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Vegetables on the Barbeque
Who says barbequing is all about meat...?
The absolute simplest vegetarian barbeque consists simply of delicious fresh vegetables, perhaps lightly marinaded, then simply dropped placed on the grill. With preparation time and tools at an absolute minimum, it’s easy to create amazingly simple and healthy meals in no time at all. Barbecued vegetables are also great as an accompaniment to a more complex meal. Here are some suggestions, most of which don’t really bear the grand title of ‘recipes’ given their sheer straightforwardness…
Slice big fat beef tomatoes in half, season well and grill cut side down first, flip over in a few minutes. Dried Mediterranean herbs work very well with tomatoes. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar really brings out the sweet-smoky taste quite gorgeously.
Small cherry tomatoes can be beautifully and effectively grilled still attached to the vine in serving-sized clusters – quickly blast with your oil spray and place directly on the bars, keeping the vine itself well clear of the bars so they don’t burn and disintegrate, remember these tiny fruits (yes they are actually fruits) are very thin-skinned and will be done through in no time. So put these on last ready to add to plates as they are served.
Aubergine (egg plant)
De-gorge first – sprinkle thick slices generously with salt, leave for about 20 minutes, then rinse very thoroughly, which will leach out the salt, any bitterness that may be present, and a lot of the liquid. Then brush with any marinade and grill till soft and brown (if using a homemade marinade remember not to add salt as some is bound to remain from the de-gorging).
If you are in a hurry it’s OK to skip the de-gorging, but it does soften and almost pre-cook the aubergine so you save actual grilling time, and also stops it absorbing lots of oily marinade as well. Modern breeds of aubergine have very little bitterness to remove however so it’s not absolutely necessary to do it from a taste point of view. You can also use simple olive oil instead of marinading, as aubergine has a lovely rich smooth flavour of its own that doesn’t need a lot of enhancing, and takes on a gorgeous smoky intensity when grilled.
A further way to cook aubergines, especially smallish ones, is to pierce a few times with a skewer and place directly on the grill – they’ll take at least half an hour but eventually you will see the skin collapse as the interior softens into an yummy mushiness that can be used as a sauce, if sliced lengthwise and scooped directly from the skin.
Slice thickly lengthwise, brush lightly with oil, sprinkle with thyme and black pepper, and place directly on the grill till softened and criss-crossed with lovely ridges. Excess grilled courgettes can easily be stored in the fridge in oil and this is a good way to use up a glut of home produce – if you’ve ever grown your own and suddenly found pounds and pounds of them ready at once! Small immature courgettes have the best flavour, far nicer than when they go huge and spongy, and you can simply split them down the middle if they’re small. Home veg growers will also have a source of beautiful yellow courgette flowers to decorate the buffet table, or to stuff and bake as a separate dish.
Be careful not to overcook, they are best served slightly crispy. Butter and onion powder also really enhance the flavour of grilled courgette.
Large baking potatoes should be scrubbed, dried, rubbed with salt and popped right in among the coals. They can take ages to cook this way and a bit of judicious pre-microwaving can help in ensuring a meal comes together all at the same time here, also don’t forget they are there altogether – which is surprisingly easy to do once the foils get blackened and look like large briquettes!
Tiny new potatoes are wonderful but take a little preparation – par-boil them first for 5-7 minutes, then cool, with plenty of sunflower oil, dried herbs, salt and pepper rubbed all over them. Then once they are cool enough to handle (or way ahead of time if preferred) thread them onto skewers. When you barbeque them they will become scrumptiously crunchy crusty roasties – the perfect accompaniment to veggie burgers and salad. These are particularly delicious threaded onto skewers of stripped rosemary, although these can be difficult to turn and move around once they soften and char.
Grilled potato wedges are simple and tasty, beating fried chips anytime. Use dense, fine-grained, medium sized potatoes, and cut into 6-8 wedges by slicing vertically. In a bowl or sealable plastic bag combine sunflower oil, salt, cumin and paprika, with a little lemon juice (you won’t need vinegar on these they already contain all the flavour you could want!) Shake or stir till all well-coated then grill for at least 15 minutes to ensure done through, turning once.
Incidentally all of these can easily be ‘cheated’ in the oven ahead of time if grill space is limited in any way, and quickly rewarmed on the barbeque before serving.
These can be sliced thickly and marinated then grilled. A tasty marinade combines butter or olive oil with honey, vinegar and ground black pepper – brush on thickly, then grill till slightly charred around the edges. The slices will have softened and disintegrate into rings as you lift them off, fantastic to stuff into baps or pitas with a burger or falafel.
Smaller onions can be sliced in half lengthwise. Peel, but keep the roots and tips intact to help them stay together. Drizzle with olive oil and rosemary needles. As the cut sides char and soften they will differentiate and separate beautifully as well as taking on a lusciously sweet taste completely devoid of raw onion bitterness.
Whole fat spring onions (scallions) work well on a also - wash and trim well, spray lightly with oil, and place directly on the grill (at right angles to the bars, they’re not so good sooty and smoking). They will go on crunchy and come out floppy so stand by with the tongs, or a wide metal spatula might be safer.
Fennel can be treated in a similar way, and either grilled in thick slices or simply split in half lengthwise – leave on the feathery bits to blacken and look beautiful.
Choose, fresh, crunchy hearts of romaine, and slice them in half vertically. Create a marinade using soy sauce, fresh ginger, shredded lemon-grass, a little sesame oil, some brown sugar and dry sherry. Brush the cut sides with the marinade, as you grill the backs of the lettuces very briefly just to let the marinade run deeply in between the lettuce leaves. Then flip over and cook cut sides down, for just a few minutes until you can see the whole thing wilting. Serve immediately, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.
Well, if you can grill a lettuce, why not a cucumber?
Cut carefully into half inch thick slices – a mandolin is very helpful here but mind your fingers! Alternatively use a fine serrated knife and aim for diagonal slices to maximise surface area. Brush with a marinade combining equal parts of olive oil and fresh lime juice, and grill for about 2 minutes each side.
Big fat portabella mushrooms are fantastic for barbequing, and omnivorous guests are often pleasantly surprised by their ‘meaty’ texture as well. Brush and wipe them thoroughly to clean, don’t wash them, and remove stalks, then grill face down for around 5 minutes – its hard to state exact times as size, thickness and freshness varies so much, but once you see them start to shrink away from each other slightly and that damp woody mushroom cooking smell becomes noticeable, flip them over onto their backs.
Into the cups you can pop a knob of garlic butter, or a round of goats cheese, for a delicious treat – one of these makes an excellent starter, to enjoy whilst other food cooks on later… Not that courses and other such niceties and distinctions really have their place at a barbeque, but it is good to have plenty of food coming at regular intervals. For a vegan alternative substitute a dash of olive oil with crushed garlic, and in both cases plenty of ground black pepper enhances the flavour beautifully.
Incidentally a big fat grilled portabella mushroom is the World’s Simplest Veggieburger. Fact. Just stick it in a bun with a slug of pickle and a bit of salad and you’re sorted. Omnivores have even been known to describe such a thing as ‘meaty’, but don’t let that put you off…
For a more elaborate mushroom option, finely chop the stalks, some shallots and some roasted hazlenuts. Add some dried herbs, sea salt and pepper, and bind with a little egg (or vegan egg substitute). Once the caps have grilled face down for a a bit, flip over and then stuff the mushroom caps generously with the mixture and grill until the tops are set.
With smaller mushrooms it’s easier to skewer up into a kebab, but do bear in mind they will contract away from the skewer hole as they cook and lose a lot of moisture, so they will become difficult to turn around without the skewer simply slipping round without them– try to wedge them in between more rigid veggies so it will turn in one go.
Rinse, and snap off any tough woody ends. For larger stalks it may be helpful to even peel them slightly with a potato peeler, so you remove the hard bits without sacrificing too much of the length.
Spray liberally with your oil, and place directly on the grill – remember to put them at right-angles to the bars themselves or you may lose half of it! Squeeze some lemon juice over as they cook – this will add flavour and also protect the delicate fronds, helping them to steam as much as grill. Turn carefully and frequently, they will be wilted and roasted in about 5-8 minutes depending on the diameter of the stems so you can probably plan to put them on quite late in your barbequing session.
Peppers/ bell peppers / pimento
These can be cut into rings, but another way that is great for barbequing, especially for stacking in buns or pitas, is to cut 4 or 5 flattish ‘slices’ from each fruit. Trim away any ribs and seeds, and then press straight down onto the grill after a light spray of oil. Cooked peppers take on an amazingly different flavour and texture from the fresh alternative, becoming soft, dense and almost too sweet – any leftovers will be fantastic with the remains of any salad the following day. Green peppers are lowest in carbs but for grilling, the sweeter coloured varieties not only taste better but look amazing. See if you can get hold of a variety to combine– red/yellow/orange/purple – your barbeque will be a rainbow delight as well as minerally/phytochemically extremely healthy and life-giving.
Sweetcorn can be grilled directly on the cob, for delectable messy eating with fingers. Peel the husks back from fresh young cobs carefully, without tearing or removing them, and strip away as many strands of the fine silk as you can, then soak the whole cobs in a large bowl of water for at least 20 minutes. These are lovely simply grilled as they are and served with butter or oil once the husks have pretty much charred away on the grill after around 15 minutes. If you keep a heavy duty knife handy you can grasp the cooked cobs in an oven glove and top and tail them to then stick in corn holders to eat them with – or you can just get sticky fingers and let the juices run down your arm and chin in true outdoor eating style.
However they are even better if you place in a blender 1 chili pepper, (seeded and lightly toasted); 5 tablespoons whole black peppercorns; 1/2 bunch thyme leaves (or 2 tsp dried thyme); 1/2 bunch coriander/cilantro, chopped;,6 cloves garlic (peeled); 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil; 1/2 teaspoon salt. Whizz to a coarsely pungent paste, then rub this over the corn before pulling the husks back up to coat. These quantities make enough to flavour about 6 ears of corn, but any excess is lovely used as a marinade for any other veg you are having.
Sweet potatoes / yams
These kind of large, dark starchy tubers are referred to by different names, or the same names for different things, in different places around the world. This treatment is fairly versatile whatever variety you happen to encounter.
Scrub thoroughly, then cut into slices around 1.5cm thick – the exact size isn’t critical but keeping them fairly uniform is helpful for consistent cooking time. Blanch them in boiling water for around 5 minutes, then drain and dry over the fading heat . Brush with oil and dust lightly with paprika, and put directly on the bars till ridged with grill marks. Then you can flip them over till done through.
Canned drained artichoke hearts are tasty grilled, but if they are canned in brine they will need to be rinsed and drained thoroughly first, and then patted as dry as possible. You need to get the whole hearts not the quartered ones, then cut them in half, although the quartered ones can be used in stir fries or parcels (see below). Brush the cut halves with oil and Mediterranean herbs, and grill for just a few minutes on either side.
Often the ones canned in brine are very soft and flakey, and are more successfully grilled in a basket or pan than loose on the bars, where you are at risk of losing the lot.
If you have fresh artichokes available, trim them thoroughly to remove the tough outer leaves and top third where it’s dry and pointy, but leave a 2 inch stem attached. Then split down the middle including the stem, popping each into a bowl of cold water with plenty of lemon juice as they are done, to prevent discoloration.
Boil them in vegetable stock with plenty of lemon juice until tender, then pat dry on kitchen paper. Spray them lightly with oil before grilling, they will only need a few minutes on each side to char, then serve drizzled with a light vinaigrette and with shavings of any hard cheese you can find – eg a vegetarian parmesan substitute.
Take a whole bulb of garlic (NOT a clove!), slice the top off about 1cm to expose the cloves inside, making a pretty pattern as well. Drizzle a little olive oil over top, and roast foil wrapped in the coals. Once cooked through the garlic transforms into a mild fat-free sauce - just make sure everyone in your party gets a clove on their plate to squeeze onto their kebabs and pittas. Neat garlic is a distinctly anti-social dinner guest unless all present partake…
Smaller / mixed veg.
If you have a vegetable basket, or a perforated foil tray handy, you can chop up veg of any kind and marinade lightly, then use the pan to cook rapidly over the grill, without any fuss and fiddle of kebabs or risk of bits dropping through the bars. Another way to cook veg on the barbeque is to grease large squares of heavy duty aluminium foil, and place small scoops of veg in the middle, with a little oil and seasoning. Wrap up into parcels and place on the grill, they will steam themselves deliciously and tender green veg work well with this treatment as well as being an unexpected crunchy green treat amongst the hearty smoky flavours of the typical vegetarian barbeque