Chemistry is King in the Kitchen

September 7, 2009

My grandfather (giddou) always used to say life is one big test tube.  As a science teacher and philosophizer, giddou was all about the structure and composition of things.  I didn’t really get it at the tender age of 8 but now, it’s as clear as a beaker.  What you add, how much you add and the order you mix it up will inevitably dictate the outcome – good, bad or worse.   That goes for just about anything, from relationships to putting on makeup.

Chemistry is definitely king in the kitchen.  Onions can bring you to tears with their sharp edge and pungent, heady garlic might even cinge your nosehairs.  Yet, those same ingredients can turn sweet as candy when you release their sugars over low heat for a long time. A pesto made with raw pine nuts is good but toasting them brings out a dimension and depth that’s sublime. Roasting vs. baking.  Boiling vs. poaching.  Cleaning vs. Rinsing.  Once the you can anticipate what a flavor will become by manipulating the ingredient or technique, you’ve graduated from recipe reader to full fledged master of your creative cooking domain.

When you think of salad, opting for grilled over chilled may not come to mind but this is where we can take some culinary liberties.  Try my two faves and let your tastebuds be the judge.  Healthful, flavorful, easy to enjoy and pleasantly filling.  Here’s to hot salads and cool nights ahead.

Buon gusto!

Grilled Vegetable Salad with Feta and Kalamata Olives


3T fresh lemon juice

3 T balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil

2 plum tomatoes, chopped

2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped (1 tsp dried if fresh isn’t available)

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

To Grill:

1 small eggplant

1 fennel bulb, trim the fronds (leaves)

2 small zucchini

1 head radicchio

1 red onion, peeled

1 lemon

2 T olive oil


3 oz feta (we love the Bulgarian variety if you can find it)

1/2 C Kalamata olives


In a blender or food processor, add all marinade ingredients and blend until smooth.  Season to taste with kosher or sea salt and pepper.  Clean vegetables with Eat Cleaner and slice into 1/2 inch rounds and placed into 1/2 of  marinade for 15 minutes up to several hours.  When it’s time to cook, lightly brush with olive oil and place in a vegetable grill basket, on a piece of aluminum foil or onto a skewer.  For radicchio, cut in half and place directly onto grill.  Over medium heat, grill until browned grill marks and slightly tender, al dente.  Transfer to a serving dish and gently toss with remaining marinade.  Layer cooked vegetables on top of radicchio leaves and top with crumbled feta and olives.  Serve warm.

Grilled Coconut Shrimp and Pineapple Lettuce Cups


1 C unsweetened pineapple juice

1/2 C  coconut milk

3 T fresh lime juice

1 tsp lime zest, grated

1 T canola oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp each ground cinnamon and allspice

Salad ingredients:

1/2 fresh pineapple, cut into 2″ cubes

Bunch of scallions, ends trimmed and cut into 2″ pieces

1 1/2 lbs. large shrimp, peeled, deveined and cleaned with Eat Cleaner Seafood + Poultry Wash

1 med. red bell pepper, cut into 1″ slices

1 head butter lettuce, cut in half

Fresh Lime Wedges

Crushed peanuts (pan toasted is even better)

Grilling skewers (if using wood, make sure to soak in water for at least 15 minutes)


In a saucepan, bring pineapple juice to a boil and cook over medium low heat until reduced to 1/3 C, aprox 8 minutes.  Add coconut milk and simmer until medium thickness is achieved.  Remove from heat and whisk in remaining marinade ingredients.  Let cool to room temperature.  Add shrimp to half of the marinade and refrigerate for 30 min to 4 hours.

Remove shrimp from marinade and thread onto skewers, alternating with pineapple cubes, scallions and red bell pepper.  Grill until shrimp are well cooked, about 4 minutes on each side.  Add quarters of butter lettuce to the grill and allow to cook briefly, approx 1 minute.

Toss vegetables (except lettuce) and shrimp with most of remaining marinade.  Separate lettuce ‘cups’ and fill with shrimp and vegetable mixture.  Top with crushed peanuts and a healthy squeeze of fresh lime juice.  Finish with a spoon of marinade.


One comment

  1. Love coconut!!!! Thanks for the clean recipes and chemistry insight. You are so insightful and so right!

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