The general idea is to get a little char on the food over the remaining coals, then move it off to the side and let it cook slow and low.
While some people consider grilling over charcoal to be cumbersome, we love every part of it. To us, it’s like an old friend who demands a certain measure of care and attention.
We enjoy not just the end result (to our taste, it beats out anything cooked over gas), but also the whole process. We like building the fire; we like positioning the lighted coals to direct the heat; we like maneuvering the food around the grill. We even get some perverse pleasure from cleaning out the ashes.
So it always seems a shame that a lot of the grilling fire’s power goes to waste. Even if you are industrious and grill some potatoes or corn for a side dish at the same time as your chops or steak, there’s still plenty of heat left after all that cooking is done. The coals just sadly burn out as you eat, and that’s no way to treat a friend.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can use the heat of a waning fire to supply your pantry for the week to come. Just put a couple of ingredients on the grill as you take your dinner off and let them cook until you feel like coming back and harvesting them.
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The general idea is to get a little char on the food over the remaining coals, then move it off to the side and let it cook slow and low. The best choices are items that only get better as they become more tender, so you don’t have to worry about overcooking. You also want food that can last for several days in the refrigerator without a loss of flavor or texture.
There are many ingredients that fill this particular bill. Bell peppers, eggplants and tomatoes are all good choices; they can spend a long time over low heat without suffering, and their uses are many.
But we are fans of bold flavors, so our favorites for this approach are citrus, chilies and onions.
Thin slices of lemon work fine on the grill, but we prefer to halve them for this technique. The lemons are ready when they have some good char on the cut surfaces (black stripes are good here, not bad) and have softened enough to collapse easily when gently squeezed with tongs. The lemon juice adds a warm, subtle smokiness to chimichurri, the all-purpose Argentine green sauce.
Grilled in the same fashion, smoky limes have an even more distinctive flavor than lemons. We are partial to the sharp smokiness their juice adds to a Vietnamese-style dipping sauce.
There are many possible options for the chilies, but we tend to use jalapeños because they are large enough to handle easily on the grill.
When it comes to onions, the slightly sweeter red ones are our choice. Sliced into rings about a half-inch thick, they can just be plunked directly onto the grill, if you are particularly handy at flipping things with tongs. Less dexterous grillers can simply slide a skewer through the onions horizontally to keep the rings together. After grilling, roughly chop the onions and make yourself smoky barbecue-flavored chutney.
But you get the point: Respect the fire, and it will in turn reward you with livelier dinners later in the week.
SMOKY LIME-CHILI DIPPING SAUCE
Makes about 1 cup
3 to 4 limes, halved crosswise
2 red or green jalapeños, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons roughly chopped Thai basil
1. Coat limes and jalapeños lightly with oil and place on grill over medium heat, cut sides down. Cook until cut sides are golden brown streaked with black, four to five minutes. Flip over and move to side or back of grill where temperature is low. Cook until limes and chilies are soft enough to yield easily when squeezed with tongs, at least five and up to 20 minutes. Remove from grill and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
2. To make sauce, mince jalapeños and place in medium-size bowl. Squeeze 1/3 cup juice from limes into bowl with jalapeños, then add all remaining ingredients and whisk together. This sauce keeps, covered and refrigerated, about three days.
Makes about 2 cups
4 to 6 lemons, halved crosswise
1 red or green jalapeño, stemmed and halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ cups roughly chopped parsley
¼ cup minced garlic (roughly 8 large cloves)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin seed
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1. Coat lemons and jalapeño lightly with oil and place on grill over medium heat, cut side down. Cook until cut sides are golden brown streaked with black, four to five minutes. Flip over and move to side or back of grill where temperature is low; cook until lemons and chilies are soft enough to yield easily when squeezed by tongs, at least five and up to 20 minutes. Remove from grill and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
2. To make chimichurri, mince jalapeños and place in medium-size bowl. Squeeze ½ cup juice from lemons into bowl with jalapeños, then add all remaining ingredients and whisk together. Let stand for at least 30 minutes before serving. This relish will keep, covered and refrigerated, about three days.
BARBECUE RED ONION CHUTNEY
Makes about 2 cups
3 large red onions cut into half-inch circles
Vegetable oil for coating
1 tablespoon plus ½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup cider vinegar
1. Thread two onion circles horizontally onto each metal skewer, if using, and coat onions lightly with oil. Mix together 1 tablespoon each brown sugar, chili powder, cumin and curry powder and rub onion circles all over with the mixture.
2. Place onions on grill over coals and cook until cut sides are golden brown streaked with black, three to four minutes per side. Move to side or back of grill where temperature is low and cook, flipping once or twice, until onions are soft enough to yield easily when squeezed with tongs, at least 15 and up to 40 minutes, removing smaller onions from grill as they become cooked to this stage. Remove from grill and, if not using immediately, refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
3. To make chutney, roughly chop onions. Heat olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook until very soft, about five to 10 minutes. Add remaining ½ cup brown sugar and cider vinegar, bring to a simmer and cook 10 minutes, until slightly thickened. This chutney keeps, covered and refrigerated, about a week.