The first hint of summer weather sends barbecue sales into overdrive, even in parts of the country where lengthy belts of balmy sunshine are anything but guaranteed.
But while making due allowances for flourishes such as oak wood smoked burgers on BBQ’s, there is very little you can do with a barbie that is dramatically different from the results achieved with electric cookers. Why does a grill have to be open air to make its food seem particularly exciting - or is it just the social ambience and fun of all the preparations? Didn’t the forecast say it might rain later?
Nor is there any reason to stick with meat-heavy classic American-style fare (although there’s nothing wrong with that now and again), since even the most modest home cook among us now knows (courtesy of local ethnic shops, travel and cookery programmes) that there’s a world of “healthy” cuisines to choose from on our doorstep.
The kebab, and we’re emphatically not talking about the Saturday night “kebab shop” item, has been part of the staple tradition of the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East since the days of the Pharoahs, and at its most imaginative can be a superb treat in which tender chunks of seared chicken or lamb are interspersed with grilled peppers, tomatoes, and baby onions - or perhaps aubergines.
The calories are modest (grilling is the weight watcher’s best friend), and as a dish it will work all the better with a lightly dressed fresh salad (try a classic Greek salad, with olives and Feta cheese) and, ideally, some Eastern-style flatbread (or toasted Pitta bread, at a pinch).
Indian-style Tandoori nudges the whole process a stage farther towards “fiery” (although there are also many subtle and delicate Asian variants of kebabs) - but for something “Indian” and “different” get a recipe online for spiced baked haddock, cooked in electric ovens in tinfoil (no special clay tandoor oven remotely required). It is sensational.
There is no need to go into Ready, Steady, Cook mode to experiment with “healthy” home cooking to suit summer’s lighter appetites, since in many cases it’s the quality of prime ingredients - fresh Tuna, say - which is going to matter most - it’s never worth trying to be too clever when you are making “normal” food at home, particularly for a family.
What about the food that dare not speak its name - chips? Visit any Netherlands city and you will typically be offered skinny chips with just about everything, but also - almost without asking - large portions of fresh salad. They typically get the balance just right.
The mistake most people make with “healthy” food is in trying to eat very little or in trying to make the range of ingredients earnestly tied to dieticians’ favourites such as fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses and wholemeal bread, almost to the exclusion of anything else.
Far better to aim for a balanced diet which introduces plenty of classic summer choices, while making just minor tweaks to accepted tradition - for example as a perfect dessert try fresh strawberries with Greek yoghurt instead of super-calorific cream.
Other cuisines we can draw inspiration from include Spanish, which of course involves the “tapas” concept which is absolutely ideal for a meal prepared for a group of friends - perhaps prepared indoors, using the electric cooker, and served at tables and chairs in the garden.
An elementary book or online guide will reveal just how easy it is to present a relative few oven-cooked choices as an ensemble with salads and other cold side-dishes.
Closer study of Spanish cuisine reveals a long-held parallel obsession with heavy pork dishes, and (just as in Hispanic New World countries such as Argentina), the prime beef steak reigns supreme - it’s a myth to suggest Spanish people subsist wholly on summery, “healthy” light bites.
But it is a multi-layered culture, in which influences as disparate as Basque and Moroccan also provide fascinating variety.
Delve a little farther into regional cuisines and you discover that Catalan regional cookery has an influence on west-Sardinian cookery, following centuries of trading commerce between Iberia and Sardinia.
But massively popular grill dishes are never hard to do, whatever their ethnic origin, since at least half of a typical meal will consist of cold, pre-prepared accompaniments, and the amount of oil used in the process will be negligible - assuming that grill cookery is the main event.
So, no, you don’t need a lovingly-crafted brick kiln barbecue in the garden in order to host interesting, healthy meals for friends or family.
A decent cooker, good ingredients and a healthy approach to experimentation can yield brilliant results and, just perhaps, also rekindle a few fond memories of that cherished past summer holiday in sun-kissed Malaga, Crete or Turkey.