I’ve been meaning to write this for a while now, and this being Labor Day weekend, there’s no better time to indulge in the topic.
(Scroll down directly for recipes to Vegetable Shish Kebabs and Apple and Cheese Chicken Sausage.)
Grilled foods are a mainstay of Labor Day festivities. Especially in the Northeast, Labor Day more or less marks one of the last good days of summer, and consequently one of the last times the BBQ grill is put into good use before being placed in winter storage. And as it’s a tradition to celebrate Labor Day in the company of friends and family, the day also marks a great time to amply demonstrate one’s (phenomenal) grilling skills, perfected through the long summer days.
In recent years though, there has been a growing multitude of published research studies whose findings seem to indicate a direct causal link between grilled foods and cancer. Media, of course, then transformed these (nuanced and guarded) conclusions into apocalyptic headlines such as “Cooking Up Cancer?”.
Apparently, heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which begins to form in protein-rich foods at about 325 degrees Fahrenheit, have been linked to an increased risk of breast, colon, liver, skin, lung, prostate and other cancers, according to the National Cancer Institutes (NCI). Meanwhile, diets high in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which form when fat drips and burns on the grill creating smoke, have been linked to leukemia, as well as GI and lung cancer. Studies have also linked well-done meat (no matter the cooking style) to up to a 60% increased chance to developing pancreatic cancer.
Being highly health-conscious, I decided that there was no harm in incorporating some of the carcinogen-reducing into my grill routine, including:
- Cook smaller pieces: They cook more quickly and at lower temperatures
- Choose leaner meat: Less fat dripping onto the grill means reduced flames and smoke
- Opt for more vegetables: They take less time to cook, contain very little fat while still possess that grilled taste
- Precook: Some research show that precooking in a microwave for two minutes may decrease HCAs by 90%
- Flip frequently: This way, neither side has time to absorb or lose too much heat
- Use spices: Various studies have shown that a number of spices can help reduce cancer risk including red pepper, thyme, sage and garlic. In particular, one research done by Kansas State University (KSU) showed that fingerroot, rosemary and tumeric appeared to cut back HCA production by upwards of 40 percent
And so below are a couple of the resulting recipes that have enjoyed a great deal of success this summer season. Enjoy!
Vegetable Shish Kebabs
1/2 large sweet red onion
1. (If using bamboo skewers) Soak 12 skewers in water for 10 minutes to avoid the stick charring when grilling
2. Cut squash, eggplant, bell pepper and onion into apprx 1 inch squares; skewer vegetables in alternating pattern, leaving about a quarter inch space in between
3. Preheat grill on high
4. Mix oil, salt and spices in a bowl
5. Place the skewers on the grill
6. Immediately start to brush on the oil mixture, turn the skewers 45 degrees and repeat action until all sides have been coated
7. Let grill for about 30 seconds, turn the skewers 45 degrees and brush on again the oil mixture; repeat until the vegetables are cooked through (about 6 minutes)
Note: The oil mixure also tastes great when coated on corn when grilling.
Apple and Cheese Chicken Sausage
1. Soak the sausage casing in a bowl of water for about 5 minutes
2. Mince the chicken and basil together using a food processor or meat grinder
3. In a bowl, fold in the grated apple and cheese into the chicken and basil using a spatula or your hands (I usually add 1 teaspoon salt as well, but you can also place a small spoonful of the mixed chicken in the microwave for around 10secs to taste and determine if salt is needed)
4. Open on end of the casing, and place under running water so that water flow through the entire length of the casing; knot one end of the casing
5. Stuff using a sausage stuffer (scroll down for instructions to make a homemade contraption)
6. Fill to the nearly the entire length of the casing, leaving about 2 inches clear at the top
7. Starting from the knotted end, pinch the filled sausage with your thumb and forefinger to mark the length of your links, usually 4 to 6 inches depending on the type of sausage. The pinched-in spot will hold its shape.
9. Hang the entire sausage string on a rack until the casing dries (a laundry rack works great); Using a needle, pop any air bubbles and then cut the links apart in the middle of the twisted sections; store/make and enjoy!
Homemade sausage stuffer