The green grill

Barbecues have a bad reputation when it comes to our diet and our environment, but there are ways to limit the damage.

peppers 88 grilled (photo credit: )
peppers 88 grilled
(photo credit: )
An unsuspecting tourist who travels through Israel on Independence Day, passing a public park or even a little-used lot, might be led to think that the Children of Israel were again making collective animal sacrifices to their Maker. Indeed, thousands of sheep, lambs, fowl and cows are offered up on that day - but not to God: to guests. Whether or not it reflects a kind of sudden mass throwback to our ancient Temple ritual, the Israeli expression of Independence Day is invariably a barbecue - or mangal - charcoal, and a lot of meat. The mild weather makes it an ideal time to get together and indulge in one of our favorite activities: eating. On the other hand most health professionals and environmentalists will tell you that charcoal grilling is carcinogenic and should probably be added to the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. Grills cook at high temperatures, and create smoke when fat from meat drips onto hot coals. This smoke contains benzopyrene, (a potent carcinogen, found in animals and their fat). If you're the "grill master" or near the barbecue and breathe in the smoke you are ingesting the air-borne carcinogen. That same smoke also penetrates the meat. That's why it's also important to limit the use of the grill's lid, so that the meat doesn't cook in smoke. Another major problem is what we put on the grill. A former senior employee at one of the top meat industries in Israel recently told me that anyone who really knew what goes into frankfurters would never dare to eat them. That goes for all types of industrial franks. Also avoid pre-made and seasoned hamburgers. There's a reason why they taste like barbecue-flavored wallpaper paste. Instead, choose thin cuts of lean meat, chicken or fish and grill them quickly, not too close to the heat. Fat also contains residues of antibiotics, growth hormones and pollutants the animals or fish have ingested over their short lifetime. It's best to place barbecue coals in a ring around the outside of the grill and to cook the meat near the center, where fat won't drip into the coals. Make sure to remove the fat (like chicken skin) and blackened charred sections that contain potential carcinogens after cooking. It's important to be aware that commercial charcoal briquets are made by combining coal (a nonrenewable resource), with limestone, borax, sodium nitrate, and sawdust with charred wood. Burning gives off primarily carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide (that causes acid rain). Lighter fluid, so popular for mangal, is made from toxic nonrenewable petroleum distillates and releases substances which create smog. Fortunately, this year we have a healthier choice to choose from, organic charcoal imported from China and marketed under the Chutman label (pictured right, below). Brand new, they will only be in shops just before Yom Ha'atzmaut. The individually wrapped bricks are made of organic sulfur-free coal, making for a low ash and no sulfur or carbon dioxide release. The bricks provide up to two hours of constant heat, and pollute neither the environment nor the food they cook. They are also treated with a natural substance to make lighting them easier. The important things to remember are to light them on the right side (it's the one with the diamond shape on the top), and place them on a rack so there is air circulation under the brick. Whether or not you decide to barbecue this holiday, researchers have found you can reduce the dangers of carcinogens in grilled meat by eating lots of green vegetables in the same meal. The chlorophyll in vegetables binds with the carcinogens during digestion, limiting their absorption. And remember - you can also grill fruits and vegetables. GRILLED CORNISH HENS IN LEMON & HOT PEPPER SAUCE Serves 8 4 3 Cornish hens 4 1 cup fresh lemon juice 4 8 garlic cloves 4 2 hot green peppers 4 1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil For serving: 4 3 bunches arugula 4 1 large round pita or focaccia 1. Slice each hot pepper in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut into small dice, mix with the rest of the ingredients for the sauce and let sit at room temperature. 2. Cut each Cornish hen into 4 pieces and season with salt and pepper. Grill for 6 minutes on each side over medium-high coals. 3. Warm the pita for a few minutes on the grill, and place on a large serving platter. Scatter the arugula on the pita and place the Cornish hen pieces on top. Pour over the sauce and serve. ROASTED VEGETABLES IN OLIVE OIL & SPRING HERBS Although some of the vegetables need to be steamed before roasting, it's possible to prepare and marinate all the vegetables together even 24 hours before serving. Make on the grill or under the grill in the oven. Serves 8-10 Marinade: 4 2 tsp. Dijon mustard with seeds 4 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil 4 1⁄3 cup white or red wine vinegar 4 3 Tbsp. minced green or dried garlic 4 1⁄4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves 4 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried) 4 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tsp. dried) 4 11⁄2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary leaves (or 1⁄2 tsp. dried) 4 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 4 Coarse sea salt to taste 4 8 very small thin-skinned potatoes 4 3 large carrots, sliced into 1.5-cm. pieces on the diagonal 4 1 medium eggplant, sliced widthwise into 1.5-cm. slices 4 3 medium zucchini, sliced into 1.5-cm. pieces on the diagonal 4 4 medium assorted color bell peppers (red, yellow, orange, green), seeded and cut into 3-cm. squares 16 medium fresh mushrooms 1. Prepare the marinade first: Put the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary and black pepper, and Dijon mustard in a blender and whirl till well blended. (Dried herbs may be substituted for part or all of the fresh herbs. Use one-third the amount.) 2. Prepare the vegetables: Heat 2.5-cm. lightly salted water in a large saucepan to boiling, add the potatoes, cover and lower heat. (You may use a steamer basket.) Simmer about 20 minutes or until just tender. Do not overcook. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl. Check the water level, adding more boiling water if necessary. Add the carrot slices and cook for 3 minutes, then add the eggplant and continue to cook an additional 3-4 minutes till carrots are crisp-tender and eggplant is just slightly tender. Drain and add to the bowl along with the zucchini and sliced bell peppers. 3. Stir the prepared marinade and pour over the vegetables in the bowl. Mix gently, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally. 4. Heat the grill element in the oven to high, or the coals to medium. Drain the vegetables, but reserve the marinade. Thread the vegetables on bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water for several hours. Brush with the marinade and place on the grill or on a parchment paper lined pan in the middle rack of the oven. Roast the vegetables for until golden-brown, turning occasionally and basting with the reserved marinade. Transfer to a serving platter, pour over the leftover marinade, and serve hot or warm. Sprinkle with salt just before serving. BAKED POTATO & SPROUT SALAD WITH FRESH PARSLEY DRESSING No mayo in this great potato salad! Serves 6 4 1 package small potatoes in a microwavable bag (or about 750 gr.) 4 Salt 4 Freshly ground black pepper 4 2 cups fresh bean sprouts 4 1 cup sliced mushrooms FRESH PARSLEY DRESSING: 4 6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil 4 6 Tbsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice 4 1-2 Tbsp. finely chopped onions 4 1⁄4 cup chopped Italian parsley 1. Prepare the potatoes in the microwave according to package directions, or steam over boiling water. Cool slightly, cut the unpeeled potatoes in half and transfer to a salad bowl. Add the mushrooms and sprouts. 2. In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. Season with salt and pepper and pour over the warm potatoes. Stir gently and serve. Phyllis Glazer is a food writer, teacher and author of several cookbooks. Recipes adapted from The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking, by Phyllis Glazer with Miriyam Glazer (HarperCollins, 2004).