Chip the ice off that grill and kick off a new season

March 11, 2001|By Rob Kasper

SOME CALL IT torpor. Others call it "the blahs." It is a condition widely known as March, the great, gray maw of a month.

Nothing much happens in March. Even "March Madness" the frenzied series of college basketball games that keeps many of us chugging along during this dull stretch, schedules its final games for the more promising month of April. (While we are on the subject of college basketball, I have a prediction: The University of Maryland Terrapins are going to the Final Four. It is the year of the turtle. I would bet a rack of barbecued ribs on it.)

March is, according to people who keep track of such statistics, the month when outdoor cooking activity in America starts to increase from the low point of February. Winter snow can slow but not deter the dedicated griller. Once you have shoveled the snow off the walks, you simply shovel out a spot for the grill. You learn to compensate for the cold by adding a little extra fuel, both to your fire and your beverage.

March, however, brings with it raw and nasty winds. In an attempt to add excitement to the gloomy month, I battle the winds by firing up the grill, then mixing pork with some zesty, brightly colored ingredients, such as oranges, pineapple and molasses. OK, molasses is not exactly vibrant. Rather than sporting the hot new neon look of the fruits, molasses is brown, old and sorta out of it. But it has terrific flavor and is incredibly slow moving. In other words, it is the perfect ingredient for March.

I toss all these ingredients plus a lot of lettuce in a dish called a "salad." There was a time when salads contained only green leafy items. Those days are gone. Now they have fruit, and meat, and herbs and peppercorns. I guess it means that despite the dim horizon, salad days lie ahead.

Boston Lettuce With Grilled Pork and Pineapple

Serves 4

DRESSING

1 cup orange juice (about 2 large oranges)

1/2 cup olive oil

1 / 4 red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons crushed dried green peppercorns

1 tablespoon molasses

1 tablespoon cracked coriander seeds (or ground coriander)

1 / 4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

SALAD

1 pound pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 pineapple, peeled cored, cut into 1- inch cubes

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 red onion, peeled, and cut into 1-inch cubes.

1 head lettuce, Boston, Bibb, or arugula

In a small saucepan, bring the orange juice to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer until juice is reduced to 3 / 4 cup, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature, then add remaining dressing ingredients, whisk, and set aside.

Prepare a medium hot fire in your grill. Thread the pork, pineapple, bell pepper and onions onto skewers, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill over fire for 3 to 4 minutes, flipping once. The pork should be barely pink in the middle, the other skewered ingredients nicely seared and a bit softened. (This might take longer than 4 minutes, depending on the March wind.)

When done to your liking, remove skewers from the grill. Place the lettuce on a large serving platter. Slide the grilled ingredients off the skewers and place on top of lettuce leaves and serve. Pass dressing separately.

From "Lettuce in Your Kitchen," by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (Morrow, 1996)

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