NEW YORK, June 18 (Reuters) - Award-winning chef turned Harvard lecturer Barton Seaver believes the outdoor grill can be the best way to cook food, particularly in the summer months.
In his latest book, "Where There's Smoke: Simple, Sustainable, Delicious Grilling," Seaver includes more than 150 recipes, ideas and tips for fueling the weekend barbecue.
"A lush garden, a green backyard, friends and family gathered round and nice weather. To me that's highest and best use of food," said Seaver.
The 34-year-old chef spoke to Reuters from Boston about grilling and why he left the restaurant business to become director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard's School of Public Health.
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: Grilling is really my favorite method of cooking, in that the heat source itself becomes an ingredient in the final dish. And funnily enough the months in which we traditionally grill, happen to be the months within which food is at its peak.
Q: How does grilling reflect your approach to cooking?
A: The style of food I cook is very ingredient centric. I'm not a manipulator of flavors. I seek rather to highlight, accentuate and expand upon the natural flavors of good fresh ingredients.
Q: What is a common grilling mistake?
A: Never, ever put a large pile of charcoal in the center of the grill. Put all your coals over to one side. Put your steak there to give it that crisp outer crust, then move it to the cool part of the grill to smolder. Now throw your kale on the hot side so it's beautifully crispy, crunchy, crackly. Put the eggplant in the middle for medium heat. That's an efficient use of heat ... The lesson of Prometheus was that we can't control fire. But we sure as hell can control how far away from the fire we are.
Q: Do we underuse the grill?
A: Many people see the grill as mostly a vehicle for protein. To me the great joy of eating a meal around the grill is the bevy of sides that so often really make the meal."
Q: What are some essential ingredients for grilling?
A: Smoking wood and other aromatics, such as dried herbs, dried nutmeg, dried thyme. Smoke has the capacity to provide the beautiful baseline flavors through which the natural flavors of your ingredients really shine. Not all woods pair with all food: I wouldn't grill bluefish with a strong hickory fire ... And I can't do without olive oil and the light, bright levity that lemon juice can bring.
Q: How did you learn to cook?
A: My parents were talented cooks and I was born and raised in a multi-ethnic neighborhood of Washington, D.C., so we were exposed to a lot of different flavors. That appreciation led me to enter the Culinary Institute of America. It's been a wonderful, creative, energetic passionate career and I really enjoyed my time in the kitchen.
Q: Why did you leave it to take a policy position at Harvard?
A: My passions were divided between feeding people and really working with food systems to bring better options to the table. How can we help people understand that healthy people are the product of healthy environments? What are we trying to sustain? Ourselves.
Garlic-Yogurt Mashed Potatoes (Serves 4 as a side dish)
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, each peeled and cut into 8 pieces
6 cloves garlic, each cut in half
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
Seaver likes to use yogurt instead of butter in the recipe because its acidity heightens the other flavors. He prefers full-fat Greek-style yogurt, but any unsweetened plain yogurt will do. Another great choice is labne, a Middle Eastern-style yogurt.
Put the potatoes and garlic in a pan that is big enough to hold them, but not overly large. Add enough water to barely cover and season generously with salt. (Potatoes absorb water as they cook, so if the water is seasoned, the potatoes will taste great throughout. If you try to season them at the end, it often doesn't produce the same results. Also, the potatoes' flavor is water-soluble, so the more water you use to cook them, the weaker the taste will be.)
Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are soft and just beginning to fall apart. Drain, reserving some of the cooking water. Add the yogurt to the potatoes and mash together. If they are a little too thick, add the reserved cooking water a few tablespoons at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. (Editing by Patricia Reaney and Cynthia Osterman)