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Vibrant flavors are born from a fire’s dying embers

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Chilies and lime halves left to gather smokiness in a grill’s dying heat can be turned into a Vietnamese-style dipping sauce forgrilled shrimp.

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 result (to our taste, it beats out anything cooked over gas), but also the process. We like building the fire, positioning the lighted coals to direct the heat, 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 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. 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.

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.

Many ingredients 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:

>> Cook lemon halves until they have some good char (black stripes) on the cut surfaces 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. Their juice adds sharp smokiness to a Vietnamese-style dipping sauce.

>> There are many options for chilies, but we use jalapenos because they are large enough to handle easily.

>> For 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, or skewer them horizontally to keep the rings together. Roughly chop the grilled onions and make yourself smoky barbecue-flavored chutney.

You get the point: Respect the fire, and it will reward you with livelier dinners later in the week. This, as Humphrey Bogart might have said, could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Barbecue Red Onion Chutney

  • 3 large red onions cut into 1/2-inch circles
  • Vegetable oil for coating
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin powder
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar

Thread two onion circles horizontally onto each metal skewer, if using, and coat onions lightly with oil.

Combine 1 tablespoon brown sugar with the chili, cumin and curry powders and rub onion circles all over with the mixture.

Place onions on grill over coals and cook until cut sides are golden brown streaked with black, 3 to 4 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.

To make chutney: Roughly chop onions. Heat olive oil in large saute pan over medium until shimmering. Add onions and cook until very soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar and cider vinegar, bring to a simmer and cook 10 minutes, until slightly thickened. This chutney keeps, covered and refrigerated, about 1 week. Makes about 2 cups.

Smoky Chimichurri

  • 4 to 6 lemons, halved crosswise
  • 1 red or green jalapeno, stemmed and halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1-1/2 cups roughly chopped parsley
  • 1/4 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

Coat lemons and jalapeno lightly with oil and place on grill over medium heat, cut side down. Cook until cut sides are golden brown streaked with black, 4 to 5 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 5 and up to 20 minutes. Remove from grill and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.

To make chimichurri: Mince jalapenos and place in bowl. Squeeze 1/2 cup juice from lemons into bowl with jalapenos, then whisk in remaining ingredients. Let stand at least 30 minutes. This relish will keep, covered and refrigerated, about 3 days. Makes about 2 cups.

Smoky Lime-Chili Dipping Sauce

  • 3 to 4 limes, halved crosswise
  • 2 red or green jalapenos, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped Thai basil

Coat limes and jalapenos lightly with oil and place on grill over medium heat, cut sides down. Cook until cut sides are golden brown and streaked with black, 4 to 5 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 5 and up to 20 minutes. Remove from grill and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.

To make sauce: Mince jalapenos and place in medium bowl. Squeeze 1/3 cup juice from limes into bowl with jalapenos, then whisk in remaining ingredients. This sauce keeps, covered and refrigerated, about 3 days. Makes about 1 cup.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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