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Grill It Healthy!

When most of us hear “outdoor grilling,” we think of Sunday BBQs, Memorial Day, Father’s Day or July 4th: the highlights of summer entertaining.  Let us not underestimate, though, the greatness of the weeknight grill.  And while we usually associate grilling with fattening foods, let us now embrace some of the healthier options before us.  Besides the obvious benefits of grilling, namely a no-mess clean up (I loathe cleaning up), a quick prep (can you say “15-minute meal”?), and being able to make a sandwich that can be called “dinner,” grilling foods naturally low in fat and cholesterol – such as poultry, fish and vegetables – is one of the most effective ways to bring out flavor while infusing your food with a delicious smokiness and character.

I try to keep it simple when I grill.  Foods with a higher fat content (like a rib steak) generally require little more than a seasoning of salt and pepper to yield extraordinary results, as the fat keeps the food moist and juicy, even under extreme heat.  However, for foods lower in fat or more delicate in nature, a little more care and consideration often has to be given.  There’s a fine line between a juicy burger and a dried out hockey puck.  The trick is staying on the right side of that line!  That’s said, here are a few tips dedicated to healthy grilling:

  • Know when to add fat. (Yes, you read that right).  A little fat goes a long way in terms of flavor and moisture (and practically speaking, to prevent sticking to the grill!).  Don’t worry, we’re not talking about serious calories here.
    • Brush it! Get yourself a paint or pastry brush that can be used to brush on a thin layer of olive oil to low or non-fat items that would likely get dried out (for example: vegetables, skinless chicken breast, etc.).
    • Add it! Ground poultry is very low in fat and can get dried out quickly.  As in the recipe given below, sometimes adding a small amount of fat to the ground mixture (like the aioli below) can ensure the success of the taste and texture of a dish.
  • Know when to add flavor. Let’s face it: fat tastes good.  So when the fat is missing, how do we maximize the flavor?  Spice rubs and marinades can transform food, especially for foods which can be mild in taste, such as fish and poultry.
  • Know when to protect. Open-fire cooking exposes food to intense heat.  Delicate foods like fish benefit from the smoky flavor of the grill, though often also need protection from the heat. 
    • This is where the tradition of grilling a whole fish wrapped in banana leaves comes from.  More commonly, grilling on cedar planks (that have been soaked in water) can impart wonderful flavor without scorching the fish.
    • Indirect grilling can also be helpful here. This is where you grill not directly over fire, but rather on the opposite side of the grill, a gentler method.
  • Know when to take it off. We all suffer from the nervousness of “what if it’s not done?”  Unfortunately, all too often, erring on the side of caution results in over-cooked food.  The more you grill, the more of a feel you’ll get for the timing and texture of cooked meats.  Don’t forget, you can always put it back, but you can never undo over-cooking.

With these tips in mind, I developed the following recipe: a low-fat turkey burger boosted with the zing of sundried tomatoes and aroma of rosemary.  Not sure what to make for dinner tomorrow night?  Read on…

Sundried Tomato Turkey Burgers with Rosemary Aioli

Aioli is a garlicky mayonnaise from the Provence region of southern France.  Here, a Rosemary Aioli has a dual purpose: dressing the bun as an accompaniment, while also lending the turkey meat extra moistness and flavor.

Makes 8 burgers.

 

    • 2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for greasing grates
    • 1 shallot, diced (about 1/3 cup)
    • ¼ cup sundried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    • 1½-1¾ lbs. ground turkey (white meat)
    • 1½ tbsp. Rosemary Aioli (see recipe below)
    • Hamburger Buns or Multigrain Rolls, sliced in half
    • Baby Arugula

      Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add shallot and sauté for about 2-3 minutes, until translucent.  Add sundried tomatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste; continue to sauté for another 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

      In a large mixing bowl, combine turkey, shallot-tomato mixture, and 1½ tbsp. Rosemary Aioli.  Mix until just combined.  Using moistened hands, gently form into 8 patties.

      Preheat grill to high (about 450 degrees).  Grease grates of grill (an oil-soaked wad of paper towels and tongs do a good job of this).  Place burger patties on grill.  Close cover and grill for about 4 minutes per side, turning once during grilling.  Toast bun halves on the grill for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown and grill marks appear.  Remove and transfer to a platter.

      Assembly: Spread bun halves with a small dollop of Rosemary Aioli (see recipe below), then top each with a burger, and a handful of arugula.  Cover with bun top and serve.

      Rosemary Aioli

        • ½ cup mayonnaise
        • Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tbsp.)
        • ¼ tsp. salt
        • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (about 2 tsp.)
        • 1 tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled or 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
        • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

           

          Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to blend.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

           

          DO AHEAD: Can be made a day ahead and stored in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.

           

          By Naomi Ross

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