proper and safe for long-term storage (which should be a main concern if you’re canning pickles). Think of refrigerator pickles as more of a salad, if you will.  Take some poetic license!

I whipped up a batch on Monday before work, in fact, just to get my newest super-cuke percolating.  (See?  Fast!)  If you have a food processor with a slicing blade, the pickles can be assembled in under 5 minutes.  If not, you’re only as slow as you can slice!

For this batch, I added some red onion from our CSA, a pinch of dill seed, and a solid pinch of lovage-infused salt (also from our CSA!).  I use a standard fridge pickle brine (for sweet pickles) that consists of 1 T. salt, 7/8 c. vinegar, and 1-1/4 c. sugar per pound of cucumber.  You simply mix the cucumber and any other mix-ins you’re adding (thinly sliced onions and garlic are a great addition, but so are peppers and herbs!…think about 1 cup mix-ins total per pound of cuke).  Then mix up your brine (if you need a little more to cover, just mix up another batch in the same proportion).

Combine everything in a large bowl (make sure the bowl is NON-REACTIVE!!!  use ceramic or glass, but NO metal!).  Weigh down the cukes with a small plate, loosely saran-wrap the bowl, and let it sit on the counter overnight.

my sophistocated pickle-making apparatus: bowl + plate + saran wrap

my sophistocated pickle-making apparatus: bowl + plate + saran wrap

The next day, pack the pickles into jars if you like, top up with brine, and put in the fridge.  You can also just leave them in the bowl, but you’ll want to make sure it has a lid or your fridge will smell…pickle-y.

Since they’re quick-brined and not meant for long term storage, use the pickles up within a couple weeks.  And, if you’re like me and the garden keeps randomly producing new cucumbers, save your brine and keep using it!  A batch of brine can totally be reused to pickle once or twice!

Brine-tamed cukes & onions!

Brine-tamed cukes & onions!