Grilling, like owning a dishwasher or washing machine, was something that, for a very long time, I thought I would never be able to do at home. New York City is an incredible place, one I still consider home when I visit, but living there deeply skews your concept of what is normal.
There are the practical things, like hauling your life around with you whenever you leave the house, having internalized the wisdom of the subway commute in a way that is second nature. Or considering the amount of dishes – measured in hours – when coming up with a guest list and menu for a dinner party. Thinking about it now, dinner parties themselves manifested the limits of the city, from the groceries (where and how they were obtained, generally at great cost in some way or another), to the seating (most apartments don’t accommodate more than a stool in the kitchen, anything more was at one point a fundamental negotiation of priorities that factored into the host signing their lease), to what is being cooked (the size of kitchens as well as a host’s personal post-work bandwidth generally exclude prep-heavy dishes).
I had gone to culinary school, worked as a food editor and written three cookbooks, but I felt totally uncomfortable grilling outdoors until we moved into our forever home and got our first full-size grill. I just hadn’t had the practice. Grilling is not part of the vocabulary of a New Yorker, which was my life for many years. (Though, to clarify, I hadn’t yet reached the 10-year mark, which apparently is the anniversary that is rumored to qualify someone as an official New Yorker. I had, however, genuinely never intended to leave and rarely found a satisfying reason to while I lived there, which I feel at least partially qualifies me as one.)
This is why I see grilling as a great privilege and adore its convenience alongside the memory of when I would hang outside my fire escape to use a charcoal grill roughly the size of a toaster to make a proper burger for my friends. Simply carrying a tray out my back door and clicking on a grill is almost funny to me now by how easy it is, by how pampered I’ve become by the comforts of suburban life.
This also partially why I see the arrival of grilling season as a cause for celebration—the privilege and convenience of it, but also the fact that it generally aligns with the arrival of warmer weather and sunshine in Seattle. Once I begin using it for the season, I use it almost every night for dinner—it helps to keep the kitchen clean and our family outdoors. Grilling has become casual, a way of cooking that seems too simple to even write down. Meals that result from grilling tend to rely on sauces for variety; it inspires us to devour vegetables and meats with just salt and pepper because grilling is a flavor, not just a technique. The flavor signifies fun dinners at our table in our backyard, laughing with mouths full, hearing birdsong and feeling breeze.
Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Yogurt-Dill Sauce
Serves 4 as a side
These are amazing with these merguez meatballs (or the merguez burgers from my first cookbook, Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals).
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup chopped dill fronds
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large head cauliflower (about 1 3/4 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 / Heat grill to medium-high (about 425°F). Stir together yogurt, dill and lemon juice; season generously with salt and pepper.
2 / Quarter cauliflower and place pieces in a large bowl; toss with olive oil and generous pinches of salt and pepper. Reassemble quarters of cauliflower on a large piece of foil as if whole again; wrap entire cauliflower in foil. Place packet on grill and lower lid. Grill cauliflower, covered, 20 minutes. Turn cauliflower over, cover, and grill 20 minutes more or until a knife inserted through the foil slips in easily. Serve cauliflower pieces with sauce.