Easy Summer Cooking with Fruit and Berries on the Grill

FIRM FRUITS LIKE APPLES, PINEAPPLES & PEARS ARE EASIEST TO GRILL: THEY HOLD THEIR SHAPE AND TEXTURE

Summer is the season for lighter fare and nothing says light and bright better than a colourful array of grilled fruits. They can be the crowning glory to any indoor or outdoor feast, and not only do grilled fruits make for a luscious dessert — they are perfect for serving as appetizers and side dishes, too.

I discovered the joy of grilling fruits a few years ago when I received a new-fangled indoor electric grill from my kids as a gift. So I enthusiastically set up the grill and, lucky for me, recalled an article that I had read about the healthful benefits of eating naturally sweet grilled fruits! The goal is to simply use the heat of the grill to turn some of the natural sugar (or added sugar) in the fruit into a caramel-like sweetness that leaves the mouth watering for more.

What a wonderful way to increase my family’s intake of fruit. (When I was a kid, grandma always claimed that fruit consumption was the number one way to keep the body in good running order and the mind sharp as a pin! Modern day research adds that eating more fruits helps ward off heart disease, stroke, obesity and various types of cancers.)

Any fruit – even those high in water content such as watermelon – can be grilled. And greener fruits such as unripe pears or extra firm green apples can benefit from a quick soak in iced lemon water before grilling; this plumps them up by maximizing the liquid contained in the flesh so they remain juicy when cooking. If you wish to soak hard fruits first, put two tablespoons of lemon juice in enough ice water to cover fruit and leave for about 15 minutes.

Firm fruits such as apples, pineapples, and pears are easier to grill since they hold their shape and texture better than softer fruits such as peaches, plums, mangos and kiwis, which can become mushy if overdone. But the secret to perfectly grilled softer fruits is simple – give them only a very quick stint on the grill, with just enough time to spur the sugars to react to the heat and for the grill to leave its imprint!

Grilling Tips and Tricks

When choosing fruits for grilling try to select those that are very fresh and firm or even a little on the green side. Summer is the perfect season to focus on the 100-Mile Diet, which revolves around eating organic, locally grown foods harvested within a hundred mile radius of your home.

You can keep the grill loaded all summer long, starting with the season’s earliest offerings of sweet, tame strawberries, and eating your way through to summer blueberries and the last of the autumn plums, apples and other tree fruits.

Many fruits such as apples, plums, peaches, pears and apricots are extra easy to prepare for grilling. Just cut in half, remove the cores or stones, cut to desired size, and they are ready to hit the heat. Once fruits are cut and exposed to air, the flesh can turn brown quickly and nutrients can be lost, so unless you’re soaking them in cold lemon water do not cut fruits until you are ready to grill them.

I prefer to leave the skins on for two reasons: one is to protect all the nutrients the fruits have to offer; and two is that leaving the skins on softer fruits such as peaches, apricots and plums helps the fruits hold their shape better during cooking. Of course, wash the fruits well if you intend on serving them with the skins on as some folks like me can’t resist eating skins and all.

Halved fruit and larger pieces can be placed directly on the grill. Whole tame strawberries can be placed on the grill if large enough. If not, they can be threaded on skewers or done in a special barbecue accessory called a grill basket. Blueberries and raspberries can also be grilled in a grill basket. The hot luscious berries make a mouthwatering dessert when swirled into creamy smooth yogurt.

Barbecue Fun with Bamboo Skewers

Bamboo skewers are loads of fun to work with and whether you’re skewering up an appetizer or loading up a dessert stick, no two creations ever have to be the same! It’s a dining adventure to skewer up other bites of food such as assorted vegetables or meat, along with assorted fruit pieces for far-out appetizers or dinner kebabs that everyone loves.

Fruit kebabs are always a big hit at backyard barbecue parties, especially if you let everyone skewer up and grill their own artistic creations. After the main course is over, I bring out an assortment of fruits and a tumbler of soaked bamboo skewers and let guests assemble their own dessert kebabs for the grill. Apple wedges, quartered oranges and kiwis, whole tame strawberries, banana chunks, halved plums, pineapple wedges and pear chunks are just a few picks that make a delicious assembly on the skewer.

I also like to put out a dish of basting sauce and several brushes. A simple basting sauce can be made by blending  melted butter (or coconut oil) mixed with enough honey or maple syrup to sweeten and spice it up with ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, powdered ginger or whatever you desire. Unused sauce can be stored in the fridge for next time around. You don’t need the basting sauce but it adds an extra boost of spicy sweetness to the fruits.

When grilling fruits, especially those intended for dessert, always start with a very clean rack. If possible, it is best to have a special rack that can be saved just for cooking fruits on as you do not want the delicate flavour of the fruits to pick up a hint of meat, fish, onion or garlic from your last cookout. If you are grilling fruits skewered alternatively with meats or seafood, then it is fine if flavours mingle. Otherwise, ensure that racks are very clean.

Grill fruits over medium heat. The electric grill is excellent for cooking fruit as the heat is easier to control than charcoal and various other types of grills. If you are using coals that are starting to die down, place the fruits toward the outer edges of the grate as heat may be too intense and fruits can burn.

To prevent fruits from sticking, spray cooking racks with non-stick food spray or lightly oil with vegetable oil.  Olive oil can be used, but keep in mind that it is a little richer in flavour than vegetable oil and may overpower the taste of more delicate flavoured fruits.

For adult occasions, fruit soaked in port, sherry, rum or brandy leaves a lasting impression. If fruit is infused just right with enough alcohol, you can make a grand flambé presentation on the grill. If soaking fruit in alcohol, you may wish to poke the fruit full of holes with a fork, which will help it to absorb more of the soak. One of my favourite fruits done with this method is pears soaked in sweet, thick Hungarian Pear liquor.

Fresh herbs are excellent for garnishing grilled fruits. I like mint and lavender with fruits that are being served as dessert. Basil and thyme are good on fruits that accompany poultry, beef or other meats. And dill, lemon thyme, and parsley are ideal herbs to go with seafood.

Fruits are naturally sweet so they do not need additional sugar. But if you wish to enhance their sweetness without using a buttery basting sauce, a light sweep of maple syrup or honey adds a pleasant glaze and a wonderful hint of woodland sweetness, especially to tart fruits such as pineapple and oranges, as does a dusting of brown sugar. But be careful as sugar tends to burn easily.

Below are some fun, easy recipes for appetizers, side-dishes and desserts, proof positive that there are hundreds of ways to enjoy grilled fruits all year round.

Spiked Granny Apples

Remove cores and slice unpeeled Granny Smith’s or other tart apples crosswise to make apple rings 1/4 inch thick. Save end pieces of apples for snacking on. Place in enough iced lemon water to cover. Toss in a cinnamon stick, some whole cloves, and a cracked nutmeg pod. Let stand about 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Place apple rings on grill and cook one to two minutes per side, basting with sauce, if desired. If using the backyard charcoal grill, toss the spent cinnamon stick, cloves and nutmeg pod onto the coals for more intense flavour and aroma. These apple rings can be served with a drizzle of yogurt or fruit syrup for dessert, or serve them as a side dish with other dishes.

Grilled Oranges

Grilled organic oranges are juicy and wonderful to bite into while hot and dripping with sweetness. Cut unpeeled oranges crosswise into 1/4 inch slices. Place on the grill. Cook about one minute and flip over. Brush with basting sauce, if you desire a little extra sweetness. Oranges are ready when imprints have been made on the undersides.

Lana’s Grilled Bananas

My daughter, Lana, was the first in our house to discover that bananas are excellent when grilled. There is a trick, however, to getting them done just right. Here’s how Lana does her bananas: leaving skin on, slice nice firm banana in half lengthwise and then quarter. Place skin side down on grill and cook about two minutes or until it begins to soften. Flip over and cook until imprints are made. They are now ready to wolf down.

The bananas can also be made into a new-fangled grilled banana split by topping with chopped grilled pineapple, ice cream, chocolate or fruit syrup, a scatter of nuts, and a cherry. This is another one of those desserts that you can put out all the fixings for, and let your guests assemble their own – a treat that everyone goes gaga over.

Foolproof Grilled Berries

Berries, such as blueberries and raspberries, are fun to grill. The only secret to dishing up sweet, hot juicy berries is to have a solid, grill-proof container to cook them in. A grilling basket is perfect for this, just make sure the mesh holes are tiny so the berries do not slip through. Pour in the berries, set them on the grill and cook until they start to get bubbly. A couple brushes of basting sauce gives the berries extra sweetness and a bit of gooey gloss. Serve them over ice-cream, yogurt, sorbet or as a drizzle sauce for grilled meats.

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