By: Jillian Fraioli

When the thermometer ramps up into the red zone, we either turn towards “picnic dinners” (consisting of crudités, finger foods, cooling dips like hummus or raita, and lots of fruit) — or we turn on the grill.

My grandfather used to say, “Drink hot tea in summer, not iced tea.” And if you’ve traveled to hot and humid countries, you will know they hand you hot drinks and spiced foods on the hottest of days. Hot drinks and spices in the summer can actually cool you down; this is due to an effect known as “evaporative cooling” — they make us sweat, which cools down the body.

Our favorite hot day grill-up is my “infamous” sambal chicken thighs, grilled broccolini tossed in cilantro chimichurri, grilled pineapple, and watermelon coolers (strike the booze, if you wish).

The chimichurri and watermelon juice balance your palate using cooling spices like cilantro, mint, cumin, and coriander.

Sambal Chicken Thighs with Grilled Pineapple | 4 Servings

Marinate Time: 12-24 hours for best results

Note: you can use chicken breasts here, but you’ll have to adjust your cooking time. We prefer the thighs, as it takes on the heat well.

For the Marinade:

  • 1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 – 1/3 cup Sambal Oelek (use more for those who like heat)
  • 1/4 cup Mirin (or unseasoned rice wine vinegar)
  • 3 TBSP Coconut Aminos (or use a light soy sauce, low sodium if possible)
  • 3 TBSP fish sauce (such as our fav, Red Boat)
  • 1 TBSP finely grated peeled ginger
  • 2-3 scallions, greens and whites, sliced in thin rounds
  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of all available fat.

Mix together all of the marinade ingredients in a bowl. You can pop the chicken directly into the bowl, or put the marinade and chicken in a gallon Ziploc. For best results, you want the chicken to marinate overnight (in the fridge!) – or at least 2-4 hours in advance. Remove the chicken from the fridge an hour before cooking.

On a hot (450 degree), pre-heated grill, cook the thighs on one side for four minutes, keeping the lid closed during cooking time. Baste, turn, and cook on the other side another four minutes. They may be done at this point, depending on your grill; if not, baste and turn again, and grill for 2 more minutes. Total grilling time should be around 8-10 minutes. If you prefer to temp, your instant-read thermometer should reach 165 degrees.

Grill the pineapple while you grill the chicken! We put them on about 10 minutes before the chicken, as they take about 8-10 minutes a side. We drizzle fresh pineapple slices (at least 1/2- to 3/4- inch thick) with olive oil, and then grill, flipping when you flip the chicken the first time, and letting them finish. After removing them, we drizzle with honey and spritz of lime, or even some spices like cinnamon and cumin. You can make it your own by adding your favorite spices and no one will be disappointed!

Grilled Broccolini with Cilantro Chimichurri | 4 Servings

2 bunches broccolini, toss in a generous amount of olive oil

We grill these before everything else, as we prefer them room-temperature, to release the best flavors of the vegetables. They take about 5-6 minutes a side. You want them to get a little crisp at the flower end, and a little charred everywhere else.

Cilantro Chimichurri | about 1 1/2 cups

2 cups cilantro, leaves and stems, loosely chopped and rinsed (you can use all flat-leaf parsley, or half cilantro and half parsley, if you have cilantro-itis)

3 scallions – loosely chopped

1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil (measure a half, use only what you need)

1/4 cup lime juice

3 (or 4 if you love garlic like us) cloves of garlic, peeled

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin (if you can find roasted, use it)

1 tsp ground coriander (again if you can find roasted, use it instead)

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper

Shove all the ingredients in your food processor, EXCEPT the olive oil. Put it on “chop” or “mix” and as it starts to grind up, slowly add in the olive oil. You want this to be a thicker paste, not really soupy; sometimes you only need a quarter cup of olive oil, sometimes you’ll need the full half. Once you’ve achieved a nice loose paste, you’re done! Don’t forget to try it — you might need to add more salt and pepper to taste.

Once the broccolini is off the grill, toss it in a generous 1/2 cup of the chimichurri to serve.

But what do you do with the leftover cup of chimi? Everything! We put it on eggs, in soups like a pistou, use it like pesto on pasta, beef up the last tablespoon or two with olive oil and marinade steak or pork chops for the grill, dip veggies in it. Believe me — it’s magical and we often are found making double or triple batches. This will keep up to 10 days in your fridge when sealed.

Watermelon Cooler | Makes 4-6 Cocktails

  • 2 1/2 pounds seedless watermelon cubes
  • 1/2 pound of stemmed strawberries (optional)
  • 1/3 cup Tequila (we use blanco, anejo would be good if you like smoke)
  • 1/4 cup Cointreau (or other sweet orange liqueur like triple sec)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • fresh mint for garnish (and feel free to muddle some into the drink as well!)

Blend the fruit and lime juice. Pass through a fine-meshed strainer if you wish to have “no pulp”.

Then stir in the booze, pour over ice.

Pro-tip: if you freeze the watermelon cubes and strawberries in a flat layer on a half sheet pan, and don’t care about straining the juice, you will come out with a more delightful slushy type of cocktail. This is what we prefer, adding in a few ice cubes. Think margarita. 

You can also nix the booze and add some pineapple juice or finish with fizzy water for a delicious mocktail!

Jillian Fraioli
Jillian FraioliAuthor
Jillian moonlights in her own kitchen as Executive Chef. She comes from a long line of at-home chefs, making Sunday sauce and homemade pasta as soon as she was knee-high with Grandma Fraioli. Jillian used to work at such illustrious restaurants such as Emeril’s Fish House in Las Vegas (where she was a Pastry Chef), and both in the front and back of the house of Serafina and Tango in Seattle. She ended her career in restaurants many lives ago, and now supports women-owned businesses, including The Brick Magazine as assistant to the publisher. You can follow along with her cats and knitting (and sometimes food), if that’s your jam, on Instagram @yarnologie