As wise and prophetic as our founding fathers were, chances are they did not plan the signing of the Declaration of Independence around a particular time of year. But how fortunate for us that it happened to be during the most dependable weather for sprawling out on blankets and watching parades and fireworks.
Early American picnics were called "frolics," and hampers would be filled with such delicacies as sausage, corn pone and wild game. After World War II, when families moved to the suburbs and cooking over coals became a national pastime, barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs surpassed cold meats at outdoor suppers. Although almost every country uses some form of grilling, only in America has it caught on like a kite in a wind storm.
Barbecuing is believed to have originated with the Indians of the Caribbean, who smoke-dried meat on woven green wood strips over slow coals. The Spanish dropped anchor, liked this form of cooking, adopted it and called it barbecoa. They took the idea to Mexico, added their own distinctive touches, and barbecue became a Southwestern specialty. The Spanish influence explains why many barbecue sauces are so heavily spiced. In recent years, however, thick, robust, red sauces have given way to light, fruitier marinades.
In celebration of our country's independence and barbecue history, here is a menu with a Southwestern slant guaranteed to spice up your grilling repertoire.
Flank steak, one of the most economical, tastiest and lowest in fat cuts of beef, is greatly underused. To ensure that stuffed flank steak Santa Fe is tender enough to cut with a fork, ask the butcher to run it through a tenderizing machine twice and pound it to 1/4 -inch thickness. (Or pound it yourself -- it only takes a few good whacks with a meat pounder.) You can marinate it in the jalapeno-spiked lime dressing from five hours to overnight, depending on your schedule. Spread the meat with zucchini salsa, creamy cheese and ribbons of red pepper, roll up and close with skewers. If desired, the roll can be refrigerated for several hours before grilling.
Because the salsa and marinade include many of the same ingredients, make them at the same time. One steak serves four to six people; for a large gathering, it is easy to make two or more recipes. Or, double the marinade and use half for the steak and the remainder for boned and skinned chicken breasts. Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for four to five hours, grill, baste with jalapeno pepper jelly, and serve with the zucchini salsa.
To contemporize Tex-Mix Baked Beans, a hearty mixture of thickly glazed, sweet and smoky beans, I've eliminated the regular bacon (100 grams of fried and drained bacon contains 49 grams of fat and 575 calories) and replaced it with Canadian bacon (100 grams fried and drained contains 17.5 grams of fat and 277 calories.) The melange is made with canned beans, bakes in only 45 minutes, and is just as tasty as those that use dried beans and simmer for hours. The dish may be refrigerated up to two days or frozen.
To add a patriotic twist to tamale pudding, make the bread-like custard ahead and when cool, cut out stars with a cookie cutter. Reheat them on a greased baking sheet at 375 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes or until heated through.
Add your favorite coleslaw or mixed green salad and tip your toque to our sagacious ancestors, our great Southwestern heritage and 216 years of freedom.
Stuffed flank steak Santa Fe
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
THE FLANK STEAK:
1 flank steak (about 1 1/2 pounds), put through the butcher's tenderizing machine twice
jalapeno-lime marinade (see below)
zucchini salsa (see below)
4 ounces sliced Provolone cheese, at room temperature
1 roasted red pepper (from a jar or fresh), cut into 2-inch-wide strips
3 tablespoons jalapeno pepper jelly (mild or hot), melted
Cover steak with plastic wrap and pound approximately 1/4 -inch thick. Place in a large, non-metal dish.
Reserve 2 tablespoons marinade for salsa; pour remainder over meat. (The steak may be folded over, if necessary; just make sure all surfaces are coated.) Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 5 hours or overnight, turning once or twice.
Remove meat from marinade, place on work surface and blot dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and spread with zucchini salsa. Top with overlapping slices of cheese. Place strips of red pepper down one long end. Beginning at end with red peppers, roll up tightly, jelly roll fashion. Using metal skewers and/or turkey lacers, skewer seam and both ends closed.
Prepare coals. Brush seam side of meat with jelly and grill seam side down, 3 inches from hot coals, for 4 minutes. Turn and grill on other 3 sides, brushing with jelly, for 3 minutes per side, for a total cooking time of 13 minutes. Let stand at least 15 minutes before removing skewers and carving into 3/8 -inch slices.
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 small pickled jalapeno with seeds (1 to 1 1/2 inches, according to your taste), quartered