Even if you're not gluten sensitive or plagued with Celiac disease, you can still give wheat the shaft this summer, and pick healthier and more exciting bun substitutes. So amp up your burger or dog with an interesting element of crunch, texture, taste, color and dose of vitamins and minerals by indulging in the season's hottest choices.
Say "aloha" with a pair of fresh grilled pineapple rings to sandwich mahi mahi, albacore tuna or wild-caught salmon patties. For diehard carnivores, a grilled wild boar burger pairs nicely with the golden beauty's sweet, tangy and exotic flavors. A tropical warrior packed with Bromelain, an anti-inflammatory enzyme that aids digestion, along with Vitamins C, B1, manganese and copper, pineapple strengthens the nervous system and keeps blood pressure at an even keel.
Marinate a couple of big, beefy Portobello mushrooms in a blend of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs and spices (recipe provided) and gently grill. This fabulous fungi that uncannily resembles a classic hamburger bun in both size and shape, outperforms it in flavor and nutrition — whether hugging a bison, grass-fed beef or assorted poultry burger. Portobellos can dial-up a weak immune system compromised in its ability to fight infections, or whittle down an over-active one that causes a slew of autoimmune disorders.
They are antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, loaded with potassium to maintain a steady heart rhythm, and Ks for healthy clotting. Make sure the caps and gills are free of moisture, mold, soft spots, blemishes and any foul odor.
Grab a firm, purple eggplant and slice generous chunks crosswise at the thickest part of the berry. Brush liberally with garlic infused grapeseed oil and season with sea salt and dried basil. Grill, pan-fry or bake until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. These nightshade "buns" add a Mediterranean theme to your favorite burgers, especially juicy lamb.
What's more, eggplant is a low-cal, fat-free source of fiber, rich in calcium and nerve-calming Bs. Where possible, leave the eggplant unpeeled as the skin has the greatest source of phytonutrients, but make sure it's dark purple, smooth and glossy.
Pick a peck of pickled peppers, whether jade green, red, yellow or orange sliced in half, either lengthwise or crosswise with the stem removed, and slightly grilled so they are still firm enough to support a sandwich filling, burger or bratwurst. The green bells with a fresh grassy taste pair well with beef, the golden yellows and oranges with fruity nuances complement chicken or turkey, while the rich reds with a slightly spicy sweetness match up beautifully with bratwursts or zippy Italian sausages.
Sweet potatoes, a rich orange-fleshed tuber from the morning glory family, when sliced crosswise with skin intact, then pan-fried or baked make an ideal topper for sliders of all manners, including caramelized, wild-caught jumbo scallops.
Of course, you can always turn over a new leaf with Paleo-style burger wrappings. Best picks are crisp and luscious Romaine leaves; super Brasica kale, pungent, stiff and mighty their leaves stand up to behemoth burgers; white-veined, red-leafed radicchio with a slightly spicy bitterness; sweet and delicate butter lettuce or classic iceberg.
Lop off the tops and bottoms of giant heirloom tomatoes and use these juicy, raw beauties as buns. Heirloom tomatoes — named so called because of its fine lineage with characteristics passed down from generations, including its gorgeous ugliness, divine Technicolors, patterns and sweetness — make them rock stars of the culinary world. When choosing heirlooms, please don't squeeze these delicate fruits; rather use your olfactory and sniff for a deep fragrant aroma.
For a refreshing change-up from pedestrian hot dog buns try a large and crunchy, probiotic-rich dill pickle, sliced lengthwise, scooping out some of the seeds to make a hollow for the dog (organic beef, chicken, turkey or tofu without nitrates, please). Dress with spicy brown mustard, fresh chopped onions or sauerkraut, and you will never feel deprived. Southern palates might want to be a little naughty and deep-fry the pickle, but that just adds a ton of calories and grease.
Recipe: Grilled Portobello Mushroom 'Buns'
• Ingredients: 4 Portobellos, brushed with damp cloth; 6 tablespoons virgin olive oil; 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce; 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar; 1/3 cup red wine; 1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped; 1/4 teaspoon each turmeric, ginger powder, rosemary, thyme, basil
• Method: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together oil, wine, vinegar, Worcestershire, herbs, seasonings. Add mushrooms. Coat well, and marinate for about an hour. Slather olive oil on cooking surface and grill till slightly crispy on outside, tender but still firm on inside. Sandwich your favorite burger with a pair of Portobellos. (Serves 2)
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached at email@example.com