International grill


POSTED: Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The possibilities for a successful holiday barbecue are virtually endless here in sunny, multicultural Hawaii. Weather here is almost always friendly enough for an outdoor meal, and local palates are exposed to a variety of ethnic cooking styles.

We're certainly well versed in classic Japanese marinades that mix shoyu, sugar and ginger; Korean ones that favor shoyu, garlic and sesame oil; Chinese style utilizing five spice and anise; and American sauces combining tomato, brown sugar and onion.

So, with our own twist to the time-honored Fourth of July tradition of barbecues, we offer a few more flavors for the mix. We spoke to three chefs — of Thai, Indian and Greek cooking — about their favorite grilling recipes, plus a classic and complementary side dish.

One important tip for grillers to note: All chefs agree there's nothing quite like charcoal to add flavor and fragrance to help make a dish delicious.

Thip Nguyen, owner and cook at Sweet Basil Express, says barbecue chicken is a staple at Thai gatherings, “;whether it's a small gathering or a big party. It's comfort food.”;

The longtime cook says there's traditionally lots of grilling in Asian cooking “;because in the olden days, there were no refrigerators. So you go to the market in the morning for lunch, go to the market in the afternoon for dinner. It's real fresh cooking.”;





        Regional dishes keep barbecues flavorful

Nguyen shares her recipe for Thai barbecue chicken, one she also features at her eatery, located at the Nuuanu YMCA, and in the menu lineup of her catering business, Creative Cookery. It includes basic ingredients from the Thai flavor palette: lemongrass, cilantro, mint and a bit of coconut milk.

She says home cooks can use whatever type of chicken they prefer, whether boneless, whole or chopped into pieces. A good guideline in terms of portion, she says, is 10 pieces, or one whole chicken, to four diners. If cooking a whole chicken, Nguyen suggests opening up the bird by cutting it in half along the chest so that it lays flat on the grill.

When asked for an accompanying side dish, Nguyen didn't skip a beat: “;Papaya salad is a (mainstay) in Thai food,”; she says. “;It comes first among salads; everything else follows.”;

The convenience of the dish is that it's easily adaptable for vegan diets. Just omit the fish sauce.

At Bombay Indian Restaurant in Discovery Bay Center, executive chef Ashwani Ahuja makes good use of his tandoor, a clay oven that barbecues meats of all kinds. Along with various proportions of classic Indian marinade ingredients such as yogurt, garlic and ginger paste, and good ol' salt and pepper, it's responsible for numerous tasty items on the menu.

“;You can make anything in the tandoor — chicken, lamb, seafood like salmon or mahi or shrimp,”; he says.

Seasoning varies according to the type of meat. Ahuja says salmon and lamb require few spices and very little oil, while in the case of chicken or shrimp, “;the more spices, the better.”; In particular, the chef adds red pepper and coriander and cumin powders to the chicken marinade, because chicken skin doesn't easily absorb flavor.

Though he uses just a small number of seasonings, Ahuja says it's the variety of combos — the addition or exclusion of a spice, as well as proportions — that create distinctive flavors among dishes.

Ahuja shares his Chicken Tikka recipe along with a mixed vegetable dish, Sookhi Sabzi. He calls it “;colorful, fresh and healthy; plus, it's fast and easy.”;

In Greek cooking, says Savas Mojarrad, owner and chef of the Olive Tree Cafe in Kahala, meats broiled over charcoal are standard fare. Some are cut into pieces and skewered, while others are cooked whole on a rotisserie, then carved.

All are soaked in marinades of oregano and lemon juice, ingredients that are “;used religiously”; in Greek cuisine, Mojarrad says. What varies is how long the meat sits in the mixture.

“;We marinate chicken in advance, but lamb is marinated right before grilling. When lemon juice sits with meat, it changes the surface texture because of the acid,”; he explains. “;I personally like to see red meat marinated right before — just dip it, and it goes right on the grill.”;

Mojarrad says that in Greece, diners are literally handed a skewer of meat in one hand and a piece of Greek pita bread in the other. They simply folded the bread around the meat and bite.

In other places, Arab pita bread, which opens up like a pocket, holds the meat, plus veggies such as lettuce, tomato and onion, and a yogurt topping.

The chef offers a recipes for Skewered Lamb Sandwich and Tsatziki, a classic yogurt sauce that can be used as topping on both meat and vegetable dishes, as well as a salad dressing.