Grill up some light fare for summer's first barbecue

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

Big burgers, hot dogs, thick steaks or a slab of ribs are fine for the Fourth of July, but to launch the grill season in grand style this Memorial Day weekend, try giving turkey and fish a turn.

After the hearty cooking of winter, spring grilling should reflect the fresh feeling of the season, featuring light flavors. Using fish or fowl is a great way to lighten up a picnic, as well as offering a wide variety of tastes and textures. Even spring vegetables such as asparagus, spring onions, radishes and ramps get a nice lift from the grill. And fresh flavors from herbs add a nice, refreshing touch — a skewered caprese salad of basil, tomatoes and small fresh mozzarella balls makes a great nosh to serve with cocktails, beer and wine.

Cooking lighter is also convenient. Whole boneless turkey breasts are available, but if you don't want that much turkey, try a package of tenderloins or breast fillets.

And fish fillets such as salmon, swordfish, sea bass and tuna only need a few minutes on the grill to be ready for the table. Of course, grilling a whole fish may take a bit longer, but for feeding a hungry crowd, it's ideal. Grill up a whole snapper or bass and let your guests assemble their own fish tacos.

But if you can't resist serving up burgers for the holiday, try some salmon patties instead of beef. Top with homemade tartar sauce or salsa. Those are also filled with healthy fats like Omega-3's.

Serve the grilled turkey or fish with some of the spring veggies or a crisp, green salad, add some grilled new potatoes or combine grilled asparagus, new potatoes and cooked eggs for a super salad and some cobbler or a pretty sheetcake for dessert and you've got a memorable meal for the holiday.

Season the foods with a light touch, though, letting the heat of the grill bring out the flavors. And even though it may still be a bit too nippy for a dip in the pool just yet, one thing is certain, it's the official start of grilling season and it's never too nippy for that.

Grilled Asparagus and Potato Salad

The secret of a light and fluffy potato salad is white wine. The spuds soak up the wine with just enough room left for the dressing. Recipe adapted from Food & Wine.

1 3/4 pounds new potatoes

2 tablespoons salted capers, soaked for 10 minutes

12 pickled baby onions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped chives

2 tablespoons chopped tarragon

2 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

5 tablespoon avocado or olive oil oil

31/2 ounces white wine

2 ounces baby spinach

20 medium asparagus

2 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped

Scrub the potatoes. Place in a pot fitted with a lid. Cover with cold water, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. They are perfectly cooked when they can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Drain, cover with a folded tea towel or three layers of kitchen roll, top with the lid and leave for 10 minutes. The towel or paper will absorb the residual moisture, leaving the potatoes perfectly dry.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the dressing. Drain and finely chop the capers. Mix the capers, pickled onions, herbs and 4 tbsp. of oil until well blended.

When the potatoes are ready, slice them thickly. Season with salt, plenty of black pepper and drizzle with white wine as you go. The wine will season and saturate the potatoes, so the dressing coats them without making them heavy.

Add the spinach and dressing and toss delicately, being careful not to mash the potatoes.

Heat a grill pan. Lightly coat the asparagus with some of the remaining oil and grill for five minutes, turning the spears once halfway through and making sure they are not overcooked — they should still retain their crunch. You may need to cook them in two batches.

Serve the potato salad lukewarm, topped with asparagus and garnished with chopped eggs. Serves 6.

Per serving: 267 calories; 13 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 44 percent calories from fat); 29 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 71 mg cholesterol; 209 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 6 g fiber.

Brined Grilled Turkey Breast

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home

2 quarts cold water, divided

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon whole peppercorns

1 boneless skinless turkey breast half (2 to 3 pounds)

Basting sauce:

1/4 cup canola oil

1/4 cup sesame oil

1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

In a large saucepan, combine 1 quart water, salt, brown sugar and peppercorns. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from the heat. Add the remaining cold water to cool the brine to room temperature.

Place a large resealable plastic bag inside a second plastic bag, add turkey breast. Carefully pour cooled brine into bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible; seal bags and turn to coat. Place in a pan. Refrigerate for 4-6 hours.

Prepare grill for indirect heat, using a drip pan. Meanwhile, combine basting sauce ingredients. Place turkey over drip pan and grill, covered, over indirect medium heat for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until a thermometer reads 170 degrees, basting occasionally with sauce. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing. Serves 6.

Per serving: 364 calories; 19 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 47 percent calories from fat); 8 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 94 mg cholesterol; 553 mg sodium; 38 g protein; trace fiber.

Strawberries and Cream Sheet Cake

Recipe adapted from Southern Living

1 cup butter, softened plus additional for greasing pan

2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups cake flour

2 tablespoons strawberry-flavored gelatin

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1 cup buttermilk

2/3 cup chopped fresh strawberries

Vegetable cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating 4 to 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in lemon juice and vanilla.

Stir together flour and next 3 ingredients; add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended. Stir in strawberries.

Butter and flour a 13-by-9-inch pan; line with parchment paper, allowing 2 to 3 inches to extend over long sides. Lightly grease paper with cooking spray. Spread batter in prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 30 minutes. Lift cake from pan, using parchment paper sides as handles. Invert cake onto wire rack; gently remove parchment paper. Cool completely (about 1 hour). Spread Strawberry Frosting on top and sides of cake. Serves 12.

Strawberry Frosting

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

2/3 cup sugar, divided

2/3 cup chopped fresh strawberries

1 drop pink food coloring gel (optional)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Beat cream cheese and 1/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer until smooth; add strawberries and food coloring (if desired); beat until blended.

Beat cream and juice at medium speed until foamy; increase speed to medium-high, and slowly add remaining 1/3 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold half of cream mixture into cheese mixture; fold in remaining cream mixture. Use immediately.

Per serving: 593 calories; 35 g fat (22 g saturated fat; 53 percent calories from fat); 66 g carbohydrates; 45 g sugar; 142 mg cholesterol; 370 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Grilled Fish

Cumin, oregano, and chili powder go into a Grilled fish Taco.

Fish tacos for Memorial Day is a terrific idea. Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons coarse salt

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus sprigs for garnishing

2-pound fillet of striped bass or red snapper, skin intact

Lime wedges, for garnishing

Corn or flour tortillas for tacos

Stir together spices and salt. Mix in olive oil and cilantro. Use a sharp knife to make shallow slashes about 1 1/2 inches apart into the fish skin; transfer to a large dish and rub both sides with spice mixture. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Preheat a clean, lightly oiled grill to high heat. Place fish, flesh-side down, on hot grill. Do not move for 3 to 5 minutes, or until fish is opaque. Flip using two spatulas. Cook until fish flakes slightly when pressed, about 5 to 7 minutes more.

Transfer fish fillet to a plate. Set aside to cool slightly. Place on a serving platter, shred fillet with fork into bite-size pieces, and garnish platter with lime wedges and cilantro sprigs. Serve immediately, or within 1 hour at room temperature. Makes 12 tacos.

Per serving: 172 calories; 7 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 37 percent calories from fat); 13 g carbohydrates; 0 g sugar; 58 mg cholesterol; 421 mg sodium; 14 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Grilled Salmon Burger

Recipe adapted from

2 large eggs

1 medium shallot, medium dice

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped Italian parsley leaves

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon celery seeds

2 pounds skinless salmon fillets, pin bones removed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

Vegetable oil, for coating the grill

Mango Tomato Salsa

Combine the eggs, shallot, parsley, salt, pepper, and celery seeds in a food processor fitted with a blade attachment and pulse just until combined, about 5 pulses. Add about a third of the salmon and pulse 5 times until most of the large pieces are slightly chopped. Add another third of the salmon, pulse 5 more times, then add the last third and pulse 5 times more until there are equal amounts of very small, medium, and large chunks. (Don't overprocess — you'll end up with tough, dry burgers.)

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the panko until thoroughly combined. Divide evenly into 8 (3-inch) patties about 1/2 inch thick (they'll be about 1/3 to 1/2 cup each).

Heat an outdoor grill to medium high (about 375 degrees to 425 degrees). When the grill is ready, use tongs to rub the grate with several layers of paper towels dipped in vegetable oil.

Using a flat spatula, transfer the salmon patties to the grill, close the grill, and cook undisturbed (do not press down on the patties) until grill marks appear on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Using a clean spatula, flip the burgers, close the grill, and cook until the patties are just cooked, about 4 minutes more.

Top with Mango, Tomato, and Onion Salsa (see recipe); Tartar Sauce; or Tzatziki. Makes 8 burgers.

Per serving (with salsa): 242 calories; 11 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 41 percent calories from fat); 10 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 127 mg cholesterol; 621 mg sodium; 26 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Mango Tomato Salsa

2 medium mangos, small dice (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 medium tomatoes, small dice (about 1 cup)

1/2 medium red onion, small dice (about 1/2 cup)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the measured ingredients in a small, nonreactive mixing bowl. Add salt to taste and let sit at least 20 minutes.

Just before serving, season with pepper to taste and mix thoroughly. Makes 3 cups.

Per serving: 71 calories; 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat; 5 percent calories from fat); 17.5 g carbohydrates; 14 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 150 mg sodium; 1.5 g protein; 2.5 g fiber.