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.