WHILE A SELF-MADE dinner can significantly cut calories, lighting up an apartment-friendly grill instead of a frying pan can do it best. With some minor tweaking, a summer meal can be more than high-fat burgers and sweet marinades. Foods that aren’t typically cooked outdoors, like tempeh and pineapple, can be grilled to heart-healthy perfection with just minimal effort. "Being healthy doesn’t mean you have to compromise taste," said Vladimir Grinberg, owner of East Village restaurant The Organic Grill.
Grinberg and his staff know the benefits of healthy grilling first-hand.
"When my mother had cancer, she read an article about macrobiotic food. It suggested that people who changed their eating habits had more time to live," Grinberg said of his first exposure to wholesome eating 10 years ago. At the time, being health-conscious wasn’t trendy and widespread. Besides Angelica’s Kitchen on East 12th Street, vegans and health nuts were limited in dining out options.
"I was a virgin in the field. I decided to learn more about it so I could cook for my mother," said Grinberg, who soon after decided to open the restaurant. The mentality behind The Organic Grill was recognizing that vegan ingredients like tofu and tempeh don’t necessarily make something healthy. Vegetarian restaurants often fry their proteins and drench the food in high-calorie sauces. Grilled foods, on the other hand, require fewer ingredients.
"Our most popular dishes are the grilled ones," said Grinberg of unique menu options like barbecued pizza (the dough is baked in an oven first) or paninis smeared with sundried tomato mayonnaise. Manager Julia Chebotar prefers a grilled panini to a classic one. "It gives great texture to the crust and bread," she said. "The cheese melts differently—it’s less gummy. Not to mention, it eliminates unnecessary oil and the vegetables give off their own aroma and juice."
Like the crew at The Organic Grill, Rich Wachtel is a grill enthusiast who has a no-holds-barred approach to summer’s preferred method of cooking. Since starting the D.C.-based GrillingWithRich. com just over a year ago, Wachtel and his contributors have posted innovative recipes featuring everything from avocado to sushi. "It’s a one-stop shop for grilling adventures from around the country," said Wachtel of his site, which regularly posts product reviews, recipes and video how-tos for approximately 10,000 monthly visitors. "The goal is to bridge the gap between amateurs and professionals. Anyone can do it!" Monthly contributor Rebecca Risser advocates that "anyone" can mean city folk, too.
While Wachtel prefers cooking up beefy burgers in his suburban backyard, Risser prides herself on being an "urban griller." When this Texan made the move to a D.C. apartment, she found ways to make grilling conducive to her cramped city lifestyle. Products like stovetop grills are sold at Bed Bath & Beyond and Home Depot for convenient, indoor grilling. To get the ultimate smoky taste of an outdoor barbecue, Cuisinart makes portable, tabletop grills ($150 on Amazon). Risser insists that although your barbecue may lack the backdrop of a lush green lawn, it can still have the same superb taste. For first-time grillers, Wachtel suggests using your iPad for some assistance. Apps like the Weber Grilling App can set timers, provide recipe ideas and help you keep track of your own creations. Remember, it’s all about trial and error.
"Be fearless!" encouraged Wachtel.
Chebotar agrees there is no need to fret. "Almost anything can be grilled. People just need to be willing to try something new." She suggested a sesame-crusted tempeh burger with grilled onions for a fresh take on barbecued burgers. Tofu and seitan are also versatile protein options, since they absorb flavors really well.
Ultimately, not everything has to be a burger—lots of fruits and vegetables work surprisingly well on the grill, too. "Those high in sugar and fat work best," said Risser, pointing to her grilled avocado recipe from the Grilling with Rich site. Watery produce, like Brussels sprouts, should be brushed with olive oil beforehand in order to cook properly. Fruits with a lot of sugar caramelize when cooked on the grill, making a quick and savory dessert. With the right gear and creative ingredients, a three-course meal courtesy of your portable grill is within reach.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS (GRILLING WITH RICH)
2 cups Brussels sprouts 1 tbsp. olive oil 1 tbsp. lemon juice Salt to taste BBQ rub
outer leaves from Brussels sprouts. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice,
BBQ rub and salt. Cook for 5 minutes on stovetop grill, flipping once in
the middle. If grilling outdoors, make sure the grates of the grill are
close enough together to prevent any sprouts from falling through.
CARAMELIZED FRUIT (GRILLING WITH RICH)
1 Apple 1 Pear 1 Peach 1 Pineapple 2 scoops of your favorite ice cream
the apple, pear and peach into quarters and brush with some light
butter or margarine. Cut the pineapple into slices and do the same.
Grill over medium heat for 5 minutes on each side. Flip halfway through.
Remove from grill and cut pineapple into cubes.
TEMPEH KEBABS WITH ROSEMARY TAHINI SAUCE (DANIEL LIMA, HEAD CHEF AT THE ORGANIC GRILL)
1-oz. slices of tempeh 4 onions 4 slices of tomato 4 slices of green
peppers Alternate all ingredients on skewers and grill evenly on each
For sauce: Mix 4 oz. tahini with garlic, rosemary and oregano to taste.