By Katia Protsenko
Politics & Culture Editor
Being in college and cooking don’t exactly mix.
In this weekly column, I hope to teach you a little something about the world of food. Having food — and cooking food — is a useful skill. We college students should have our cake, and know how to bake it too.
My first memories of grilling go back to when I was growing up in the Ukraine. My family had a dilapidated house in the country where we’d spend our summers — my grandmother and I would stay from June until August, and my parents and grandfather would come for the weekends. Weekends were always a celebration because our family would reunite, regularly bringing friends or colleagues to enjoy the great outdoors.
Whenever there were guests at our summerhouse, we would grill.
My grandfather would buy chunks of lamb or beef from a neighbor, and my grandmother would marinate the meat, letting it sit as long as everybody was talking, drinking, and not noticing their rumbling stomachs.
My great-grandfather, the head of our household, would take the marinated meat and chunks of vegetables and pierce them onto 18-inch metal spears that we used for grilling.
By the time we would start complaining about how long the food was taking, my great-grandfather would have already placed the meat on the grill. The smell of lamb, onions and spice would quiet any griping from our now-tipsy houseguests.
When the meat was finally ready, it’d be way past sunset, the warm air slowly cooling. But we always ate outside, no matter how chilly it got. Something about the outside air always enhanced the flavor of whatever we were eating. When the meat was eaten, my family and our guests would retreat into the house for spiked coffee, something sweet, and conversation that usually lasted until I woke up the following morning.
When my family made the move to the United States, we left behind our summerhouse, with its unreliable plumbing and decades-old charcoal grill. My mom and aunt now both have large, fancy gas grills in their backyards. Times may have changed, but we still manage to come together as a family and grill when the nights get warmer.
My great-grandfather is no longer here to grill the meat. My aunt, as always, is more interested in gossiping than marinating meat. My mom is too occupied with my younger cousins, so I have taken over grilling responsibilities.
Since grilling adds an unparalleled flavor to food, you need to use flavors that pack a punch when preparing your meat (or vegetables) to grill. A standby flavor combination I have used countless times is lemon and garlic.
Both lemon and garlic are strong, distinguishable tastes that can stand up to the grill. You can marinate any meat or vegetable combination with lots of salt, pepper, lemon juice and crushed garlic, and the results will always be good. Once your meat or vegetables are cooked and come off the grill, squeeze a little more lemon juice over the top for another kick.
Try it with boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which are cheap and don’t dry out as quickly as breast meat does. After you have placed your meat on the grill, toss some chunks of vegetables into the leftover marinade mixture and grill that, too.
Whether you are making slow conversation with your housemates over a 12-pack or enjoying your own company, eat your grilled food outside. You have all winter to stay inside and keep warm, so savor your summer nights — they’ll be long gone before you know it.