Around this time of year, wandering around the neighbourhood at dinnertime is bound to bring you home hungry. Everyone is outside cooking, and the fragrant wafts of food being cooked over the coals is enough to make you want to jump the fence and join them.
Men who have never before displayed an ounce of interest or ability in cooking can be found deftly wielding tongs, prodding things and generally running the show, lured by the hiss of a barbecue gas burner and mountains of raw flesh. Men and fire — it's primal stuff.
When you have the time, it's worth using charcoal or building a fire and letting it die down to embers to cook over — the flavour is unrivalled and the slow-down process of cooking like this makes you feel like you're on holiday. You need to start an hour or so ahead to build up a big enough bed of embers to cook for 30-40 minutes and, if you're planning to cook for a crowd, you need to build a big fire base so you can shovel on fresh embers from one end as the heat dies down. Be sure to wait until all the flames have disappeared and there is just a bed of glowing embers. If they have faded to white there won't be enough lasting heat (don't blow them in an attempt to rev things up again — ash crusts are great on goat's cheese but not quite so tasty on a hot snarler).
Don't use kerosene or other accelerants to start the fire. If you're working with wood, check it hasn't been treated and make sure it's not from poisonous species like oleander or bay.
If you don't have a charcoal or wood barbecue, or don't have time to wait for a fire to die down, fragrantly appetising aromas and flavour can be added to gas barbecue cooking simply by throwing a handful of rosemary sprigs or lemon leaves under the food.
This week's kebab recipes make barbecuing achievable even on a busy weeknight. Food threaded on skewers cooks quickly and easily, and it's a great way to make a little protein go a long way. From Japanese yakitori to Middle Eastern kebabs, cultures all over the world cook this way, so it's easy to swap out the flavours to suit your menu or your mood.
There's so much pleasure in cooking dinner outside. In the long, slow dusk the cicadas roar, food hisses and spits from the barbecue, sending out lip-smacking aromas, and everyone is relaxed. The holidays may be over, but summer goes on.
Salmon, Lemon and Tomato Kebabs
Ready in 15 mins
600g boneless, skinless salmon, cut into 2cm cubes
1-2 lemons, sliced as thinly as possible (about 20)
30 cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil or lemon oil
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Basil leaves, to garnish
Thread salmon, lemon slices and cherry tomatoes, alternating, on 10-12 skewers, allowing about three pieces of salmon on each skewer and folding the lemon slices into quarters. The skewers can be prepared in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge for up to 24 hours until needed. When ready to cook, preheat a barbecue hotplate or heavy-based frying pan over a medium-high heat. Dunk skewers in oil to lightly coat and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat, turning as they brown, until just cooked through (a total of 3 minutes). Scatter with basil leaves to serve.
Annabel says: Have these skewers assembled and in the fridge ready for a speedy barbecue cook-off. I like to use super-thin slices (I use a mandolin) of meyer lemon in between the salmon and tomatoes, but if you can't access them you can peel the skin and pith from other varieties of lemon and use thin quarter slices.
Ginger Pork Sticks
Ready in 30 mins
600g lean pork mince
½ cup fresh white breadcrumbs
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 egg white
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
¼ cup finely chopped coriander leaves
A little neutral oil, to cook
Place all ingredients except oil in a bowl and mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until well combined. With wet hands, mould about 2 Tbsp of mixture on to disposable wooden chopsticks or metal barbecue skewers, to evenly cover 3-4cm length at the top of each stick. The skewers can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated for up to 48 hours. When ready to cook, brush with oil and grill or barbecue, turning several times, until golden brown and cooked through (about 10 minutes).
Annabel says: This recipe also works well with beef or chicken mince, but don't use mince that has been frozen, as it releases too much moisture.
Tender Lamb Kofte
Ready in 30 mins
¼ cup bulghur wheat
¼ cup boiling water
400g lamb mince
2 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with 2 tsp salt
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
2 Tbsp coarsely grated red onion
2 Tbsp very finely chopped parsley leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp fine black pepper
½ tsp cinnamon
A pinch of chilli flakes
A little oil, to brush
Soak bulghur wheat in boiling water for 10 minutes until soft. Combine with all other ingredients except oil in a bowl. The mixture can be made ahead, covered and chilled for up to 24 hours. If you're using wooden skewers, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes before use to help prevent burning, or grill the kofte before inserting the skewers. Divide the mixture into 12 portions and form each into a sausage shape. Insert a skewer into each. Brush with a little oil then cook on a preheated barbecue grill over a medium heat, turning often to cook all sides, until they are firm and springy with no give (about 8 minutes). To serve, smear a scoop of dip on each of six plates and arrange two kofte on top of each.
Annabel says: Adding bulghur wheat intothese kofte makes them wonderfully light and tender, and it also makes the meat go further. For gluten-free kofte, replace the bulghur with 1 cup cooked quinoa.