A memorable summer meal doesn’t have to be over-sauced.
It’s hard to imagine a summer without meals cooked on the grill and shared with friends and family. For many, grilling is a sport of passion. According to the “Barbecue and Grill Manufacturing Industry Market Research Report,” grilling has moved beyond being a rite of summer and is now a booming industry with signs of continued growth.
While it may be easy to find restaurants that offer grilled foods of all varieties in almost every city and neighborhood, quality matters more than quantity. There is both an art and science to perfectly grilled food. For those concerned with a healthy lifestyle and fitness performance yet who don’t want to sacrifice taste and experience, it is key to make sure to research menu options thoroughly and thoughtfully—or cook at home for 100 percent guaranteed satisfaction.
Grilling is a unique way to prepare delicious food. The heat of an open-fire grill sizzles the ingredients and has a way of adding flavor to and caramelizing the outer layers of the food, eliminating the need for butter and intricate sauces. Traditional grilled food is often riddled with hidden sugars that won’t help you feel great in your swimwear the next day and packed with manufactured ingredients that may have lasting side effects on your physical performance. And while grilling is often a very casual experience delivered on paper plates and picnic tables, this doesn’t have to be the case—you can have a memorable meal that is splendid to taste and healthy to consume and that leaves you feeling and looking great the day after.
To that end, we reached out to Ramin Behtash, the founder and creator of Citra Grill Restaurant, for tips to create the perfect grilled meal. Behtash’s passion for food quality and the ambience of a peaceful meal is extraordinary. Whether you are cooking for one or 10, he recommends you bring as much attention to the environment and the experience of preparing and serving the meal as to the details of the food.
The food: fresh and tasty
Food quality matters, says Behtash. “It’s fundamental to select high-quality, top-grade ingredients all the way. No cutting corners on cost—focus strictly on the quality and integrity of the ingredients.” When choosing seasonings, don’t go overboard. “Seasoning should be as minimal as possible and depends upon what you are cooking or the type of salad,” Behtash explains. He prefers a blend of citrus juices, olive oil, and salt and pepper. “You want to be able to taste the ingredients and not for seasoning to overwhelm the taste.”
He continues by saying that it’s a “myth that you must marinate before you grill.” Behtash does not marinate before grilling. “Marinating is a form of cooking, and it creates a chemical reaction that begins the cooking process. Grilling after marinating double cooks the food.” Instead, opt to season just before the food hits the fire and then once again after the food comes off the grill.
The prep: advance planning
To prepare in advance also means you need to plan your meal prep in advance. There is nothing fun about preparing a meal last minute and getting ready to host at the same time. Be thoughtful, be prepared and be ready. Create food that you also take pleasure in—this is one of the most contagious aspects of sharing a meal. Behtash says that grilling was always a part of his dining experience and that passion fueled his restaurant menu choices. Chances are your guests will enjoy something if you do. In terms of menu selection, start by selecting the star element of the meal—the protein—and build sides dishes and a base of greens that complement the main course and that add tasty layers.
The setting: food for thought
When designing your setting, welcoming and inviting is key yet context matters the most. Think about the occasion and the overall feeling you want to create. What do you envision happening during the meal? Location obviously dictates decor to a degree, but you can create a wonderful vibe through thoughtfully designed table settings. Music and lighting add much to the ambiance, and when designing your desired effect, consider if you see your guests dancing or in conversation or both.
Behtash advises selecting pleasant light, subtle music, and fresh aromas such as bread and flowers that don’t overwhelm the senses. He also cautions hosts to consider the smoke and aroma that are created when grilling as they can overwhelm the sense of smell that is such an important part of a delicious meal. Think of the setting as including the table. And while it is fun to get fancy, the truth is the most amazing conversations often occur across a bare table with a single votive and a nice glass of wine.
The experience: Craft a memory
Sharing food and conversation is one of the most sacred, intimate opportunities. Being willing to prepare food and feed someone (including yourself) is a true gift that shows others how you care and connect to them and that they matter to you. As you plan the evening, know that how your guest feels will trump the way the food tastes, the awesome setting and the outfit you wore. So know your guests, and keep in mind the essence of how you want someone to feel after the meal as you begin to plan the event. Think about all the details, from the moment your guests say yes to joining until they leave you.
One tip Behtash offers is to serve guests slowly. Don’t rush the courses—time each carefully to give space for digestion and conversation. “Eating is the most social thing we can do,” Behtash asserts. “Meals are made for sitting around, connecting and sharing time, and enjoying food and enjoying the experiences of the day. Stuffing your head in a bag and giving your body calories is not living. Having a conversation over food is a wonderful part of the human experience.”
Below are a few of Behtash’s favorite recipes for the perfect grilled meal—not only the main event (the main course), but also the dishes surrounding and complementing it—that can lead to a unique and memorable bonding experience. Sharing food is a special opportunity to relax and feel like a human being in community with other awesome human beings. And don’t forget to snap some pictures; while photos might live for only a moment on a social site today, in a decade, the image will be a cherished reminder of a memorable meal.
2 large heads Romaine lettuce
12 oz. (3/4 lb.) grape tomatoes
10 oz. (5/8 lb.) pitted Kalamata olives
4 oz. red onions
10 oz. crumbled Feta cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 juicy, large limes
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt (flakes)
Carefully discard any wilted or blemished leaves from the heads of lettuce, ensuring that all leaves are crisp, don’t have any brown edges, and are not oxidized (red on the spine).
Cut the leaves perpendicular to the spine into roughly one-inch strips. Make sure the strips are not longer than 4 or 5 inches.
Put the cut lettuce in a large bowl of cold water, ensuring that the bowl is large enough and there is enough water to carefully agitate and wash the leaves to remove any dirt or bugs. Add about 1/4 cup of vinegar to the water to act as a disinfectant. Let soak for about three minutes. Then remove the lettuce from the water and place in a salad spinner to shake off the water and dry the leaves.
After carefully washing the grape tomatoes, cut them lengthwise into quarters with a sharp knife.
The red onions should be cut into wedges from root to tip. Then very thinly slice each wedge on the cut side using a mandoline slicer at its thinnest setting. If you don’t have a mandoline, then use a very sharp knife to thinly slice the wedges from root to tip.
Toss all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl with enough room to comfortably mix them with a spatula. Cut the limes and squeeze all of their juice into the bowl.
Mix well and serve.
About 20 skewers
Seasoning for the Shrimp
3 cups fresh lemon juice
1½ cups pure olive oil
3 teaspoons iodized salt
1 teaspoons ground pepper
Put all ingredients in a container and emulsify with a hand blender.
Pour the mix in a squeeze bottle for seasoning shrimp skewers.
When using the seasoning, shake the mixture frequently to keep the ingredients mixed well.
4 lbs. peeled, raw, jumbo shrimp (21/25)
20 oz. (1 1/4 lbs.) grape tomatoes
1/3 cup kosher salt (flakes)
1/6 cup ground black pepper
If using frozen shrimp, allow them to thaw under refrigeration before starting your work.
Make sure that all of the shell is removed from each shrimp, including the tail.
Completely devein each shrimp. Do not skip this step. To truly enjoy shrimp, it must be truly clean.
Wash the grape tomatoes carefully.
Make your skewers by putting four shrimp on each (roughly 4 oz.) skewer. Run the skewer through the tail and the top part of each shrimp. This should make each shrimp look like the letter “C” on the skewer.
Add a grape tomato at each end of the skewer.
In a small bowl, mix the kosher salt and the ground black pepper into a uniform blend.
Make sure that the grill is very hot, and make sure that the grill bars are all nicely oiled and are nonstick.
Place your shrimp skewers on a plate. Shake the seasoning mix for the shrimp and squeeze onto your shrimp skewers enough to coat them well. Take a pinch of the kosher salt and pepper mix and uniformly sprinkle on the skewer. Use this plate ONLY for raw skewers.
Immediately place the seasoned skewers on the grill and allow to cook on high heat over the flames for about one-and-a-half or two minutes. Flip the skewers on their other sides when the shrimp’s color changes to orange. Cook on both sides until all translucent parts of the shrimp disappear and every part of the shrimp becomes firmly opaque.
Take the cooked skewers off the grill and place on a hot plate that is used ONLY for cooked skewers. Shake the seasoning mix for the shrimp and squeeze enough onto the shrimp skewers to coat them well. Take a pinch of the kosher salt and pepper mix and uniformly sprinkle on each skewer.
Immediately serve with your choice of a base of greens such as arugula or shredded romaine lettuce, a mix of tomatoes and cucumbers, your favorite lightly seasoned potato salad, slices of bread, olive oil-dressed pasta with chopped herbs, rice, or any other of your favorite bases for protein.
Ice Cream Lollicones
8 mini sugar cones
1 pint vanilla ice cream
3 kiwi fruits
1/2 lb. fresh strawberries or fresh raspberries
Carefully wash and thoroughly clean the berries and the kiwi.
Peel the kiwi fruit and remove the hard stem. Puree with a hand blender until it has a uniform consistency.
Puree the berries with a hand blender until they have a uniform consistency.
Put two or three scoops of vanilla ice cream in each cone. Drizzle the ice cream with your choice of the fruit blends.
Recipes courtesy of Ramin Behtash.
Photo credit (hero): Rawpixel, Shutterstock
Photo credit (food): Citra Grill