Monthly Archives: May 2019

Let There Be Fire! – The Universal Language of Grilling

Chimney starters help accelerate the process of getting the coal ready for grilling.  
Photo credit: Illya Samko


Summer is finally here, and in these latitudes, barbecue season often evokes images of sporting events and patriotic-themed cookouts. Of course, you need weather to cooperate, so as the words “barbecue” roll off your tongue, you have unconsciously summoned the idea of a picture-perfect day. Growing up in a part of the world blessed with rather benign weather year-round, it was not until I moved to Chicago that I understood why the state of the atmosphere often finds its way into the conversation or the news. Here, grilling is definitely a seasonal event and sometimes it is referred to as barbecuing.

In Mexico, barbecue or barbacoa, means something different- it is a dish that typically entails cooking meat on an open fire (usually lamb) in a hole that has been dug in the ground for this purpose. Barbecuing to us, is a parrillada or a carne asada (literally, “grilled meat”). These words immediately make me think of a Sunday spent surrounded by family and friends in Mexico. Putting the meat on the grill is the main event, and the process entails an unspoken ritual that, like any other party in Mexico, takes at least a whole day. To me, the most curious part of the custom is what is often done in hopes that the rain won’t spoil the day- scissors and knives are staked into the ground. In some instances, this is done forming specific shapes, in others, these artifacts are put outside along with ribbons or even eggs…

Last year, we asked a few suburban dads for their grilling tips right on time for Father’s Day. As I asked around, I realized that ideas were incredibly diverse-  from ingredients to techniques. Something I found particularly fascinating was that no matter who I was talking to, this conversation resonated.  The joy of grilling seemed universal.

Is it? I think it might be. I asked my friend Illya for a few grilling tips. He happens to be Ukrainian and someone who, like me, is truly passionate about food. What do you have in common? You speak the same language-  He is another guy who loves to grill.

Sizzling Hot: Our Primal Love for Food over Fire

 By: Illya Samko


Grilling in Monterrey, Mexico. Photo credit: Illya Samko

Grilling in Monterrey, Mexico. Photo credit: Illya Samko

Since man started cooking with fire, food has never been the same. There is something deeply primal about putting a piece of steak on the fire; the sound of  meat sizzling on the grill, its aroma and the divine taste of a fresh steak. I believe these images are seared into our DNA.

In the Ukraine, grilling is mainly associated with cooking pork. Pork shoulder is usually cut into cubes and marinated in mayonnaise, salt and onions. It is then skewered and cooked over charcoal slowly until it is well done.

Ukrainian grill. Photo credit: Ilya Samko

Ukrainian grill. Photo credit: Illya Samko

My greatest learning experience as far as grilling goes, took place during my first trip to Monterrey, Mexico (birthplace of my lovely wife, Myrna). Here, grilling  is a way of life to say the least. I was impressed with how Regios* know their grilling. They use a specific type of charcoal, Mesquite, which gives the meat a very smoky and distinctive flavor. The preparation process is as important as grilling itself- It takes a certain number of cheves** to get the thing going. First the fire, then the botanas*** and few hours later, when you are so hungry that you could eat just about anything, you finally hear that “magic sound” and smell the beef- you are lovestruck.

 At that point, in spite of all the beers you’ve had, your senses are heightened and the level of salivation is downright dangerous. Finally, the teasing is over and it is time to feast- the plate full of grilled goodness makes it to the table. Devour you will. Believe me. Not only is grilling a ritual that takes hours, it is also a way to celebrate anything. Mexicans seem to celebrate life if there is no other particular reason to party.

When grilling there are a few important things that you need to know. I believe these basic steps make a huge difference.

  • Never put any meat on the grill that came straight out from the fridge. Let it warm up a little. Room temperature is ideal.
  • Season your meat with kosher or sea salt and pepper. Good steak needs absolutely nothing else.
  • Be patient. You cannot rush a good burger, steak or whatever you are grilling.
  • After you take your steak off the grill, let it rest for about five minutes. This will allow all the juices to be redistributed back into the steak evenly.
  • I use a chimney starter to speed up the process of getting the coal ready for grilling. Using accelerators on the coal gives your food  a chemical taste.


Born and raised in Western Ukraine, Illya Samko is a food enthusiast who loves to travel, learn about different cultures and try new cuisines. With a  degree in law, and a knack for anthropology, Illya has worked in London, New York and Chicago, where he currently lives with his Mexican wife, Myrna. 

*Regios short for regiomontanos, are a citizens from Monterrey, Mexico.
**Cheves is slang for cerveza or beer.
***Appetizers, snacks
Originally published 6-23-2013 

Flores Hasta en la Sopa

Foto: Bertha Herrera para La Vitamina T

Aunque no lo creas las flores son ingredientes que ponen un sello particular en algunos platillos. Aquí te decimos algunas de sus características


Con la llegada de la primavera y las celebraciones de mayo, incluyendo el día de las madres las flores empiezan a aparecer en puestos de mercados, supermercados y toda clase de aparadores.

Además de gesto significativo y objeto de ornato, con las flores se pueden elaborar un sinfín de platillos para sorprender al paladar. Especialmente en esta época del año que simboliza la renovación de la naturaleza.

Desde tiempos antiguos, el inicio de la primavera marca el momento justo para preparar la tierra para sembrar, y así aprovechar la temporada de lluvias para que los alimentos se reproduzcan en todo su esplendor.

Sergio Camacho, chef creativo, dice que en esta época del año existe la abundancia, sobre todo de flores multicolores, con las cuales se pueden preprar vastos platos.


Sebastián Vertí en su libro Sólo para Florívoros, dice que entre las valiosas aportaciones de México al mundo están las flores.

“Fueron infinitas las variedades de flores que hombres y mujeres cultivaron, en tiempos pasados, con esmero en todas las regiones de Mesoamérica, buena parte de su tiempo lo dedicaban al cuidado de las flores”, explica Vertí.

Actualmente existen infinidad de flores con las que se pueden elaborar múltiples platillos. Por ejemplo, las biznagas (endémicas de las zonas desérticas alrededor de San Luís Potosí) son una cactácea cilíndrica y de muchas espinas. También, se puede cocinar con los izotes, los cuales pertenecen a la familia de las liliáceas, y que son de color blanco cremoso.

En tiempos de cuaresma las flores forman parte de varios platillos tradicionales de las zonas rurales de México. Además, son ricas en vitaminas C y calcio. Por ejemplo, la flor de mayo o cacaloxóchitl, es de color rosa, amarilla y blanca, según el árbol que las produce. Éstas se dan en Guerrero, Oaxaca y Chiapas.

Así que además de comprar flores para mamá, no te pierdas la oportunidad de cocinar o probar las flores comestibles, ya que harán de tu mesa un gran jardín de sabor.