For summer dinner parties, or even casual back-yard family barbecues, the simplest grilled foods can be made more interesting and elevated to new elegance by serving relishes made from seasonal fruits and vegetables in lieu of sauces or more traditional condiments like the ketchup and bottled pickle relish from inside your refrigerator.
Since grilled food comes to the table uniformly brown, relishes can provide instantaneous appeal to the eye through a combination of colors, and an exciting textural contrast once looking gives way to eating.
Robert del Grande, chef at Caf,e Annie in Houston, observed that "grilled foods, be it a iece of meat or a swordfish steak, all tend to have a rather uniform texture that can be enlivened with fresh relishes."
With few exceptions, relishes are not meant to be served on their own. "Relishes are like a good salad dressing," said Henry Dinardo, chef at Windows in Arlington. "They make a statement alone, but their true benefit is to enhance the flavors of what they are served alongside."
The category loosely grouped as relishes runs the gamut from those akin to pickles or the combinations of vegetables found in traditional chow-chow, to highly spiced mixtures similar to chutneys but cooked briefly to retain more of the fruits' natural colors and textures, to finely chopped vegetables tossed like a salad at the last minute and reminiscent of the now-familiar salads served as part of Mexican and southwestern meals.
A benefit for the host is that almost all combinations can be prepared a few days in advance; many, especially those made with ith losing flavor or freshness, although the acidity might dull the colors of ingredients such as tomatoes.
Spice up a dinner by serving a variety of relishes with one grilled or roasted piece of meat, poultry or fish. To avoid having the relishes run together on a plate, present them in cups made from green leaves of bibb or boston lettuce or cabbage, or bright red leaves of radicchio or red cabbage, depending on what will best complement the colors in the dish. The flavors that can be represented for contrast, says Michael Foley, chef at Printer's Row in Chicago, are the vinegar-vegetable, sweet-and-sour, and fruit-based.
One of my favorite relishes combines pearl onions, raisins or dried currants, tomato, a bit of mus vinegar and sugar. I simmer it until the onions are cooked and the sauce has thickened. It's wonderful with all forms of grilled food," he said.
Occasionally Del Grande likes to reinforce the grilled taste of his food by grilling some of the ingredients for a relish. One of his best is composed of grilled red onions and grilled sweet red peppers (skinned and seeded once the grill has charred the skins black). He chops them in a food processor and seasons the mixture with red wine vinegar, sugar, chopped fresh cilantro and bits of serrano chilies for hotness. Another, which could be served as
a side dish or salad as well as a
relish, combines corn, which can
be grilled or browned in a skillet,
along with chopped raw
vegetables and bits of browned
Fruits, either raw or cooked
only briefly to retain their natural
texture and color, can be the
source of scores of garnishes. Chef
Avner Samuel of The Crescent
Court Hotel in Dallas, formerly
executive chef of the Mansion on
Turtle Creek there, serves a
combination of diced papaya
mixed with black beans in cilantro
vinaigrette with slices of saut,eed
American foie gras. The sweetness
of the fruit, crunchy texture of the
beans and spice from the dressing
is the perfect accompaniment to
the buttery richness of the dish.
Across the city at the Routh
Street Caf,e, Stephan Pyles creates
spicy fruit relishes with
combinations of fresh chopped
cherries mixed with chilies, sweet
red peppers and chervil. Another
relish on his list for fall entrees is
vividly colored from the combination of cranberries and
roasted red peppers with a touch
of citrus juice.
Another approach is to start with a prepared product, such as a
high quality chutney, and then
add some fresh ingredients to enliven the texture. Jicama, also
called "Mexican potato" and
found with the southwestern ingredients in supermarket product
cases, has a crunchy flavor like a
water chestnut and adds texture
without a competing flavor. And
there's no end to the fresh summer
herbs with which to work, as well
as fresh diced fruits to be added to
the cooked chutney base. Adding
fresh chopped tomato, cucumber and onion to bottled salsa creates an entirely new taste.
The differences between the new relishes of today and those prepared by Grandma are the emphasis on freshness. Their intention is to heighten the flavor of tonight's dinner, rather than recall memories of summer gardens hidden beneath winter snows.