Alright, I know most of you don’t need step by step instructions on how to grill vegetables, but at the very least, I thought I would offer some tips and ideas. Today’s post is part of a larger BBQ feast; so far we’ve featured a Watermelon Salad with Feta, Olives and Mint, as well as a great method for Grilled Sausage with Peppers, Onions and Fennel.
When it comes to grilling, I almost always like to keep things simple. What you’re really looking for, is to have the grill bring out the natural flavors of the food and it really doesn’t need any fancy marinades or sauces that tend to burn anyway. Whenever grilling vegetables, I always try to get a nice variety of flavors and textures; my usual go-to’s are peppers, onions, asparagus, portobellos, zucchini and summer squash (green and yellow courgettes). Some fruits that grill up well are peaches, pineapples, bananas, tomatoes and avocados (yep, tomatoes and avocados are technically fruits), but I won’t get too in depth on fruits today, though many of the same principles apply.
1. Make sure the fire is just right- Nobody wants blackened veggies. Aside from the extra carcinogens your body doesn’t need, it doesn’t taste very good either. If using a gas grill the solution is simple, turn down the heat if things start flaring up. Charcoal and wood can be a bit trickier, but the trick is to cook over hot coals and not flames. Stack the coals or wood to one side and leave a gradual slope, leaving “hot” and “cold” zones that give you more control over how you cook.
2. Watch the extra fuel- although I often use olive oil while grilling, be aware of how much. Excess oil can cause flare ups and impart an acrid, bitter taste to your vegetables when it burns. It also makes it difficult to use your tongs while you’re dodging fireballs.
3. Watch the sugars- We all love BBQ sauce and processed salad dressings, but over too high a heat, the sugars will just burn, leaving you with a charred mass instead of delicately flavored foods. My advice is save the BBQ sauce for BBQ chicken (which I’ll give some pointers on in my next post) and salad dressings for salads.
4. Keep it simple- Generally I use three things to season my grilled veg: olive oil, salt and pepper. If I really want to go crazy I might add a little fresh chopped garlic, balsamic vinegar and/or fresh herbs like oregano, marjoram, thyme or rosemary.
5. Don’t overdo it- The one mistake I see most people make with grilling vegetables, is that they leave them on too long and they turn to mush. Remember that they will continue to cook once off the heat, especially if you cover them with foil. Remember, nobody like a flaccid asparagus.
6. Speaking of foil- Don’t worry about covering the veg. The foil will tend to overcook and steam the vegetables making them drab and flabby. Grilled vegetables are excellent when warm or at room temperature as long as they are not over cooked!
Always buy asparagus when it is fresh, firm and green with a firm undamaged heads; avoiding those where the tops have gone to mush. I usually avoid the tougher, large stalks as well and go for the pencil thin (or slightly larger) varieties. The faster asparagus is cooked once out of the ground, the better it will taste.
White asparagus is covered in soil so the chlorophyll doesn’t turn the plant green, and in my opinion saps it of its natural flavor. It was popular for a while, mainly because of the color, but I see no use for it.
Instead of cutting the ends off the asparagus, try snapping them off instead. The bottoms of asparagus tend to be woody and inedible, but a quick snap will remove the undesirable ends. You can do this one at a time or with small handfuls.
I season with olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper. Thin asparagus should cook in under 3 minutes on a hot grill. Lay them perpendicular to the grills so they don’t fall through and roll them to char both sides. Use tongs to remove them from the grill while they still have a snap to them.
These are often thrown on the grill as an afterthought for the vegetarians who won’t eat the chicken and sausage. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, but if prepared well they can be delicious and go really well on a grilled veggie sandwich.Use a spoon to scoop out the black gills from the inside and season with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Grill open side up and cook for about 4-6 minutes, and flip a little over halfway through the cooking process.
Peppers and Onions
I usually do these together, cut in 1/2 inch rings and seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook a few minutes on each side and toss together in a bowl when done. Check out my post on Grilled Sausage with Peppers, Onions and Fennel for more information and serving ideas.
Zucchini and Summer Squash (Green and Yellow Courgettes)
Though I used to be in favor of slicing these veg in rounds or on a bias, it results in a lot of flipping and shuffling on the grill. By cutting the veg lengthwise, you still have beautifully cooked vegetables without the hassle of grilling and flipping 100 small pieces. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper; garlic, balsamic and herbs also go well but aren’t necessary and in some ways take away from the delicate flavor.
TODAY’S BONUS RECIPE
Since most of you probably know how to grill vegetables already, I thought I’d throw in a little something extra for you. This grilled veggie sandwich has pieces of grilled haloumi cheese, fresh baby arugula (rocket) on a toasted french baguette, drizzled with (you guessed it) olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
I’ve also done this sandwich with a really sharp and creamy goat cheese, which is my personal preference, but the wife loves her haloumi. Happy grilling everyone!
Photos courtesy of Brian Boulos