After living in Ireland for 15 years, I've noticed a pattern – summer consists of two weeks in May, around the bank holiday! And this year I am jinxing it by launching a BBQ cookbook: 'Relish BBQ and Al Fresco Food'. Here are some options to try out at your next BBQ.
BBQs needn't be just about burgers and meat, veggies take on a smokey flavour and crunchy texture. Lightly oil with an oil like grapeseed, sunflower or light olive oil which don't burn as easily as extra virgin olive oil. Use these vegetables to stuff into pita pockets with hummous and tzatiki or add to salad leaves for a warm salad.
1 Globe artichoke
This attractive and sophisticated vegetable is a form of thistle and a member of the daisy family. Traditionally used as a hangover remedy as it contains a compound called cynarin that supports the liver. High levels of vitamin B boost energy and mental alertness, and strengthen the immune system.
To BBQ: Buy bottled artichoke hearts marinated in oil.
Lift out of the oil and shake off the excess. Keep the flavoured oil to make salad dressing. BBQ on a fine mesh overlay grill so the pieces don't fall through.
This delicate vegetable is a potent force in the fight for health. Asparagus is a good source of folate, vitamin C and antioxidant glutathione, which all lower the risk of cancer and heart disease. Asparagin, a detoxifying amino acid in asparagus, helps flush toxins from the body. A natural diuretic, asparagus has anti-inflammatory properties useful for easing indigestion, IBS and rheumatoid arthritis.
To BBQ: Chop off the very woody tips.
Lightly oil with grapeseed, sunflower or light olive oil and BBQ until slightly charred. Goes well with lots of lemon juice, black pepper and parmesan shavings.
This low calorie vegetable is widely used in Mediterranean, Indian and Oriental cuisine. Rich in vitamins A, B and C and also potassium and zinc. Aubergines are like sponges and absorb a lot of oil when cooking. So lightly oil and cook on a high heat like grilling or stir frying and the aubergine will have a nice texture and flavour.
To BBQ: Slice into thin 1cm slices.
Very lightly oil and cook over a hot flame until charred. Excellent with a little curry powder sprinkled over before grilling.
4 Butternut squash
Similar to sweet potatoes in culinary uses, butternut squash is an excellent source of vitamin A which is useful to strengthen mucous membranes, especially of the respiratory system for asthma and hayfever sufferers. Has anti cancer properties and also protects against heart disease.
To BBQ: Leave the skin on or peel, and scoop out seeds.
Boil or steam for 5 minutes. Pat dry and lightly oil before grilling. Sprinkling over a little garam masala or fennel seeds before grilling enhances the lovely flavour.
Rich in vitamins A, B and C, courgettes can be eaten raw, grilled or steamed. A good source of zinc to boost the immune system, balance hormones and help treat acne. A very mild laxative that can be used to treat constipation gently and effectively.
To BBQ: Top and tail and cut into 1cm thick slices lengthways.
Lightly oil and grill until charred. Squeeze over a little lemon when cooked.
6 Portobello mushrooms
Previously thought to be of little nutritional value, mushrooms have been proven to be one of the most nutritious plant foods.
Even the ordinary white button mushrooms are a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, containing more antioxidants than 'superfoods' like blueberries and pomegranates. Mushrooms are very low calorie and provide a good source of B vitamins, iron and magnesium.
To BBQ: Lightly oil and grill on a slightly cooler part of the BBQ as they will take a little longer and you don't want them to dry out. Delicious with a dollop of basil or sundried tomato pesto.
7 Red onion
Onion doesn't agree with IBS sufferers, but it does have many health benefits for those who can enjoy it. Exceptionally high in a flavonoid called quercetin, which is a powerful antioxidant.
Quercetin is anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and anti-viral, and not destroyed in cooking.
It can help lower cholesterol and prevent the formation of blood clots.
To BBQ: Top and tail the onion and peel off the papery skin.
Slice thick slices of the onion and lightly brush with oil. Be careful when turning on the BBQ as the 'layers' may come apart.
8 Red peppers
Red peppers are one of the best sources of vitamin C, which is crucial for immune function.
They also contain flavonoids that enhance the function and absorption of vitamin C.
A good source of fibre, which lowers blood cholesterol.
To BBQ: Chop the bottom off, turn upside down onto the stem and slice off the four 'walls'.
Lightly oil and BBQ until charred and soft. Top with hummous or cream cheese and chives like a slice of bread.
9 Sweet potato
An excellent source of vitamin C.
The orange flesh contains beta-carotene (a carotenoid with anti-viral, anti-cancer and antioxidant properties) which the body converts to vitamin A. Sweet potato is also rich in vitamin E, which is vital for healthy skin.
Full of fibre, this vegetable is a healthy slow-releasing carbohydrate.
To BBQ: Leave the skin on but scrub clean. Parboil or steam for 5-7min. Slices in 2cm discs and brush with grapeseed, sunflower or light olive oil. Add a little harrissa paste for extra flavour.
All recipes from 'Relish BBQ Cookbook' by Rozanne Stevens. Available from all good bookstores and online at www.rozannestevens.com