Photos by Quentin Bacon

Let’s face it—Who really wants to turn on the oven when the outdoor thermometer surpasses 85 degrees? Keep your cool with an alfresco barbecue, featuring far-from-ordinary combinations that will get you past basic burgers and plain chicken breasts.

If you’re worried by reports that grilling may cause cancer, let’s set the record straight: Smart techniques can virtually eliminate the risk found in charred meats. When grilled, the protein in meat, poultry, and fish reacts with high heat to create potential carcinogens, called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs. Cooking your meat until well-done or more increases the risk (Food and Chemical Toxicology, 1998, vol. 36, no. 4). You can reduce HCAs by cooking at a lower heat and flipping meat often, avoiding any blackening. Adding antioxidant-rich fruit juices and marinades to meats can also help reduce HCAs. And for those emphasizing meatless options, there’s no evidence that grilled fruits and vegetables pose any cancer risk.

So enjoy the long summer evenings by grilling up these unusual and tasty recipes. All you need are fresh, fun ingredients, a stainless-steel spatula or tongs, and your trusty grill.

Grilled Thai Salmon Burgers with Peanut Sauce
Serves 4 / If you are a Thai food fan, you will love this burger, especially the sauce, which you can use to top just about anything. The green onions and chili paste add vitamin C, and ginger adds to the great digestibility of this dish. Serve over greens or on a whole-wheat bun.

1 pound salmon fillet, skinned
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1 tablespoon Thai red chili paste
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
4 teaspoons dry whole-wheat bread crumbs

Peanut Sauce
4 tablespoons natural peanut butter, creamy or chunky
4 teaspoons low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
3 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons water
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced

Olive oil cooking spray
Broccoli sprouts (optional)

1. Chop salmon by hand or with a food processor until chopped but not mushy. Place salmon in a large bowl. Add green onion, chili paste, ginger, and tamari or soy sauce, and mix well. Add just enough bread crumbs to bind all ingredients together (about 4 teaspoons). Form mixture into four burgers 1/2 inch thick and refrigerate for approximately 30 minutes.

2. To prepare sauce, combine peanut butter, tamari or soy sauce, oil, water, vinegar, and garlic. Whisk together until smooth.

3. Preheat grill to medium-high. Lightly spray a sheet of aluminum foil with cooking spray and place on the grill. Place salmon burgers directly on top of the foil. Grill for about 3–4 minutes on each side, being careful not to overcook. Serve immediately topped with peanut sauce and optional broccoli sprouts.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (with 1/2 tablespoon peanut sauce):
Calories: 359 calories
% fat calories: 60
Fat: 24g
Saturated Fat: 5g
Cholesterol: 75mg
Protein: 28g
Carbohydrate: 8g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 568mg

Grilled Ratatouille with Shrimp
Serves 6 / Shrimp adds protein to make this a well-rounded dish for lunch or dinner. Zucchini and eggplant provide fiber, potassium, and great flavor, while onion adds quercetin, and bell pepper contributes vitamin C. If you use wooden skewers, be sure to soak them in water for 30 minutes prior to threading on the food.

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 small eggplant (about 3/4 pound)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
Olive oil cooking spray
1/2 pound zucchini (2 small), cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 small onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
1-1/2 cups organic pasta sauce or tomato sauce

Dressing
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1. Rinse shrimp and set aside. Cut eggplant into 1-inch chunks. Place eggplant in a colander over a bowl or sink. Sprinkle with salt. Let drain 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.

2. Spray or brush olive oil onto grill rack. Heat coals or gas grill for direct heat. Prepare dressing by blending together olive oil, vinegar, water, sea salt, garlic, and basil.

3. Thread shrimp, eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, and onion alternately on each of six 10-inch skewers, leaving space between each. Brush with dressing. Set kabobs on grill (4–6 inches from medium heat), cover, and cook about 10 minutes, turning and brushing twice with dressing, until vegetables are crisp-tender and shrimp is cooked throughout.

4. While kabobs are grilling, heat pasta sauce in a small pan. Serve kabobs with pasta sauce.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (with 1/4 cup pasta sauce):
Calories: 189 calories
% fat calories: 33
Fat: 7g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 115mg
Protein: 18g
Carbohydrate: 14g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 768mg
Cooking and dining outdoors makes any meal special, especially when feasting on fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Blueberry-Flax Turkey Burgers
Serves 4 / Turkey and blueberries may seem an unlikely combination, but give this unique burger a try and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Blueberries are a great source of antioxidant phytochemicals; flax adds additional fiber and essential fats; and both ginger and parsley are excellent for digestion. Served on English muffins with a side of fresh fruit, these taste good enough for breakfast!

1 pound ground turkey breast meat
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/3 cup quick-cooking oats
1 tablespoon flaxseed, ground
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
4 whole-wheat English muffins, halved and toasted

1. Lightly grease grill rack and preheat to medium-high.

2. Combine all ingredients except English muffins in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly and form into four patties. Grill on medium-high for 5–7 minutes per side, or until meat is no longer pink in center. Serve immediately on toasted muffins.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 367 calories
% fat calories: 10
Fat: 4g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 56mg
Protein: 36g
Carbohydrate: 49g
Fiber: 8g
Sodium: 501mg

Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Pita Sandwiches
Serves 4 / Looking for a new way to dress up grilled chicken? This is it—a wonderfully balanced meal that both adults and kids enjoy. We often use traditional basil pesto with this, but it is also great with cilantro-based pesto and even artichoke pesto.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons prepared pesto sauce
2 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 4 wedges
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/3-inch slices
Olive oil cooking spray
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 whole-wheat pitas

1. Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry with a paper towel. Place in a zip-top plastic bag. Using a rolling pin or meat mallet, flatten chicken breast halves to 1/3-inch thickness. Cut each piece in half crosswise. Place back in plastic bag and add olive oil and garlic. Let marinate in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

2. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise and pesto and stir until blended.

3. Preheat barbecue to medium-high. Place zucchini, red bell pepper, and onion slices on a sheet of foil (or in a vegetable grilling basket) and mist with olive oil spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

4. Grill chicken pieces until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side; transfer to a clean plate and slice. Grill vegetables until softened slightly and browned, 5–8 minutes. Remove from grill and cut into bite-size pieces.

5. Grill pitas for about 1 minute on one side. Cut in half. Spread a tablespoon of pesto mayonnaise inside each pita half. Stuff pitas with chicken and grilled vegetables and serve.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 385 calories
% fat calories: 36
Fat: 16g
Saturated Fat: 3g
Cholesterol: 32mg
Protein: 21g
Carbohydrate: 42g
Fiber: 6g
Sodium: 501mg

Grilled Tomatoes Stuffed with Goat Cheese
Serves 4 / A stunning side dish. Look for fresh local chèvre (soft goat cheese), or experiment with the many types available in stores. Tomatoes are known for their phytochemical content, especially the antioxidant lycopene.

1/2 cup chèvre (soft goat cheese)
2 teaspoons chopped green onions
1 medium shallot, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Dash of freshly ground pepper
4 medium-size red tomatoes

1. Preheat grill to medium-high. Combine cheese, green onions, shallot, salt, and basil in a medium mixing bowl. Season with freshly ground pepper.

2. Using a small sharp knife, remove a cone-shaped piece 2 inches wide and 1 inch deep from the top of each tomato. Fill cavities with cheese mixture, dividing equally.

3. Place tomatoes directly on grill rack or on aluminum foil placed on grill rack. Cover barbecue with lid. Cook until tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 110 calories
% fat calories: 50
Fat: 6g
Saturated Fat: 4g
Cholesterol: 13mg
Protein: 7g
Carbohydrate: 8g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 249mg

Grilled Bananas with Frozen Yogurt and Maple Cream
Serves 4 / Serve these decadent grilled bananas alone, as a side to a tropical meal such as Caribbean jerk chicken, or to finish a Mexican dinner. You can also omit the butter and brown sugar altogether to save on fat and calories. If the halved bananas are difficult to handle, grill them on one side only; another option is to leave the peel on, grill, and remove peel after grilling, especially if the bananas are a bit too soft.

4 bananas, firm but ripe
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup vanilla frozen yogurt
Fresh mint leaves, for garnish

Maple Cream Sauce
1-1/2 cups low-fat cottage cheese
1-1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To make maple cream sauce, combine cottage cheese, maple syrup, and vanilla extract in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

2. Preheat grill to medium-high. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on grill rack. Peel bananas and halve them lengthwise. In a shallow baking dish large enough to hold bananas in a single layer, stir together butter and brown sugar and add bananas, turning gently to coat. Using a metal spatula or tongs, transfer bananas to foil on grill. Grill until browned and cooked through, 2–4 minutes per side.

3. Place two grilled banana slices on each serving plate; dollop with 1/4 cup vanilla frozen yogurt and top with 2 tablespoons maple cream sauce. Garnish with mint.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 266 calories
% fat calories: 23
Fat: 7g
Saturated Fat: 4g
Cholesterol: 24mg
Protein: 6g
Carbohydrate: 47g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 151mg

Drs. James and Debra Rouse are graduates of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. They’ve been creating healthy goodies in the kitchen since their med school days, when they were partners in an organic, vegan restaurant.