Recipes for Grilled Vegetables
Really Great Grilling Tips Any One Can Learn
Vegetarian grilling may seem oxymoronic-grilling means hotdogs, hamburgers and steak right? But grilling is actually a great way to cook vegetables and to turn out tasty vegetarian meals. Grilling enhances the naturally delicious flavors of vegetables.
Cooking methods are divided into three groups: moist heat methods like boiling and steaming, dry heat methods such as grilling and baking and combination methods, like braising where both moist and dry heat are used. When cooking, using moist heat methods, the temperature never really goes above the boiling point of water or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry heat methods, on the other hand, allow the food to get much hotter and as a result sugars caramelize (turn brown and change flavor) and more water is lost as it evaporates out of the food. The combination of water loss and caramelization results in more intense flavors.
Sadly, all too often grilled vegetables are served blackened and bitter or essentially raw and either way they're unappealing. So what's the key to delicious grilled vegetables? Understanding the proper technique. When armed with the right information, it's easy to prepare mouth watering, juicy vegetables that are perfectly tender and never over-caramelized.
First things first: size and shape matters. Vegetable kabobs may look nice just before they go on the grill, but they rarely taste good once cooked. The problem is the shape of the pieces, and the fact that they are packed together on a skewer.
The best way to achieve perfectly grilled vegetables is to cut them into large flat pieces that are even thickness throughout. Once cooked these large pieces can be cut into smaller shapes and used in a variety of dishes. This method works particularly well with the summer squashes and eggplant. Their natural shape allows you to cut them into long slabs that are about 3/8-inch thick.
Other vegetables are more difficult to handle because they don't have a uniform shape and size to begin with, but once you master cutting them into the proper shapes they are a cinch to grill.
Onions should be cut into 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch thick rounds, parallel to the equator. Make sure to start from one end and not by cutting the onion in half first. Then skewer the slices with a toothpick or small skewer to keep the rings together.
Thin vegetables such as asparagus and scallions and watery vegetables like tomatoes and tomatillos grill best when left whole.
High water content greens like bok choy and romaine lettuce grill very nicely, simply trim off a bit of the bottom but leave the core intact and soak them in cold water to remove any sand or dirt.
Endive, fennel and others with a more substantial core, can be sliced lengthwise; this allows the core to hold the vegetable together while grilling. Most cores can be eaten but, if you desire, the core can be removed once the vegetable is cooked.
Bell peppers are often cut into small shapes and skewered but they never cook well using this method. Instead, cut off the top and bottom of the pepper, remove the core, then cut the pepper in half from top to bottom. This way you end up with two flat rectangles that are grilled skin side down.
Mind the flavor. Vegetables must be brushed with oil before grilling since, unlike meat, they don't contain any fat that allows them to self-baste. And since you have to add extra calories from fat, you might as well enjoy them. Forego the vegetable oil and use a nice tasty olive oil instead.
Don't forget the salt and pepper! It's okay to cook a burger without any seasoning-its just going to get drenched in ketchup anyway-but your vegetables won't. Make sure to season them before they go on the grill and taste and adjust the seasoning once they are finished cooking.
The best way to oil and season vegetables is to lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, brush them with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. Turn them over and repeat on the other side. You can also load them into a zip lock bag, add the oil and seasonings and toss them. This method works better with some vegetables better than others (onions and fennel tend to fall apart) and, unless you wash them, you wind up tossing yet one more plastic bag into a landfill.
Marinades are great, but avoid those that contain sugar, which caramelizes quickly and causes the exterior to blacken too much. When cooking a mixture grilling different vegetables together, never marinate all of them. The result is a plate of food that all tastes exactly the same. The great thing about vegetables is that they have such a wonderful assortment of flavors; by marinating them all together you lose the interest and the dish becomes boring. It is better to choose one or two to marinate and allow the others to retain their natural flavors.
Use both moist heat and dry heat to cook your vegetables. On the up side, the dry heat of grilling adds great flavor, on the down side, its way too easy to end up with overly blackened and dehydrated vegetables. In order to cook vegetables throughout, you may end up having to leave them on the grill until they are overdone on the outside. There is an easy solution, grill them long enough to have nice markings on both sides-then take them off the grill, place them in a bowl or pot and cover them tightly with plastic wrap so that no steam can escape, and leave them for 5-10 minutes. This way you create a warm moist heat environment that finishes cooking the vegetable through, without allowing them to get any browner or drier. Onions, fennel, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant are especially delicious when cooked in this manner.
Finally, cook more than you need. If you are going to go through the process of lighting the grill, you might as well cook more vegetables than you need for a single meal. Use them in omelets and sandwiches, to make pizza or grain and pasta salads. Perfectly grilled vegetables are a welcome addition to almost meal.
Grilled Endive Salad with Golden Raisins
Yield: 4 side-dish servings
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Several grinds black pepper, to taste
2 Belgian endives, halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups loosely packed torn red lettuce leaves
1/4 cup golden raisins
Place a single layer of pine nuts in a small cast-iron skillet on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Shake the pan frequently. (The nuts will become slightly golden and emit a nutty aroma.) Remove the nuts from the pan and set aside until needed.
In a small bowl, whisk together the extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and black pepper. Set aside the dressing.
Meanwhile, preheat the grill to medium-high. Use a pastry brush to brush both sides of the endive with some of the olive oil. Place the endive on the grill, cut sides down. Cook for about 2 minutes, baste with some more of the oil, and turn with tongs. Continue to cook for about 2 more minutes. (The endive will wilt slightly and develop grill marks.) Remove the endive from the grill.
Place the lettuce in a large bowl and drizzle with the dressing. Toss to combine. Distribute between 4 salad plates. Place one grilled endive half atop the lettuce on each plate. Sprinkle with equal amounts of raisins and pine nuts. Serve immediately.
Baby Bok Choy with Lemon Miso Sauce
Yield: 6 side-dish servings
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons white miso
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pound baby bok choy
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
Pre-heat the grill to medium high. In a small saucepan, whisk together the lemon juice, miso, garlic, and 1/4 cup of water. Place on the stovetop over low heat and cook until steaming.
Place 2 tablespoons water in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid and add the cornstarch. Cover tightly and shake to dissolve. Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until thickened, about 1 minute (do not overcook it or it will get gummy). Remove the saucepan from the heat and set aside in a warm spot.
Rinse the bok choy and shake to remove some of the water. Cut any large heads in half lengthwise. Place the bok choy in a plastic bag and drizzle with the sesame oil. Twist the bag to seal, allowing some air to remain in the bag. Toss gently to coat the bok choy evenly. Place the bok choy on the grill and grill for 3 to 5 minutes, turning frequently, until the leaves are limp and slightly charred. Remove the bok choy from the grill and place on a serving platter. Drizzle with the sauce and serve immediately.
Saffron Rice with Grilled Fennel, Asparagus and Leeks
Yield: 4 main-dish servings
2 medium leeks
24 asparagus spears
1 bulb fennel
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Trim off and discard the green tops and root ends from the leeks. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and thoroughly rinse each half to remove any sand. Set aside.
Snap off and discard the tough ends from the asparagus spears. Set aside.
Remove and discard the feathery top portion of the fennel. Slice the bulb in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 4 slices. Remove and discard the tough center cores. Set aside.
Pre-heat the grill to high with a smoker box in place. Put the fennel and leeks in a plastic bag and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Twist the bag to seal, allowing some air to remain in the bag. Toss gently to coat the fennel and leeks evenly. Place a grill basket on the grill grate and add the fennel from the bag. Grill for 10 to 12 minutes until tender-crisp, turning several times. Meanwhile, add the leeks to the grill basket and grill for 8 to 10 minutes, until tender-crisp, turning several times. Remove the fennel and leeks from the grill, place on a cutting board, tent with foil, and keep warm. Put the asparagus in the bag, and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Twist the bag to seal, allowing some air to remain in the bag. Toss gently to coat the asparagus evenly. Remove the asparagus from the bag, place on the grill and cover the grill. Grill for 8 to 10 minutes, turning frequently, until the asparagus is al dente and slightly charred.
Meanwhile, place 3 cups water in a saucepan on the stovetop and bring to a boil. Add the butter and then stir in the rice. Crumble the saffron threads over the rice and stir to incorporate. Cover the saucepan, reduce the heat to very low, and cook until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Remove from the heat.
Chop the grilled fennel, asparagus and leeks, and drizzle with the extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Mound equal amounts of rice on 4 warm plates and top with the grilled vegetables. Serve immediately. Pass grated Parmesan cheese if desired