But what America does have is the best backyard barbecue culture ever. Now, Germans embrace outdoor grilling (after all the word Grillsaison (grilling season) is practically synonymous with summer), but it doesn't hold a candle to a good, American barbecue. First, grilling in Germany (or at least Munich) is usually done on an apartment balcony or in a city park somewhere. Germany is not really a culture of backyards, and I've definitely never heard of a German backyard terrace that is built specifically to accommodate huge barbecue parties - i.e. no big barbecue pits. Okay, most Germans reading this would probably respond with a smug little smile and say that it is because Germany is not so much of an ostentatious consumerist culture. Well... maybe. But there are some points there that I would happily debate as well. And besides, barbecue is something that comes from the people in America, and in fact, I would say is at it's best and purest when there's absolutely no consumerism whatsoever attached to it. It's the neighborhood block party, where everyone pulls out their flimsiest folding tables and takes to the street. It's the barbecue at the field in small town middle America, after a Saturday afternoon little league game. It's the spontaneous gathering of friends in a backyard on a hot August night, anywhere and everywhere across the country. And it's Memorial Day Weekend, which happened just last weekend, and while a somber event, is also the 3-day weekend launch into summer, and is most commonly celebrated by big, blow-out barbecues.
Ahhh I miss that.
But okay, grilling on the Isar in Munich is nothing to sneeze at, and I am looking forward to hot, summer nights in Munich when I get back. And, after all this going-on about how Americans are the ultimate barbecuers, I have to also humbly admit that I am no master with the grill. I tend to leave the cooking of meat with fire and coal to the boys (I know! It doesn't sound like me to be one who falls into these gender roles, does it? Maybe I need to break out of that this summer and take on a more active role in the actual grilling). Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I usually focus my culinary contributions on sides and desserts. In particular, I like to make sure that there is a fresh salad on offer, in addition to whatever is sizzling on the grill. Greek salad is a favorite, because summer is time to eat tomatoes... lots and lots of juicy, ripe tomatoes.
You can never go wrong with a classic Greek salad of tomato, cucumber, olive, onion, and feta, but it's also great to make variations on the classic. My favorite version incorporates roasted or grilled chicken and pickled pepperoncini (sometimes I grill the chicken at the barbecue, shred it on the spot, and mix it in - but more often I prepare the entire salad in advance, with the chicken already incorporated).
Greek Chicken Salad
In addition to taking this as a side to barbecues, I like to make a big bowl of this Greek chicken salad and then take it to lunch for the week. For the first couple of days, I eat the salad just as described. But then I get a little bored, so normally I cook up some orzo and mix it in to turn it into a Greek orzo salad. If I don't have orzo, I might use another pasta, or even rice for a cold rice salad. If I don't have really good olive oil on hand, I prefer to use the feta cheese that comes packed in oil in a jar, because then I will use the oil that the feta has been marinating in for the salad- it usually has severally herbs in it and is quite flavorful.
3-4 medium tomatoes, cubed
1 large cucumber, cubed
1/2 red onion, diced
1 jar (or 3/4 cup) kalamata olives
1 jar (or 1/2 block) feta, cubed
1/2 cup pepperoncini (small, spicy yellow peppers- if straight from the jar they are already sliced, if whole, make sure to thinly slice them into )
1 cup grilled or roasted chicken, shredded
salt and pepper
1. Mix the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, olives, feta, pepperoncini, and chicken in a big bowl.
2. Pour in 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Salt and pepper liberally.
3. Let marinate for a couple of hours before serving.