Recipes: Here’s what to grill for your Memorial Day weekend cookout

Many would categorize Southern California as a grilling mecca, a spot where home cooking grill-side is welcomed 365 days a year. But with so many rainy days, local backyard barbecues may have gotten a little neglected.

Hopefully, Memorial Day will be sunny and bright, warm with gentle breezes and hungry guests. It’s a great opportunity to dust off the ‘cue and host an alfresco celebration. I’m going to use it as motivation to spruce up the yard and put out splashy, outdoor party fare. The dishes will be  bursting with flavor, much of which will be fresh off the grill.

Ah, come on sunshine. The barbecue needs a refresher.

Louis Lamb Chop ‘Lollipops’

Lamb chops can be turned into delectable finger-food
Lamb chops can be turned into delectable finger-food “lollipop” appetizers that you cook on the grill. (Photo by Curt Norris)

Ten years ago, Personal Chef Katherine Louis Boucher joined me in my kitchen to show me how to turn lamb chops into irresistible Greek style “lollipop” appetizers. The chops are cut from the lamb rack, and each has a curved bone that is meat-free at the bottom making it the perfect handle for finger food grazing. She told me to offer guests napkins and stand back to watch the chops disappear.

Growing up in a Greek American family in Santa Ana, her maiden name was Louis, an Ellis Island adaptation of the original Louizo. Marinated first and then grilled lamb was a culinary tradition in her childhood home, especially on holidays. She riffed on her father’s marinade enhancing the mix with chopped fresh parsley and thinly sliced fresh jalapeño chilies.

Yield: 25 lamb “lollipops”


1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Minced zest and juice of 2 lemons, Meyer lemons preferred

2 fresh jalapeños, halved, seeds removed, thinly sliced, see cook’s notes

2 medium shallots, minced

8 garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 cup fresh oregano

1/4 cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

25 rib lamb chops, at least 1-inch at bone ends scraped to clean them; see cook’s notes

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Garnish: 1 lemon thinly sliced, Meyer lemon preferred, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

Cook’s notes: Use caution when working with fresh chilies; upon completion wash work surface thoroughly and do NOT touch face or eyes. The first 2 or 3 ribs off the large end of the rack contain more fat than those closer to the loin.


1. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, lemon zest and juice, jalapenos, and shallots. On a cutting board, chop the garlic, oregano and 1/4 cup parsley until coarsely chopped; add to olive oil mixture and stir to combine.

2. Arrange the lamb chops in a nonreactive baking dish; top with the marinade and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours.

3. Heat grill to medium-high. Clean grate. Season the lamb chops generously with salt and pepper.  Remove chops from marinade and grill until slightly charred, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from grill and allow to rest 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with thinly sliced lemons and parsley.

Source: Personal Chef Katherine Louis Boucher

Endive Boats with Green Olive, Parsley, and Walnut Salad

Endive Boats hold a salad made with green olive, parsley and walnut salad. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)
Endive Boats hold a salad made with green olive, parsley and walnut salad. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)

Belgian endives, compacted in torpedo-shaped heads about 6-inches long, have a subtle hint of bitterness. Both the pale green and burgundy-red varieties are delicious raw or cooked, paired with ingredients that add flavor balance. Individual endive leaves make lovely containers for appetizers.

If you aren’t a fan of feta, use finely diced Parmesan instead in these tasty endive canapés. Or if you prefer to omit the cheese altogether, substitute finely diced red bell pepper.  Pomegranate molasses adds a lovely sweet-sour spark to this dish. It is sold at Middle Eastern markets and many natural food stores. If unavailable, substitute balsamic vinegar.

I like to use buttery green olives in the mix, such as pitted castelvetranos.

Yield: About 24 appetizers


2 green onions, thinly sliced, including half of dark green stalks

2 cups coarsely chopped Italian parsley leaves

1 cup coarsely chopped pitted green olives

1/4 cup toasted walnut pieces, coarsely chopped; see cook’s notes

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses or balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

24 endive leaves

Optional garnish: 1/4 cup pomegranate arils (seeds)

Cook’s notes: Place walnut pieces on rimmed baking sheet in single layer. Place in 350-degree oven until lightly toasted, 3 to 4 minutes. Watch carefully because nuts burn easily. Cool before coarsely chopping and using in salad.


1. In medium bowl, place green onion slices, Italian parsley, olives, walnuts and feta. Toss.

2. In small bowl or glass measuring cup with a handle, combine juice, pomegranate molasses or balsamic, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Whisk in oil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Pour dressing over onion-parsley mixture; toss.

3. Arrange endive leaves on large platter, preferably round, placing them like the spokes of a wheel pointed end facing edge of plate. Fill endive half full with mixture. If desired, scatter pomegranate seeds (arils) on top and serve.

Source: “Melissa’s 50 Best Plants on the Planet” by Cathy Thomas (Chronicle, $29.95)

Solita’s Grilled Corn (Elote)

“Elote,” or Mexican-style grilled corn, is a tasty and festive dish to serve at a holiday weekend cookout. (Photo by Curt Norris)

I love the grilled corn served at the Solita Tacos and Margaritas eateries. Called “elote” in Mexico, it’s a perfect outdoor party dish. Long ago, back when Deborah Schneider was the executive chef/partner at Solita, she shared the recipe with me. She has moved on from her Solita career, but her glorious corn remains on the menus. And it remains a regular treat fired at home on my grill.

The corn, still in its husks, is first roasted in the oven. Once roasted, the husks are pulled back and tied to make a dandy handle. A smidgen of butter goes onto the kernels before it’s placed over the fire, just enough to make it tasty, but not enough to make it drippy. Monitoring the progress, the corn is turned as each side caramelizes. The browning concentrates the sweetness and makes the texture alluringly chewy. Off the heat the corn gets slathered with butter and topped with a zigzag of chipotle sauce, a mixture of mayonnaise, pureed chipotles in adobo and fresh lime juice. A little crumbled Cotija cheese, and a little sliced green onion. A sprinkle of ground toasted California chilies and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Yield: 4 servings, with Chipotle Sauce leftover


Chipotle Sauce:

1 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup pureed chipotle chilies; see cook’s notes

Juice of 1/2 lime, plus more if needed


4 ears of corn, husks intact

3 tablespoons melted butter, divided use

Salt to taste

Crumbled Cotija cheese, about 1/4 cup

1 1/2 teaspoons ground dried California chili

2 green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced — including dark green stalks

Garnish: 4 lime wedges

Cook’s notes: Chipotle chilies are sold in small cans in the Mexican specialty section of many supermarkets. Puree the contents of the can in a small food processor or blender, including the red adobo sauce. Use what you need and freeze the rest.


1. In a small bowl, stir mayonnaise, chipotle chili puree and lime juice. Taste and add more lime juice if needed. Place in squeeze bottle and refrigerate. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place corn in single layer on baking sheet or directly on the oven rack. Roast uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool enough to handle.

2. Meanwhile, start fire in barbecue using charcoal and chunks of wood (hardwood designated for barbecuing). Pull off a couple of outer crispy husks on the corn and tear them into strips to use as ties. Pull back husks on corn to expose kernels, leaving the husks attached; tie husks together with the ties. Brush with melted butter, just enough to very lightly coat; sprinkle with a little salt. When flames die down, grill on clean grate, letting husks extend over side of barbecue to use as handles. Turn as each side browns.

3. Place corn on platter. Brush with remaining butter. Top each with Chipotle Sauce squeezed from the bottle in a zigzag pattern. Top with Cotija cheese, a sprinkle of ground chili and green onion. Serve lime wedges on the side.

Source: Chef Deborah Schneider

Date Bars

Date Bars can be made in advance and stored at room temperature. (Photo by Curt Norris)
Date Bars can be made in advance and stored at room temperature. (Photo by Curt Norris)

These delicious bar cookies can be made 1 to 2 days in advance, cut into squares and stored, covered, at room temperature. Serve them with fresh strawberries if you like.

Yield: 36 bar cookies or 24 wedges to serve with cheese


Butter for greasing pan

1 1/4 cups fine graham cracker crumbs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 3/4 cups chopped pitted dates, see cook’s notes

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or Marcona almonds

3 eggs

1 cup light brown sugar

Garnish: powdered sugar


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan with butter. Line pan with two crisscrossed sheets of aluminum foil, allowing a 1- to 2-inch margin of foil to come over the top edge of the pan (this helps with unmolding); butter foil. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, place graham cracker crumbs, salt and baking powder; stir to combine. Add dates and walnuts; stir to combine.

3. In a separate bowl or large bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs well (use the flat paddle attachment on mixer if using). Add brown sugar, 1/3 cup at a time, beating between additions to combine. Add graham cracker mixture to egg mixture and mix or beat to combine. Place in prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Allow to rest 10 minutes in pan set on cooling rack. Using potholders if the pan and foil are still too hot to handle, pull foil from pan and set still in foil on cooling rack. Cool 10 minutes. Invert on cutting board and peel away foil. Make 36 squares by cutting 6 rows crosswise and lengthwise. When cool, dust with powdered sugar; place powdered sugar in a sieve and shake over squares.

Source: Adapted from “The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe from Each Year 1941-2009” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18)

Cooking question? Contact Cathy Thomas at