I love putting vegetables on a griddle or barbecue: they look great (those charred black stripes look fabulous against the vegetable in question’s colourful background), they taste great (those charred black stripes equate to more flavour and more texture) and there is something reliably robust and unprecious about them that, arguably, their sausage friends don’t always display. Stuff them, roast them, grill them, dress them: it’s time to play!
Grilled romaine lettuce with charred corn and salsa roja (pictured above)
Grilling balances out romaine’s natural bitterness. If you’re cooking these on a barbecue, wait for the flames to die down first.
Prep 10 min
Cook 35 min
4 romaine lettuces, cut in half lengthways
50ml vegetable oil, or other neutral oil
For the salsa roja
3 plum tomatoes (250g)
1 romano pepper, cut in half lengthways, stem, seeds and pith removed (150g)
1 onion, peeled and cut into quarters
5 red chillies, stems removed, seeds and pith scraped out and discarded if you prefer less heat (50g)
1 whole head garlic, cloves separated and unpeeled
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
¼ tsp light soft brown sugar
¼ tsp ground cumin
For the corn relish
2 corn cobs
50g unsalted butter
1½ tsp urfa chilli
1 lime, zest finely grated, to get 1 tsp, then juiced, to get 2 tsp
2 small spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
Flaked sea salt, table salt and black pepper
First make the salsa roja. Put a lightly greased griddle pan on a high heat and ventilate the kitchen. Once the pan is smoking hot, lay in the tomatoes, pepper (cut side down), onion wedges, chillies and garlic cloves, and grill, turning as necessary, until nicely charred all over and softened – the garlic will take four to five minutes, the chillies about 10 and the tomatoes, onions and peppers 20-25 minutes. As each vegetable is charred and ready, transfer to a plate and set aside to cool.
Once the tomatoes, onions and peppers are out of the griddle pan, lay in the corn and char, turning as necessary, for about five minutes. Remove from the griddle and set aside to cool, and keep the pan on a low heat.
Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and put the flesh in a blender with all the other charred veg except the corn. Add the vinegar, sugar, cumin, 50ml water and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt, and blitz to a smooth puree. Pour this into a medium bowl, then stir in the buttermilk.
Hold each corn cob vertically on a board and run a sharp knife down the sides to remove the kernels (discard the core, or save it for stock). Put the butter in a small saucepan on a medium heat and cook for five to eight minutes, until it’s melted, smells nutty and is nicely browned. Off the heat, stir in the urfa and the corn, then set aside to cool.
Turn the heat under the griddle pan back up high. Brush the cut side of the lettuce halves with half the oil, then lay four of them cut side down on the grill and char for four minutes. Brush the outside of the romaine halves with more oil, carefully turn over, char for another four minutes, then arrange them cut side up on a platter. Repeat with the remaining four romaine halves and oil.
Sprinkle the charred lettuce with a good pinch of flaked sea salt, then spoon over the salsa roja and buttermilk mix, pushing the sauce in between the leaves. Stir the lime zest, juice, spring onions and a quarter-teaspoon of flaked salt through the corn mix, spoon this all over the lettuce and serve warm or at room temperature.
Cheese-and-onion-stuffed grilled baby peppers
Baby peppers are super-sweet and have a great texture once grilled. If you’re cooking them on a barbecue, wait for the flames to die down to an ember before putting on the peppers; in the meantime, when the coals are at their hottest, char the spring onions. If you want to get ahead, char the onions and stuff the peppers the day before. You’ll need at least 16 small toothpicks to secure the stuffing inside the peppers.
Prep 5 min
Cook 45 min
Serves 4 as a starter or as part of a meze
8 baby peppers (AKA piccellera peppers; about 400g)
For the stuffing
8 spring onions, trimmed, green parts thinly sliced, whites left whole (130g)
2 tsp vegetable or sunflower oil
150g cream cheese
30g parmesan, finely grated (or a vegetarian alternative)
1 large lime, cut in half, one half zested, to get ½ tsp, and juiced, to get 1½ tsp, the other half left whole
Flaked salt and black pepper
For the honey dressing
1½ tbsp runny honey
1½ tbsp good-quality red-wine vinegar
1½ tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
First make the filling. Heat a griddle pan on a high heat until smoking hot. Put the spring onion whites in a medium bowl with the vegetable oil, toss to coat, then lay in the hot pan and grill, turning often, for about six minutes, until blackened all over. Transfer to a plate to cool and keep the griddle on a low heat.
Once the grilled onions are cool, thinly slice them and put in a bowl with the cream cheese, parmesan, lime zest, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Mix well, cover with a plate and refrigerate.
Mix all the dressing ingredients in a bowl with the sliced spring onion greens, lime juice, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper.
Cut the stalk and 5mm of flesh off the top of each pepper, to make little hats, then, using a teaspoon, carefully scrape out and discard the seeds and pith without tearing the flesh. Using the same spoon, three-quarters fill each pepper with the cream cheese mixture, pop the lid back on top and secure in place with two toothpicks.
Turn the heat under the griddle pan back to high and, once very hot, char the peppers, turning regularly, for 10 to 12 minutes, until charred evenly all over, then lift out and set aside to cool. Lay the intact lime half flesh side down on the hot grill, char for two to three minutes, until nicely blackened, then transfer to a small plate.
Arrange the peppers on a platter, remove the toothpicks, then spoon the dressing on top. Squeeze over the charred lime, sprinkle over a quarter-teaspoon of flaked salt and serve warm.
Roast leeks with beetroot tahini and hazelnut salsa
This very dramatic-looking dish can be cooked on a barbecue or in a hot oven (if the former, start them off on the hottest part of the barbecue, then move them to a cooler spot to cook through). These quantities make more tahini than you need for this dish – keep the excess in a sealed container in the fridge for up to three days, for drizzling over grilled meat or vegetables.
Prep 5 min
Cook 35 min
Serves 4 as a starter
4 leeks, all of a similar size and about 3cm in diameter, trimmed, white and light green parts only
For the salsa
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp coriander seeds
100ml olive oil
75g blanched hazelnuts, toasted and roughly crushed in a mortar
1 lemon, zest finely grated, to get 1½ tsp, then juiced, to get 2 tsp
2 red chillies, cut in half lengthways and thinly sliced (remove and discard the seeds and pith if you prefer less heat)
30g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Flaked sea salt and black pepper
For the beetroot tahini
90g ready-cooked beetroot, chopped into 1cm pieces
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp red-wine vinegar
Heat the grill to high and put an oven rack on the top shelf. Lay the leeks 5cm apart on the oven rack and slide a large oven tray under them, to catch any cooking juices. Grill for 20 minutes, turning two or three times as required, until blackened all over. Turn down the grill to medium and cook the leeks for 15 minutes more, turning once, until they are charred all over and soft right through.
Meanwhile, make the salsa. In a small, dry frying pan set over a medium heat, toast the cumin and coriander for three or four minutes, until fragrant, then take off the heat, add the olive oil and leave to cool. Put all the other salsa ingredients in a medium bowl and, once it’s cool, stir in the spiced oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt.
Now for the beetroot tahini. In a blender or small food processor, blitz the beetroot, lemon juice, vinegar and 50ml water, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. Add the tahini and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, blitz again until silky-smooth, then scrape into a bowl.
When the leeks are ready, put them on a board and cut down the length of each one to open it up; don’t cut all the way through. Sprinkle the insides with a good pinch of flaked salt, then transfer the leeks to a platter. Fill the insides with half the salsa and a good crack of pepper and spoon over a good amount of the tahini. Spoon on the remaining salsa and serve straight away with more tahini alongside.