Memorial Day 2019
A Memorial Day Barbecue to Remember
By Jean Miersch
The winter winds provided plenty of opportunities to visit my barbecue grill over the last several months. After each storm, I would run outside to dry it off, replace the cover and remind myself that the time would come when I’d once again fire it up and grill something delicious. Well, here we are at Memorial Day weekend, first and foremost, a time we honor those who have served us but also traditionally the weekend that unofficially ushers in the start of summer. With all that in mind, let’s get down to some outdoor entertaining, first with a little preparation and then with some traditional and some novel ideas.
If your gas grill has been dormant for several months like mine, it’s time to start the grilling season right with some grill maintenance. Start by removing the grill grates and wiping down the interior of the grill with a mildly abrasive sponge to remove any leftover grease and residue. This will help reduce flame flare-ups while cooking. You’ll probably need to deal with some rust on the grill grates, too. Sometimes replacement is necessary, but often a little elbow grease will do the job. Scrub them well with a wire brush and/or some steel wool. When you’re satisfied, re-season the grates. I use a pair of tongs holding a paper towel soaked in vegetable or olive oil. Heat the grill to high and apply the oil generously. If you do this before every use, you can reduce the amount of rust and residue the grates accumulate. Next, wipe down the exterior of the grill with soapy water and rinse well. I keep a container of disposable cleaning wipes nearby for quick clean-ups between uses. The more you do this, particularly here at the beach, the longer the grill will last. Finally, be sure to check the gas connection for leaks that can develop over the cold winter.
Now that your grill is back in top form, it’s time to think about your first cookout of the season. Set the tone for this holiday with a patriotic theme. You can’t go wrong with red, white and blue. It honors tradition and reminds us why we celebrate. I love an opportunity to pull out old favorites like red and blue bandanas to use as napkins and to wrap the utensils. A couple of red-and-white checked tablecloths are easy to find and so classic. I always plant some small pots of red and white impatiens early in the season to use for entertaining all summer long. They take me from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I just gather some pots together, insert some ornamental American flags and have instant décor. This year I have made the decision to ditch the single-use plastic, except for a very few large parties. Being a good steward is just one more way to show honor and respect. I don’t expect 100% compliance from myself and others, but I can make an honest effort. I invested in reusable outdoor dishware and utensils and also in some large bins to deposit them for cleaning. Placed right next to the trash containers, I’ll fill them with warm soapy water as guests are finishing their meal. With a little training, my family and friends will learn to scrape plates and deposit them in soapy bins. I bet I’ll even get some volunteers to help with clean-up. I toyed with the idea of red, white and blue for these but opted instead for clear and silver. This way they can be used with any theme or décor.
As far as menu, this year my traditional Memorial Day cookout will be less than traditional. Inspired by spring’s bounty and the ocean’s delights, this year I want to be more adventurous and make an effort to expand my grill menu because, really, there is hardly anything that can’t be cooked on the grill.
We’ll begin with a strawberry salsa. It just makes sense to use strawberries this time of year. I overplanted mine a few years ago and they’ve now taken over half of my garden, and my accompanying cilantro is coming along pretty nicely, too. Cherry tomatoes and jalapeños are not quite ready, but still, the sweetness and vibrant red colors in this garden-to-table appetizer are delightful.
Now, what will we grill? Again, let’s push the traditional boundaries and think fish and seafood. A grilled shrimp and summer vegetable salad will be nice. Again, let’s take advantage of the availability of fresh produce – corn, zucchini, peppers. The grill enhances these flavors, and there is nothing like grilled shrimp in summer. You can prepare and grill all the veggies ahead of time and keep warm, also squeeze the limes and coat and skewer the shrimp. Then just grill the shrimp when ready, toss it all together and add the lime and avocado. You’ll look like a pro.
Next, let’s skewer and grill some more, this time some salmon. I do eat salmon often all year long, but it’s so much better on the grill. In this recipe, it’s the combination of the oregano and lemon that make the salmon special, and my crop of oregano is doing quite nicely, so I’ll use homegrown. This presentation is so pretty with thin lemon slices folded and skewered between salmon, be sure to serve it that way. You can prepare these before guests arrive and then grill these skewers at the same time you grill the shrimp.
We need a festive dessert, one that looks patriotic and is meant for summer. Nothing says summer better than fruit popsicles made red, white and blue with strawberries, bananas and blueberries. If you have popsicle molds, use them, but if not, you can use the paper-cup method provided. They can be completely done even days before, and will please adults and kids alike. It’s a great way to use more of the strawberry bounty, too.
Finally, we just need a signature drink. Continue the color theme with a Blueberry Lemonade Margarita. You can prepare the simple syrup and the salt/sugar mix for the rims ahead of time. Mixing the cocktails will be easy when company arrives. Sweet and a little tangy, it’s the perfect partner to fish, seafood and summer.
There we have it. It feels good to get back into the swing of summer with a little preparation and a little inspiration, both with our menu and our effort to make less waste. I hope we honored tradition enough to pay tribute to what Memorial Day truly means, while appreciating the seasonal gifts nature provides us to offer a delightful menu and kick off a new season of outdoor entertaining.
Summer Strawberry Salsa
• 1 cup strawberries, coarsely chopped
• 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
• 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
• ½ cup sweet onion, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
• 1 lime, juiced
• Salt and pepper, to taste
Stir together strawberries, cherry tomatoes, jalapeño, onion, cilantro, and lime juice in medium bowl. Cover; chill 30 minutes or longer, to develop flavors. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Serve with tortilla chips.
Lemon Salmon Skewers
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
• 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
• 1½ pounds skinless wild salmon fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces
• 2 lemons, very thinly sliced into rounds
• Olive oil cooking spray
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 16 bamboo skewers soaked in water 1 hour
Heat the grill on medium heat and spray the grates with oil. Mix oregano, sesame seeds, cumin, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl to combine; set spice mixture aside. Beginning and ending with salmon, thread salmon and folded lemon slices onto eight pairs of parallel skewers to make eight kebabs total. Spray the fish lightly with oil and season with kosher salt and the reserved spice mixture. Grill the fish, turning occasionally, until fish is opaque throughout, about 8 to 10 minutes total.
Makes 6 pops
• 1 pint fresh strawberries (about 2 cups), cleaned with stems removed
• 4 large yellow bananas, peeled
• ½ pint fresh blueberries (about 1 cup), cleaned
• 6 (9-ounce) paper cups
• 6 wooden pop sticks
Spray six 9-ounce paper cups with nonstick cooking spray and place in a rimmed cake pan or baking sheet that will fit in the freezer.
Blend the strawberries in a blender until smooth. Pour evenly among prepared cups. Freeze cups for 45 minutes.
Blend bananas until smooth. Pour evenly on top of frozen strawberry layer. Freeze cups for another 45 minutes.
Blend blueberries until smooth. Pour evenly on top of frozen banana layer. Freeze cups for another 45 minutes.
Remove and gently insert pop sticks into the center of each cup, pressing it through the blueberry layer and into the banana layer. Place cups back in the freezer for at least 6 hours or overnight until firm.
To remove cups, make a small cut in the side of the cup and peel it off. Enjoy!
Lime Dressed Grilled Shrimp and Summer Veggie Salad
• 32 (12 ounces) large peeled and deveined shrimp
• 2 teaspoons olive oil
• 1 teaspoon onion powder
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• ½ teaspoon paprika
• 1 teaspoon brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
• Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• Pinch cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)
• Olive oil spray
• 1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise
• 1 medium red bell pepper, halved, seeds and membrane removed
• 4 small corn cobs, husks removed
• 4 ounces avocado (1 small), diced
• Juice from half a lime
Gently pat shrimp dry with a paper towel and place them in a medium bowl. Add the olive oil and toss to evenly coat. Add the onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, brown sugar, ½-teaspoon salt, pepper and cayenne. Toss again and carefully skewer shrimp onto presoaked wood or metal skewers. Set aside.
Lightly spray the bell pepper, zucchini and corn with olive oil spray and use your hands to evenly coat. Season with ¼-teaspoon of salt and pepper.
Over medium-high heat, grill the corn, bell pepper halves and zucchini for 4 minutes. Using long metal tongs, carefully turn the corn, peppers and zucchini, then place the shrimp on the grill. Cook for an additional 4 minutes, flipping the shrimp after 2 minutes. Remove everything from the grill at the same time.
Place corn cobs on a cutting board and carefully cut off the kernels from the cob. Dice the peppers and zucchini. Place the kernels in a medium bowl with the peppers, zucchini, avocado and lime juice. Add ¼-teaspoon salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to evenly coat. Makes enough for 4 to 6 people.
Blueberry Lemonade Margarita
Makes 4 – double or triple for a crowd.
For the syrup:
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• ½ cup water
• 1 cup blueberries
• Zest of one lime
For the margarita:
• 2 tablespoons kosher salt
• 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 1 lemon, cut into wedges
• 8 ounces tequila
• 4 ounces triple sec
• 3 ounces lemonade
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and water and stir until sugar has dissolved. Add blueberries and lime zest and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer mixture until blueberries have burst, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes, then strain mixture into a clean jar. Let cool completely. On a small plate, stir together sugar and salt. Rim each glass with a lime wedge, then dip in sugar/salt mixture. Divide tequila, triple sec and lemonade among four glasses. Fill each glass with ice, then top with blueberry syrup. Garnish with a lemon wedge and serve.