Everything about the arrival of grilling season speaks to our carnivorous ancient history, and most of us haven’t evolved very much – or feel the slightest need to. But if you prefer to grill vegetables once in a while as your main meal, or simply want a selection of sides that aren’t primarily cheese or mayonnaise, grilling season is the perfect time for you.
It’s easy, in fact, to argue that grilled vegetables are the best vegetables. Sure, you can steam them or boil them in a classical way, and this sort of process preserves their unrelentingly healthy nature along with their “pure” taste. Once you eat steamed vegetables a bit, you will probably come to appreciate what a simple carrot, asparagus spear or broccoli floret tastes like. And it’s impossible to argue that’s a bad thing.
Still, if you are heating up the backyard grill anyway…
As many older food cultures blessed with terrific produce understand (this means you, Italy, France, Spain and Greece), a gentle brush with extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper is all your vegetables really need to spend a few glorious minutes on your grill. A squeeze of lemon, in more than a few cases, makes for a side dish fit for royalty.
So why and so what? Grilling, with its intense heat close by for short durations, is the ultimate caramelization machine. You’ll notice that few grilled vegetable recipes call for sugar. That’s because the sugar is already there naturally, inside the vegetables. The high heat lures these sugars to the surface, where it essentially makes crème brulee minus the crème. A crisp, sweet crust forms around the vegetables, built on the very flavors that await us within. It’s great texture and it’s great taste.
In the event you’ve never grilled vegetables before, there are a few tips that will get you going in no time. First and foremost, oil comes in handy – and for most of us most of the time, extra-virgin olive oil is best. This no doubt reflects the simple fact that so many great grilled vegetable ideas come from the warm, outdoor-living Mediterranean world, where olive oil always displaces cream and butter as the available cooking fat of choice. You never need to use a lot of oil, but do brush all the outside of all the vegetables, for this helps bigtime with caramelization.
It’s not cheating to use something to help you grill – be it a grill pan, a basket or the ever-popular skewers. Faced with a debut vegetable grilling assignment, the first thing that scares us is that everything will fall through the grates and be ruined. Yes, that can happen – though you certainly can control the size of some sliced or cut vegetables. Again, especially when you’re new in the game, finding a way to hold the vegetables in place atop the grill is probably an excellent idea.
You can also try grilling vegetables in packets formed on aluminum foil. If you close such packers, you do risk essentially steaming the vegetables in a way that tastes a bit too normal, but at least it lets you cook them outside, right beside your beef, pork, chicken or fish.
Getting the hang of size will come with experience. For starters, make sure that if you’re grilling a variety of vegetables together, you do your best to cut them the same size. Even then, cooking times can vary. But when you’re grilling, follow the wisdom on an Asian stir-fry. You want everything to be cooked, nothing to be burned, and everything to be perfectly delicious.
GRILLED VEGETABLE SOUVLAKI
1 cup prepared Greek-style tzatziki
½ cup Fischer & Wieser’s Whole Lemon & Fig Preserves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 zucchini, thinly sliced on a bias
11 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 large carrot, sliced on a bias
2 tablespoons olive oil
Italian or Mediterranean seasoning blend
4 pita pockets
Romaine lettuce leaves
1 tomato, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
In a small bowl, stir together yogurt, preserves, lemon juice, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush the vegetables with olive oil and grill – using a grill pan, if you like – for about 2-3 minutes per side. Sprinkle with seasoning blend. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Partially fill pita pockets with lettuce, then with grilled vegetables. Spoon yogurt mixture on top. Serves 4.
PEPPER JELLY CAULIFLOWER STEAKS
2 large heads cauliflower
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 lemons, zested and juiced
¼ cup Fischer & Wieser Mild Green Jalapeno Jelly
¼ cup Fischer & Wieser’s Red Hot Jalapeno Jelly
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
Remove the outer leaves from each cauliflower head. Cut off the bottom stem end so that you create a flat base and can stand the cauliflower up on a cutting board. Resting the cauliflower on the stem, use a large, sharp knife to trim away the sides, then cut the remaining head into 2 very thick or 3 more moderate “steaks.” In a small saucepan, heat the pepper jellies with the lemon zest. Keep warm.
Heat a grill to medium (about 350 degrees F). Brush the cauliflower steaks with olive oil and season with salt and lemon pepper. Place on the grill, cover the grill and let cook for 5 to 6 minutes, until the bottom is beginning to char. Flip the cauliflower, then re-cover the grill and cook 5 additional minutes, until the cauliflower is tender. Brush both sides with the pepper jelly mixture for the final 2 minutes of cooking. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with parsley, and walnuts. Serve hot with lemon wedges.
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