Sample text for Southwestern grilling : light & simple cooking year-round / Jane Stacey ; photography by Ann Stratton.

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Counter Gone are the days when grilling meant only thick slabs of T-bone steak or sauce-laden racks of ribs.  Our growing consciousness about healthful eating and our appreciation of other cuisines have spawned an explosion of a new kind of cooking much of which is particularly well suited to grilling.  Today, for example, we are using lean, thinner cuts of meat, poultry, and fish that cook quickly, and often serving vegetables, and even salads, as main dishes

The Southwest's unique array of seasonings and ingredients is ideally suited for grilled foods.  Chiles, fresh or dried, grilled or roasted, offer a whole world of flavors that are often more pronounced than their heat, adding character to simple grilled foods.  To contrast with the warm, dark accents of chiles, Southwestern cooking often uses the bright, clean taste of lime juice both to flavor and tenderize food.  Cumin, cilantro, and other herbs and spices contribute additional flavors.  Salsas, in their colorful and seemingly endless variety, accentuate the freshness of grilled poultry, fish, and meat.  What was once an occasional summertime ritual has for many become a year-round celebration.

Smoky Tomato Soup (serves 4)

The rich dark flavor of this soup comes from the combination of grilled ripe tomatoes and red bell pepper, with a hint of red wine.  Just barely cooking the soup keeps the flavors fresh.

10 plum tomatoes, halved
1 medium-size red bell pepper, halved, cored & seeded
1/2 medium-size onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt & freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
12 large shrimp (about 1/2 pound), peeled & deveined
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon medium-hot pure chile powder
Low-fat sour cream, for garnish

Preheat the grill to medium and brush with oil.  Soak four 6- to 8-inch bamboo skewers in cold water for at least 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and the cumin.  Toss, season with salt and pepper, and toss again.

Grill the vegetables, turning them, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the tomato skins are blistered and brown, the pepper is softened, and the onion is tender. Remove and set aside.

In a small skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook, for about 1 minute.  Add the red wine and transfer to a food processor.

Add the grilled vegetables and crushed tomatoes to the food processor; process until smooth.  Press the vegetables through a food mill into a large saucepan. Add the broth and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a medium-size bowl, combine the shrimp, vinegar, and chile powder and toss until the shrimp are evenly coated.  Thread the shrimp onto the skewers.  Grill for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until the shrimp arc bright pink and firm to the touch.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, place a shrimp skewer on each rim, and garnish with a spoonful of sour cream.

Chile Rubbed Beef (serves 4)

It is difficult to improve upon grilled tenderloin of beef, but this red chile rub succeeds admirably.  The rub ingredients blend to form a subtle dark smokiness just discernible under the rich beef flavor.

Four 1-inch thick beef fillet steaks (about 6 ounces each)

1 large bunch arugula, trimmed, washed & dried

Red Chile Rub:
1/3 cup mild or medium-hot pure chile powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Avocado Salsa:
2 plum tomatoes, halved
2 jalape±o chiles, halved, seeded & ribs removed
2 medium-size ripe avocados, halved, pitted, peeled & cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove, minced
l/8 teaspoon salt

Put the fillet steaks into a shallow baking dish.

Prepare the red chile rub: In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, combine all the rub ingredients and process or pound until finely ground.  Spread the rub evenly over both sides of the beef.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 or up to 6 hours.

Preheat the grill to medium-high, set a vegetable grill rack on top, and brush with oil.

Prepare the avocado salsa: Grill the tomatoes and jalape±os, turning occasionally, for 4 to 7 minutes, or until the skins are browned.  Remove and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch dice and put into a medium-size bowl.  Mince the jalape±os and add to the bowl.  Add the avocados, cilantro, garlic, and salt, mixing evenly.

Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

Grill the fillet steaks for 4 minutes on each side for rare (110        F on a meat thermometer), or to the desired degree of doneness.  Remove to a plate.

To serve, place some arugula leaves in the center of each serving plate.  Put a fillet steak on top and spoon some avocado salsa on the top.  Serve hot.

Tequila Shrimp Tacos (serves 4)

Tequila and citrus are natural partners.  Here, it's fresh orange juice that mellows tequila's punch to prevent the marinade from overwhelming the delicate flavor of the shrimp.

3/4 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled & deveined
12 cherry tomatoes
2 Anaheim chiles, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
8 small flour tortillas
Lime wedges, for serving

Tequila marinade:
1/3 cup tequila
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon coarsely ground hot pure chiles
1/8 teaspoon salt

Prepare the tequila marinade: In a medium-size bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients and whisk until combined.  Add the shrimp, tossing until well coated.  Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 or up to 24 hours.

Preheat the grill to high and brush with oil.  Soak four 10-inch bamboo skewers in cold water for at least 30 minutes.

Thread the shrimp, cherry tomatoes, and chiles alternately onto the skewers. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, brushing once or twice with the marinade, or until the shrimp are bright pink and firm to touch and the peppers are lightly browned and slightly softened.  Remove and keep warm  Grill the tortillas for about 20 seconds on each side, or until puffed.

To serve, remove the shrimp, tomatoes, and chiles from the skewers and put onto the warm tortillas.  Squeeze some lime juice over and roll the tortillas up for eating.

Southwestern Panzanella

Grilled chunks of crusty bread and vine-ripened tomatoes are the base for this red chile-spiked bread salad.  Grilling the bread adds crunchiness, and the grilled tomatoes impart a delicious smoky quality.

Four 3/4-inch-thick large slices crusty bread
1 pound plum tomatoes, halved
12 Spanish green olives
2 tablespoons each coarsely chopped fresh basil fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
Salt & freshly ground pepper

Cumin vinaigrette:
5 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons coarsely ground mild or hot pure chiles
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons each red wine vinegar & fresh lemon juice

Preheat the grill to medium-hot and brush with oil.

Prepare the cumin vinaigrette: In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic, coarsely ground chiles, and cumin.  Cook, stirring, for 1 minute, or until the garlic has softened and the cumin is fragrant.  Transfer to a small bowl.  Add the wine to the skillet and return to the heat.  Cook, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits.  Pour into the garlic mixture.  Whisk in the remaining 4 tablespoons oil, vinegar, and lemon juice, whisking until blended.  Set aside.

Grill the bread for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden.  Cut into cubes, put into a large serving bowl, and set aside.

Brush the tomatoes with the oil.  Grill for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until lightly marked.  Cut into 3/4-inch chunks and add to the bread, along with the olives, basil, parsley, and oregano.

Briefly whisk the dressing, pour over the panzanella salad, and toss until well mixed.  Season with salt and pepper, toss again, and serve immediately.

Grilled Cornbread with Berries (serves 8)

When lightly grilled, this golden corn bread develops a pleasant crunch that pairs perfectly with the sweet strawberries and juicy blackberries.

Corn bread:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted & cooled
Cinnamon sugar (2 teaspoons sugar mixed with 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon)

Berry topping:
2 pints strawberries, hulled & thickly sliced
2 half-pints blackberries
l/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons Triple Sec
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Sweetened whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 375          F.  Grease a 9-x-5-inch loaf pan.

Prepare the corn bread: In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt, whisking until mixed.  In a medium-size bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Add the buttermilk and melted butter, stirring until mixed. Pour over the dry ingredients, stirring with a rubber spatula just until blended.  Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the top.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the corn bread begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let the corn bread cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove from the pan and cool completely on the wire rack.

Preheat the grill to medium and brush with oil.

Prepare the berry topping: In a large bowl, combine all the topping ingredients, tossing gently.  Set aside until ready to serve.

Using a serrated knife, cut the corn bread into 1/2-thick slices.  Grill for 30 to 45 seconds on each side, or until lightly toasted.  Transfer the corn bread to dessert plates, spoon the berry topping over, and top with whipped cream.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Barbecue cookery, Cookery, American Southwestern style