How to barbecue with a twist

Cooking up a feast on the barbecue doesn't just mean flipping burgers and grilling sausages. Mark Hix looks east for a little inspiration.
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I love being able to fire up the barbecue on a summer's evening and enjoy the garden that I missed so much in my Shoreditch loft days. Whether it's a piece of grilled chicken, a meaty burger or simply some grilled vegetables from the farmers' market, a barbecue adds a bit of fun to cooking. I recently did a demo at St Swithun's School in Winchester for the Hampshire Food Festival. Ian Nelson from Sunnyfields Farm in Marchwood ( www.sunnyfields.co.uk) gave me a bag of goodies to take home that turned into our barbecue supper the following evening, with simple quarters of free-range chicken marinated in herbs from the garden. My bag included long red shallot-like onions that were cooked straight on the barbecue, golden beetroot that I just cooked with their leaves and tossed in olive oil with some silver sorrel leaves from the garden, and some lovely young tender leeks that were simply boiled and doused with a tarragon vinaigrette.

Simple, fresh ingredients are the key to any barbecue, and you can make life really easy for yourself by planning and prepping ahead. You may not necessarily be lucky enough to have fresh-out-of-the-ground vegetables as I did, but if you shop well you could end up with the same results.

Barbecues are not all about burgers and sausages, either, although a good burger and top-notch sausages are pretty hard to beat. Why not buy merguez sausages and serve them in flatbreads with salad and minted yoghurt?

Urban Caprice, our catering company, recently did a big barbecue lunch for 250 people in Hampshire, and we served Turkish-style lamb kebabs, grilled on flat metal skewers, which I bought in the local Turkish supermarket. They work perfectly for kebabs, as you can mould the mince - just a centimetre or so thick - on to the skewers and they cook in no time at all. If you don't have access to a f barbecue, you can always buy an instant one from your local supermarket - I always keep a spare one in the back of my car just in case. My local supermarket even sells mini rectangular Turkish charcoal grills made out of steel, which you can rest the skewers on directly.

Apart from hotting up the coals, I can't resist injecting a bit of heat into the food as well. A great book I often refer to is The World of Spice by the late Michael Bateman, food writer for The Independent on Sunday. Michael has been a great loss to the world of food writing, but he is remembered every time I seek his advice in his books.

Beetroot and sorrel salad with yoghurt and nigela seeds

Serves 4

Beetroots are great for barbecues and buffets, and they also lend themselves to being gently spiced up, or in this case herbed and spiced. If you shop at farmers' markets, you will come across lots of varieties of beetroots these days as farmers are reviving the old coloured varieties. Try to buy them with the leaves, as you can blanch the leaves as I've done here and then toss them in with the beets. This is the dish I cooked with Ian Nelson's yellow beets, although you could use a mixture of yellows and reds, or just reds if you prefer.

700-800g young yellow beetroots, or any other colours with their leaves
A handful of small silver sorrel or sorrel leaves
3-4tbsp of thick Greek yoghurt
1tsp nigela (onion) seeds
4-5tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the leaves from the beetroot and give them a good wash. Cook the beets in their skins in boiling salted water for about an hour or until tender. Cook the leaves in fresh boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes until just tender, then drain. Once the beetroots are cool enough to handle, peel them by rubbing the skin off with your fingers, then cut them into quarters, depending on their size. Mix with the leaves.

Toss the beetroots and leaves with the vinegar and olive oil and season well. Arrange in a bowl and scatter or mix in the sorrel leaves. Then spoon the yoghurt on top, scattered with the nigela seeds.

Golden tomato soup with coriander

Serves 4

You can make this soup the day before and store it in the fridge so that it's well-chilled, and you could even take it out on a picnic in a Thermos flask. Yellow or golden tomatoes are pretty easy to come by these days in both cherry, plum and regular shapes - but if you can't get hold of them you can still use standard red tomatoes for this recipe.

1kg ripe yellow tomatoes, quartered
1 small green chilli, seeded and chopped
1tbsp cider vinegar
2tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
A few sprigs of coriander blended with a couple tablespoons of olive oil
1 ripe red tomato, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

Put the tomatoes into a non-reactive bowl with the chilli, vinegar and breadcrumbs and season. Cover and leave at room temperature for 2-3 hours. Blend in a liquidiser until smooth, then strain into a bowl and refrigerate for a few hours or preferably overnight.

Meanwhile, prepare the coriander purée. To serve, pour the soup into chilled bowls, drizzle the coriander purée, and spoon over the tomato mixture.

Cardamom and rose water puddings

Serves 4-6

We don't tend to use ground rice much for puddings these days; I've had a packet in my cupboard for a year or so. We had a similar dessert at the Lebanese restaurant Al Waha in Westbourne Grove, west London, after a rather indulgent mezze feast.

60g ground rice
600ml milk
The seeds from 5 cardamom pods
50g caster sugar
5tbsp rosewater
1tbsp crème fraîche
20 pistachios, peeled
8 or so crystallised rose petals available from specialist pastry shops, optional
1/2tbsp icing sugar and add 1tbsp rose syrup, optional

Bring the milk to the boil, add the sugar and ground rice and cardamom pods and simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring every so often. Remove from the heat and leave to cool, stirring as it cools so that it doesn't form a skin - you can leave a sheet of clingfilm or greaseproof paper on the surface to prevent a skin forming. Stir in the rose water and crème fraîche, check the taste and add more rosewater if necessary. Pour into individual dishes or glasses and leave to set in the fridge.

Put the pistachios on a baking tray lined with foil and scatter over the icing sugar. Cook them under a hot grill for 2-3 minutes, turning occasionally until they begin to caramelise. Leave the pistachios to cool, then scatter them over the puddings with the rose petals and drizzle the rose syrup if you're using it.

Chicken kebabs with flatbreads and zhug

Serves 4

My local Turkish restaurant, the Mangal Ockabashi, serves these on the long flat skewers I mentioned, grilled directly over charcoal. For me this is real fast food - and it's healthy stuff, too. Our streets are chock- a-block with fast-food chains, and I often wonder why more chains of proper kebab shops aren't springing up on our high streets and at our railway stations.

You may want to ask your butcher to mince the chicken legs for you.

8 chicken legs, boned, skinned and minced twice
1 red chilli, finely chopped, seeds and all
1tbsp chopped parsley
2tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground coriander
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive or vegetable oil for brushing

Mix all of the ingredients together, season and work into a thick paste with your hands. Roll the mixture into even-sized long sausage shapes and press on to (preferably) flat kebab skewers, flattening them once formed.

Pre-heat a barbecue, brush the kebabs with oil and grill for 4-5 minutes on each side. Serve with warmed flatbread and zhug (see below).

Zhug

Makes one small jar

This is rather like a middle-eastern pesto and you can keep it in the fridge for up to six weeks to spread on to grilled flatbreads. Or just use it as the base for a dip, or on its own as a fiery marinade. These breads, spread with zhug, make a perfect appetiser if you don't want to roll your kebab in them.

5 mild green chillies, seeded and finely chopped
1 hot red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3tbsp coarsely chopped parsley
3tbsp coarsely chopped coriander
1tbsp cumin seeds, lightly toasted
12 black peppercorns, ground
The seeds from 12 cardamom pods, ground
3-4tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste

Put all of the ingredients into a food processor and blend briefly, trickling in the olive oil to make a thick paste. Season with salt to taste.

To serve with flatbread, simply heat the flatbreads on the grill and spread the zhug over as liberally as you wish or roll the chicken kebabs up in them.

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