After the relatively cold winter we had in New Orleans recently, the warm weather of spring and summer has many folks eager to fire up the grill. There’s something primal about cooking food over direct heat, and although it’s traditionally characterized as a male pursuit, there’s no reason to put that kind of limit on it. Grilling is a versatile cooking method, particularly if you have a large enough space to accommodate fires of varying heat under your food.

The recipes that follow are fairly simple and designed as a complete menu that you can prepare quickly. They are designed to serve four, but you can adjust things for more or fewer diners.

all fired up

grilled zucchini with mint and feta

Every summer, local gardens run over with zucchini. Because there’s already garlic in the marinade for the lamb, I’ve made it optional for this recipe, but if you’re a fan, by all means add a clove or two to the recipe where indicated.

4 large zucchini, quartered
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic (optional)
1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves
1/2 cup feta, diced or crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste
Season the zucchini with salt, and coat them with the olive oil. If you’re using garlic, mince it and combine it with the olive oil before coating the zucchini.
Stack and roll the mint leaves lengthwise, and cut them crossways into ribbons as thinly as you can.
Cook the quarters on a hot grill for a minute or two on each side. Zucchini cooks quickly, and all you really want to do is sear the exterior. Remove the zucchini from the heat when they’re done, and place them on a platter. Season again with freshly ground black pepper and a little salt, being mindful that the feta is already pretty salty, and then top with the crumbled or diced feta and the mint.

marinated grilled lamb chops

Lamb chops come in two varieties: loin or rib. Either will work in this recipe, though the larger loin chops will require a bit more cooking. The chops here get a flavor boost from a quick marinade, but that’s the most time-intensive part of this recipe.

8 lamb chops
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ripe lemon
Mince the garlic, and bruise the rosemary leaves with the back of a knife. Combine them with the olive oil in a baking dish or a gallon-size plastic storage bag. Season the lamb chops with salt, and add them to the marinade. Let the chops sit around 30 minutes, preferably at room temperature. If you plan to let them marinate much longer, put the lamb in the refrigerator, but before you put the meat on the fire, let it come to room temperature.
Start a charcoal fire, or set your gas grill to high.
Remove the lamb from the marinade, and wipe off excess oil. For medium-rare chops, grill over direct heat for around 3 minutes per side if you’re using hardwood charcoal and around 4 minutes per side using briquettes or gas.
When the lamb is cooked to your liking, remove it from the grill, and season again with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cut the lemon into wedges, and serve with the lamb, to be squeezed over the meat. I won’t tell anyone if you serve some mint or pepper jelly, as well.

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couscous with currants and almonds

Couscous benefits from a little sweetness, here provided by either currants or raisins, depending on your preference.
This recipe will also benefit from homemade stock, but it’s not entirely necessary; if you use water, just increase the salt a bit.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 large onion, finely diced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 cup currants or raisins
2 cups couscous
3 cups water or stock
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

   Melt the butter in a wide sauté pan that has a cover. Sauté the onion on medium-low heat until it softens and becomes translucent. Season with salt, cumin, black pepper and coriander. Add the currants or raisins, the toasted slivered almonds and the stock or water, and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat, and let the currants or raisins plump in the simmering liquid for 5 minutes. Then add the couscous, cover tightly, and remove from the heat. The couscous will be ready in 5 minutes. Taste, and season with salt. You also can add some additional butter, stirred in off the heat.

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grilled peaches

Peaches are great on the grill because they caramelize beautifully and in very little time. They’re also in season during prime grilling weather. 

4 peaches
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon water
Pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Vanilla ice cream
Italian sesame or almond cookies

Cut the peaches in half, and remove the pits.

Combine the honey, vinegar, water, a pinch of salt and the black pepper in a small saucepan, and heat on a low flame to incorporate. Let the mixture cool a bit, and then dip the cut side of the peaches into the mixture, removing them to a rack, cut side up, afterward.

Before you cook the peaches, wipe down your grill with a rag soaked in oil to prevent sticking. Grill the peaches, cut side down, for around 2 minutes on a very hot grill, and  then flip and continue cooking for a minute or two before removing.
Place two peach halves in a bowl, top with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream, and serve Italian sesame or almond cookies (Angelo Brocato’s is a great purveyor) on the side.

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pimm’s cup

The Pimm’s Cup as we know it in New Orleans is a fine drink. Generally made with ginger ale and Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur and garnished with a cucumber slice, it originated in Britain. There, it’s more often made with lemonade than ginger ale and garnished with fruit. If you are pressed for time, substitute a good lemon soda for the lemon juice, ginger simple syrup and club soda –– San Pellegrino’s Limonata is a pretty good choice. 

1 ounce ginger simple syrup (recipe follows)
1.5 ounces Pimm’s No. 1
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 to 4 ounces club soda
Fruit, cucumber and mint to garnish

Make the simple syrup by combining 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water in a heavy saucepan on medium-low heat.

When the sugar has completely dissolved, add about 5 to 6 tablespoons of chopped fresh ginger. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, and then leave the ginger to infuse for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, and reserve.

Fill a tall glass with ice, and then add the Pimm’s, lemon juice and ginger simple syrup. Stir to combine, and then add the soda, and garnish with a slice of cucumber; a couple of raspberries, blueberries or sliced strawberries; a lemon or orange slice; a small sprig of mint; or any combination you prefer.