What does grilling bring to mind? Brats, burgers, or steak? Chicken or shrimp? But most vegetables are good for grilling, too.
For omnivores, grilled vegetables can be the focal point of the meal, an accompaniment, or both. Diced, leftover grilled vegetables make a delectable filling for quesadillas, combined with melting cheeses such as Monterey Jack, mozzarella, or goat cheese; they’re also wonderful as a summertime pasta condiment, tossed with a little olive oil and grating cheese.
The only hard-and-fast rules for grilling vegetables are:
- Grill over a medium to low fire – if it’s too hot, they’ll burn. It’s a good idea to have a cool zone to move them to in case of flare-ups or if they need to be rotated.
- Brush very lightly with oil or butter. They need a little so as not to burn, but don’t use too much, or they’ll be greasy,
- Pre-cook – completely or partially – dense-texture vegetables such as potatoes, carrots or other root vegetables.
VEGETABLE GRILLING GUIDE
Artichokes — Trim the artichokes and boil them until just barely tender in salted and acidulated water (add white vinegar or lemon juice, about 1/4 cup per quart of water). Remove the hairy ‘choke in the middle with a spoon or melon baller. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise; brush with oil, sprinkle with salt, and grill, cut side down, until lightly browned.
Asparagus — Brush spears with oil and lightly salt them. Thick spears are best to grill individually; if the spears are medium to thin, make “rafts” by lining up four or more spears and piercing them together with a bamboo skewer just below the tips and another 1-2 inches from their bottoms. Either way, keep the tips away from the hottest part of the fire. Grill just until crisp/tender.
Avocados — grilled avocado might seem strange, but once you’ve tried it, you’ll understand its appeal. Grilling intensifies avocados’ mild flavor and the warmth makes its texture even more unctuous. Cut avocados in half lengthwise and remove the pits. Sprinkle with salt and brush lightly with oil. Grill, cut side down, just until the flesh is warmed through and grill marks appear on the cut surface. Uses are the same as raw avocados.
Corn on the cob — Corn can be grilled in two ways: Peel back the husks, remove the silks, and pull the husks back over the corn before placing it on the fire, or leave the husks pulled back (tied with a strip of the husk and left in place to serve as a convenient “handle.” Brush the corn with butter or oil and place it directly on the fire, with the husks off the heat. Turn frequently until the corn is lightly browned.
Eggplant — Cut into slices or planks, depending on the type of eggplant used. The pieces should be at least ˝-inch thick. Surfaces that will be placed on the grill should be peeled; otherwise, peeling is optional. Lightly score surfaces that will be placed on the grill. Brush the eggplant with oil and salt and grill until completely tender. (In the Middle East, a whole unpeeled eggplant is oiled, placed on the fire and grilled, with frequent turns, until the outside is blackened and the inside is fully cooked and soft. The eggplant is then cut in half and the flesh scooped out to use in dips and as a purée.)
Leeks — Trim off root ends and tops so that about 3 inches of green remains. Slice in half lengthwise, then brush with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill until golden brown and very slightly charred, eight to twelve minutes. Do not turn.
Lettuce — Most lettuces are too delicate to grill, but there are exceptions. Cut small heads of romaine, radicchio, or Belgian endive lengthwise, leaving the stem end intact so that the heads won’t fall apart. Brush lightly with oil and grill, cut side down, until the cut side is just lightly browned – the lettuce shouldn’t be completely wilted.
Mushrooms — Grill portabellos either whole or in 1/2-inch slices. Large cremini (also known as baby portabellos), large shiitake, large button mushrooms and large oyster mushrooms can also be grilled successfully. Smaller cremini, shiitake, and button mushrooms can be threaded on skewers. All should be brushed with oil and salted and peppered before grilling. Grill until tender and golden brown. In general, delicate wild mushrooms such as morels and chanterelles are not good candidates for grilling.
Onions — Cut into slices at least ˝-inch thick. Reserve the curved ends for other uses. Pierce the slices with skewers or toothpicks to keep the layers from separating. Small whole onions, such as cippolini or pearl onions, should be parboiled before being used for kebabs. Brush slices’ cut sides with oil, salt, and pepper and grill on both sides. Brush small whole onions all over. Onions can be grilled until completely softened or just crisp/tender, depending on the onion’s flavor and final intended use.
Peppers — Clean, seed and slice into strips at least ˝-inch thick or cut into sections. Oil lightly, sprinkle with salt, and grill to the desired doneness — anywhere from crisp/tender to completely softened. To smoke roast peppers, place whole untrimmed peppers directly over the heat. Grill, turning frequently, until the skin is completely blackened. Place the peppers in a paper or plastic bag and allow them to rest for at least 10 minutes. (The steam helps loosen the skin.) Wipe off the charred skin. It’s OK if little bits of the char remain — that’s part of the flavor. Wiping off the skin with a paper towel in hand makes things easier. Cut peppers open over a bowl to catch the juices, and remove the seeds and stems.
Potatoes — Potatoes should be cooked just until completely cooked through before grilling. Don’t overcook, or they’ll crumble during grilling. Trim unpeeled baking potatoes lengthwise into planks about 1 1/2 inches thick. Steam or boil just until tender. Salt, pepper and oil the planks, then grill until quite brown and crispy on the outside. Round boiling potatoes such as red potatoes can be cut into halves, quarters or large chunks. (Cut before cooking.) Fingerling potatoes may be left whole. Boil or steam and proceed as above. For an extra-crispy crust, whisk a superfine flour such as Wondra into the oil, in the proportion of one part flour to two parts oil, before brushing the potatoes.
Summer squashes such as zucchini, yellow squash and pattypan — Choose small- to medium-size squashes without large seeds. Cut into halves or planks of even thickness — at least 1/2 inch. (Squashes with blossoms still attached make a lovely presentation, but be sure to keep the blossoms away from direct heat.) Oil the squashes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill to the desired tenderness. Depending on their thickness and the desired doneness, you may or may not need to turn them.
Sweet potatoes — Peel sweet potatoes and prepare in the manner described above for potatoes, or cut them into quarters. Grill until golden brown. You may also brush the cut sweet potatoes with equal parts melted butter and brown sugar, but be extra-careful to keep the sugar from burning.
Tomatoes — Choose tomatoes that are ripe but are still firm. Cut a thin slice off the top of a round tomato; and halve Italian tomatoes. Gently squeeze out some of the seeds. Oil the cut sides, add salt and pepper, and place the tomatoes, cut sides down, on the grill. Grill until the tomatoes are browned and slightly softened; do not overcook, or they’ll be mushy.
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