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Summer grilling gets added flavor zing with a little finessing of meats, veggies

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Summer should be when the grillin’ is easy — and a time to spice, char, rub, broast, smoke, marinate and otherwise give vegetables and healthy meats a new zip and zing.

That’s the advice from three Chicago executive chefs: Lamar J. Moore, Rodolfo Cuadros of Carnivale, and Joshua Hasho of Omni Chicago Hotel’s 676 restaurant.

After making sure the grill is well-oiled, you can add a bit of smokey flavor to corn on the cob by putting smoked wood alongside the charcoal, said Moore, a Beverly native who was inspired by his grandmother’s Mississippi restaurant, Lucille’s, and her and her cooking’s impact on people’s lives.

Chef Lamar Moore presents a healthy meal of grilled rib eye steak, salmon and asparagus. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times
Chef Lamar Moore presents a healthy meal of grilled rib eye steak, salmon and asparagus. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

For those willing to be more daring, Moore’s recipe for Mexican street corn [SEE RECIPE] calls for the corn to be blended with a mayo mixture, cheese, and ancho chile powder. Moore, a former executive chef at Currency Exchange Cafe in the Washington Park neighborhood and at McCormick & Schmick’s in California, also loves grilled salmon – grilled after the salmon is broasted and wrapped in tin foil.

Salmon and other red-meat alternatives are important in light of new research showing people who ate meat cooked with high heat more than 15 times a month had a 17 percent greater risk for high blood pressure. The research found those who preferred their meats well-done had a 15 percent higher risk than those who liked a rarer form of meat. Moore also suggests grilled asparagus as a great side dish to meat, poultry or fish.

Moore, who was graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Chicago and lives in Bronzeville, is working to make sure other African-Americans get a chance to thrive in the mostly white world of chefs. He credits an African-American mentor in California with helping boost his career, so he now he helps place culinary students with local chefs and works with ProStart, a culinary program for high-school students. Moore also has created culinary incubation programs that connect African-American small businesspeople with investors, and developed programming with Food Hero in Gary, Ind., where 30 culinary students built and ran a pop-up health kitchen.

“I push other chefs to show there are opportunities for African-Americans in this industry,” he said.

Hasho, whose career includes stints as chef at the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn, Mich., and in Marina del Ray, Calif., and with restaurants up and down the California coast, advises:

— Make sure the grill is hot if you are looking to sear or get good marks on your food. A too-low temperature will cause food to stick.

— Season the grill using a neutral oil or one that has a low smoke point such as soy, flaxseed or sunflower by wetting a cloth or towel and then rubbing it on the grates while warm.

— Marinating foods such as fruit and vegetables along with proteins will help impart flavor as well as keep the food moist.

— If you can use a less processed or chemically developed charcoal, the cleaner the food will taste. Compressed wood or Japanese binchotan is ideally the best for charcoal grills.

Hasho says he likes to keep his grilling simple by picking fresh herbs from the fifth-floor garden at the Omni Chicago Hotel to flavor his dishes. The herbs include basil, cilantro, lemon thyme and various kinds of mint.

Marinade is another key item. “A little marinade works wonders,” Hasho said.

A marinade for carrots or peaches could comprise a puree of olive oil, red wine, a unique vinegar and a little fresh mint from the garden. Or carrots can be marinated in a puree of oil, herbs and mustard, put into a water bath and circulated until the carrots are tender. Circulated refers to the “sous vide” cooking method in which food is vacuum-sealed in a bag and cooked under water at a specific time and temperature to add flavor and ensure the food’s “doneness.” Circulators are available at retail for less than $200. The result can be garnished with fresh arugula salad.

Savory spices can jumpstart any dish. Think cumin, coriander or pickled preserves.

Hasho, a River North resident, also advises using a wooden plank or a foil pouch to grill a tender fish without worrying about trying to flip, turn or move the fish. And, thanks to retailers, Hasho said he’s heartened that foodies can now buy new tools to up their game, such as perforated sautee pans that let you grill mushrooms or other smaller items so they won’t fall into the grill itself.

Cuadros, of Carnivale, grew up in New York and Colombia, sticking close to his mom and her eight sisters as they cooked when he needed a refuge from his three older brothers.

“I’m Hispanic. Food is the center of everything we do, whether it’s a family function or a quiet dinner at home,” he said.

Latin food exudes no subtlety; instead, he sees it as akin to Indian food with distinct sweet, sour and spicy categories.

“You’re trying to hit lots of notes in one dish,” Cuadros said.

Cuadros, a Tri-Taylor resident, also likes to create alternatives to barbecue sauce, which he dislikes for caking up and leaving chicken skin on the grill. Instead, he creates a paste with onion, garlic and a whole peeled lemon (take the seeds out), blended with white vinegar, salt, oregano and cumin, and a dash of parsley and herbs. He mixes the paste with canola oil and black pepper.

“It gives such flavor to the chicken – you don’t need a sauce,” said Cuadros, who grows peppers and tomatoes in his front yard.

If you simply must have a grilled burger, Chicago is home to Upton Naturals, a natural foods company that makes the Classic Burger, a seitan burger that’s 100 percent vegan and seasoned with spices like hickory smoke and marjoram to mimic the all-American patty. The meat-free burger, with 5 grams of fat and 22 grams of protein, contains no GMOs, trans fat, cholesterol or artificial ingredients, and is sold at select Mariano’s, Whole Foods, Treasure Island and specialty food stores.

Sandra Guy is a local freelance writer.

RECIPES

GRILLED LIME SHRIMP, Courtesy of Chef Lamar J. Moore

Ingredients:

30 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1/2 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 cup Jose Cuervo tequila

1 each habanero (chopped)

8 oz fresh garlic (chopped)

3 ounces cracked black pepper

1.5 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 each lemons for garnish

2 sprigs cilantro for garnish

1. Combine the olive oil, tequila, cilantro, lime juice, orange juice, honey, garlic, pepper, oregano, and sea salt in a bowl; whisk until well incorporated.

2. Place the shrimp in a bowl and pour the olive oil mixture over the shrimp; toss to combine. Cover and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for two hours.

3. Place shrimp on hot grill. Cook shrimp until cooked all the way through; they will turn pink and slightly curl. Roughly two to three minutes on each side.

4. Serve on a nice bowl or platter and garnish with lime wedges and cilantro.

MEXICAN STREET CORN

Ingredients:

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup Mexican crema

1 cup diced Monterrey jack cheese (Applegate Natural)

1 Tablespoon ancho chile powder

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 bunches cilantro, chopped

4 ears shucked corn

1 lime, cut into wedges

1. Pre-heat grill pan on stovetop, coat pan with melted butter.

2. While pan heats, combine mayonnaise, crema and garlic, and set aside.

3. When grill is hot, place corn directly over hot side of grill and cook, rotating occasionally, until cooked through and charred in spots on all sides, about 8 minutes total.

4. Transfer corn to bowl with mayo mixture, cheese, and chile powder and use a large spoon to evenly coat corn on all sides with mixture. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve immediately with lime wedges.

RECIPES Courtesy of Chef Joshua Hasho, Omni Hotels

CARROT TOP PESTO

Ingredients:

3 cups carrot tops, rinsed clean and pat dry

1/2 cup basil leaves, fresh packed

3/4 cup Parmesan, grated

1/2 cup Olive Oil

1/4 cup Pine Nuts, toasted

4 cloves Garlic

kosher salt to taste

freshly cracked black pepper to taste

1. Finely chop carrot tops and basil.

2. Pulse toasted pine nuts and garlic in a food processor until roughly chopped.

3. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.

ESPRESSO BBQ RUB

Ingredients:

1/2 cup ancho powder

1/4 cup cracked peppers

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup chipotle powder

1 cup coffee, ground

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp paprika

2 tbsp mustard powder

1 tbsp chili powder

1 tbsp ground ginger

SIMPLE MARINADE

Ingredients:

1/4 cup whole grain mustard

2 Tbs black pepper

1 oz. mint leaves

1 oz. cilantro leaves

1 oz. basil leaves

1/2 cup garlic, chopped

4 cups olive oil

1. Chop herbs and combine all ingredients.

2. For a smoother blended marinade, pure in a blender.

PICKLED JALAPENOS

Ingredients:

1 lb green jalapenos

1 lb red jalapenos

1/2 lb shallots

3/4 gallon white distilled vinegar

6 oz kosher salt

1 lb garlic cloves

6 oz granulated sugar

3/4 gallon water

1. mix the water, vinegar, salt and sugar together and puree with a stick blender to disolve the granules

2. slice the jalapenos, shallots and garlic 2 mm thick on a japanese slicer or mandolin

3. add the vegetables to the vinegar solution and let it sit overnight

Chef Joshua Hasho’s spicy chicken wings. | Courtesy Omni Hotels
Chef Joshua Hasho’s spicy chicken wings. | Courtesy Omni Hotels

CHICKEN WINGS

Ingredients:

5 lbs jumbo chicken wings

1. soak the chicken wings in jalapeno pickling liquid overnight.

2. remove the wings from the liquid and pat dry with a towel

3. roast in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes

4. season with espresso bbq spice and finish by searing on a charcoal grill

RECIPE Courtesy of executive chef Rodolfo Cuadros of Carnivale

CRIOLLO

Ingredients:

1/2 Spanish onion

3 cloves of garlic

1 cup distilled white vinegar

4 tbs dry oregano

3 tsp ground cumin

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch parsley

6 tbs kosher salt

3 tbs Black pepper

1 whole lemon with the pits removed

1. Blend until smooth for 2 minutes

2. Mix in 1/2 cup canola oil with a whisk and marinade chicken for 24 hours before grilling

3. Grill at medium heat, and I recommend eating it with grilled asparagus and charred tomatoes