A good friend called today looking for a menu suggestion for a graduation open house over the weekend. She wanted a chicken “something” to cook in a crock pot to serve as sandwiches, along the lines of Sloppy Joes. Mentally, I couldn’t get there. First, I don’t know such a recipe. But with 95° temperatures, why not cook on the grill? I suggested marinated chicken breasts or thighs, grilling them a day ahead, and serving them sliced diagonally over a refreshing salad for the party. A great salad could include fresh pineapple, mango, bell pepper, red onion, and grated carrot. Even raisins or red grapes, slivered almonds, sunflower seeds would make nice additions. Balancing sweet and savory flavors makes a successful salad combination, very welcome on a hot afternoon. Equal parts of unseasoned rice vinegar and low sodium tamari, stirred with ½ part dark sesame oil and a touch of agave nectar lend an Asian flavor to the salad, something different and easy.
When cooking for a crowd, working ahead leaves us free to greet our guests and relaxed enough to enjoy them. And a buffet spread allows guests to serve themselves when they are ready, perfect for informal get-togethers.
Any grilled meat can be sliced thin and served on a platter with strips of grilled vegetables, everything from eggplant to zucchini, peppers and onions. I’ve used asparagus, Anaheim chilies, all kinds of summer squashes. Wash the vegetables. Peel asparagus, halve the peppers or chilies, slice the squashes ½ inch thick. Eggplant can be cut either into rounds or strips. Onions sliced crosswise are held together with toothpicks. A little olive oil, salt and pepper are all you need. Preheat the grill, then cook the vegetables over low heat to soften rather than char them. It might be a good idea to break out a grill basket to avoid losing half the veggies through the spaces in the grill grate. Slice the meats and vegetables into long strips and arrange on a platter with fresh cilantro, basil, even mint, and a few lime quarters. Pineapple spears and fresh mango are nice additions, as are sliced tomatoes, avocado, and red leaf lettuce. Serve with warmed tortillas, slices of Monterey Jack or Provolone cheese, and a couple of dressings: mayonnaise mixed with lime juice and about 1/8 tsp. chipotle powder, or the following delicious avocado dressing:
Fresh Avocado Dressing:
1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
1 cup sour cream
¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 ¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground chipotle powder or other chili powder, to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. You can thin it with a little cream, if you like, or even water. While good at room temperature, if the wraps are made while the ingredients are still hot, the cheese melts slightly for a lovely flavor and texture.