Whether you’re grilling on a budget or simply looking to complement the meaty main dish, you shouldn’t fire up the grill without throwing a few vegetables on it.
You don’t have to be a vegetarian, a gardener or a seasoned cook to enjoy vegetables prepared on the grill.
Potatoes, asparagus, onions and peppers are the first to come to mind, but you’d be hard-pressed to think of a vegetable that wouldn’t fare well over direct heat from charcoal or propane, including eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, spring onions, and Brussels sprouts.
“There is nothing I love more than a dry-aged bone-in rib-eye charred to medium rare, but it seems like a waste of heat not to prepare vegetables while the coals are hot,” says Adam Rapoport, editor in chief of Bon Appetit who oversaw the production of “The Grilling Book” (Andrews McMeel, $45), a new book featuring more than 350 of the magazine’s recipes on the subject.
Two things tend to trip up cooks: Water-heavy vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, kale and broccoli, which get soggy when prepared in foil packets, and vegetables cut either too small — they cook too quickly or fall through the grate — or too large to cook evenly.
Potatoes cook well in heavy duty aluminum foil packets, think Yukon Golds tossed with rosemary, salt, pepper and garlic cloves, but many other vegetables, such as mushrooms and squashes, have too much water and will lose their texture if steamed in a packet.
As for the fear of more vegetables ending up in the fire than on your plate, Rapoport says it’s just a matter of cutting thicker wedges, slices or pieces of vegetables. For longer vegetables, such as asparagus or zucchini, just lay them across the grates of the grill.
“You’re always going to lose two or three in the fire,” but for vegetables that are small by nature — Brussels sprouts, baby carrots or shallots, cherry tomatoes —invest in a grill basket, which are available in any basic kitchen store now, Rapoport says. “It’s not cheating, it’s just smart.”
Don’t be afraid to take the simple route when it comes to seasoning. Salt, pepper and olive oil are all you need for most veggies. “If you grill with the right temperature, the heat will coax out the natural sugars in the vegetables, and they’ll begin to caramelize,” Rapoport says, but absolutely positively don’t skimp on the salt. “If you don’t salt them, they just don’t have flavor, period.”
Eggplant is one of the vegetables that benefits from a little help from a marinade or dressing, such as the sesame glaze that appears in the Bon Appetit book and with this story, to brush on while cooking.
“The Gardener and the Grill,” the 2011 book with more than 100 grilled fruit and vegetable recipes, features a whole chapter on marinades, dressings and sauces, including herb-heavy pestos and chimichurris, an Italian Parmesan grilling paste and vinaigrettes that you can toss with vegetables after they’ve been grilled.
We’re starting to see the first sweet corn of the season pop up at grocery stores, and though not technically a vegetable (the same is true of tomatoes, but we won’t split corn silks on the subject), corn is one of the easiest things to grill. Though some cooks insist on grilling with the husk on, I prefer the slight char of corn grilled directly over the heat.
Authors Cheryl and Bill Jamison, who spent a lot of time by the fire for their newest book, “101 Grilling Recipes You Can’t Live Without” (Harvard Common Press, $16.95), say that they’ve changed their thinking on the husk/no husk debate. “We used to grill corn on the cob in the most common traditional way, soaking the ears in water and cooking them with the husks on, (which) actually steams and roasts the corn, instead of grilling it, producing a good result but little true grill taste,” they write in the new book. “Now we remove the husk and silk before cooking, exposing the kernels directly to the heat, which sizzles surface juices and concentrates the corn flavor.”
In the past few years, we’ve seen Mexican-style elote, grilled corn topped with Cotija (or Parmesan) cheese, lime juice, cilantro, salt, chile powder and butter or mayonnaise, on menus across Austin, including everyday favorites like Torchy’s Tacos and Frank Hot Dogs and Cold Beer. When preparing at home, slather the ingredients on the corn promptly after grilling or cut the grilled corn off the cob and toss with ingredients for a slightly less messy-to-eat side dish.
Grilled onions are another easy accompaniment to meats or other vegetables, and they are one of the ingredients that Rapoport suggests cooking with the assistance of two skewers inserted into thick onion slices side by side so they are easier to turn.
Wooden skewers should be soaked in water before using over hot fire, but Rapoport prefers the flat metal skewers, which gives cooks more control in rotating the ingredients.
This leads to perhaps the biggest vegetable grilling mistake that we are likely all making: The mixed vegetable kebab.
The difference between a perfectly grilled tomato and the perfectly grilled summer squash or bell pepper can be a matter of minutes, but if they are lined up every other one on the same skewer, you’ll overcook the tomatoes or undercook the squash. (And when you throw a chunk of steak on the stick, “you’re totally screwed,” Rapoport says.)
Sure, this traditional method makes it easier to serve a crowd because you can just give skewers to everyone and call it dinner, but the inconsistent results can spoil your perfectly calculated Memorial Day party.
Rather than creating the multi-ingredient kebabs we all grew up on, put only one kind of vegetable (or meat) on each skewer so you can pull them off as soon as they are done.
One vegetable that doesn’t require a skewer or a metal basket or a fancy marinade: Kale, whose stem is hardy enough to act as a built-in grilling utensil. Just drizzle with olive oil and dust with salt and pepper. The green leaves will crisp up in just a few minutes, so you can put them on the heat when everything else is just about finished.
But even if all of your vegetables don’t finish cooking at the same time, don’t stress.
You can keep them warm by pushing them to the cooler edge of the grate, but grilled vegetables taste just as good served at room temperature or even as leftovers in other meals for a taste of summer throughout the week.
Blistered Baby Squash with Grilled Tomatoes
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
2 cups yellow and green baby pattypan squash (9 to 10 oz.)
6 baby zucchini
6 medium tomatoes, each halved through core
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh basil or oregano, for garnish
Any small vegetable can be prepared with the simple grilling technique used here. Experiment with new potatoes, baby artichokes, or whatever else is in season.
Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to high. Brush grill grate with oil. Brush pattypan squash, zucchini and tomatoes with oil; season vegetables generously with salt and pepper. Grill vegetables, turning occasionally and repositioning for even grilling, until blistered and slightly charred, about 8 minutes for squash and zucchini and about 6 minutes for tomatoes. Transfer vegetables to a platter; sprinkle with basil. Serves 8.
— From “The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit” (Andrews McMeel, $45)
Sesame Eggplant with Scallions
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
5 large scallions, 4 coarsely chopped, 1 thinly sliced for garnish
2 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tsp. sesame seeds
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggplants (about 2 1/2 lb. total), cut crosswise into ½-inch thick slices
Eggplant is sensational charred and tenderized on the grill. This preparation with a soy-sesame sauce pairs especially well with grilled black cod or other white fish, or with pork tenderloin. Serve it warm or at room temperature.
Purée 1/2 cup olive oil, chopped scallions, soy sauce, and sesame oil in a blender. Transfer mixture to a small bowl. Stir in sesame seeds; season mixture with pepper. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to high. Brush grill grate with oil. Generously brush 1 side of each eggplant slice with scallion mixture. Place eggplant slices, seasoned side down, on grill. Brush tops of eggplant slices with scallion mixture. Grill until tender and charred in spots, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter. Garnish with thinly sliced scallions. Serve eggplant warm or at room temperature. Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Serves 6.
— From“The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit” (Andrews McMeel, $45)
Elote (Mexican Grilled Corn)
In recent years, this addictive way of preparing corn — brushing charred kernels with mayonnaise and a tangy, spicy combination of chili powder, lime and Cotija cheese — has become incredibly popular. It’s also great for serving family-style: Put all of the ingredients out separately and let your guests top the corn however they wish.
Vegetable oil, for brushing
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
8 ears of corn, husked
1/4 cup mayonnaise or unsalted butter
1/2 cup crumbled Cotija cheese, Parmesan, or ricotta salata (salted dry ricotta cheese)
1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to high. Brush grill grate with oil. Combine chili powder and cayenne in a small bowl.
Grill corn, turning occasionally with tongs, until cooked through and lightly charred, about 10 minutes. Remove from grill and immediately brush each ear with 1½ tsp. mayonnaise. Sprinkle each with 1 Tbsp. cheese and a pinch of chili powder mixture. Squeeze 1 lime wedge over each ear and serve. Serves 8.
— From“The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit” (Andrews McMeel, $45)
Grilled Asparagus Spears with Lemon Dressing
20 to 30 asparagus spears, trimmed
4 Tbsp. olive or canola oil
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
6 to 10 mint leaves, finely shredded
Parmesan, pecorino, or hard goat cheese, to serve (optional)
Light the grill well in advance if you are cooking the asparagus outside. Soak 6 wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes.
If the asparagus spears are pretty thick or perhaps not so freshly cut, it’s best to blanch them first. Add to a saucepan of boiling water, blanch for 1 minute, then drain and refresh in cold water. Drain well and pat dry.
Thread the asparagus on to the skewers – you can mount 5 or 6 of them on a single skewer, pushing it through the middle of the spears. Brush the asparagus with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper.
If cooking indoors, heat a grill pan over high heat or preheat the broiler until hot, then place the asparagus skewers in the grill pan or under the broiler about 4 inches from the heat. If using an outdoor grill, you want it medium-hot, rather than super-fierce – you should be able to hold your palm about 6 inches above the coals for a few seconds. Grill the asparagus spears for about 3 minutes on each side, depending on thickness, until tender in the center and lightly charred on the outside.
Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons oil with the lemon juice, some pepper, and the mint to make a dressing. Remove the asparagus from the skewers, arrange on a plate and trickle the dressing over them. Sprinkle with flaky salt and shave some cheese over the top, if you like. Serves 4.
— From “River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Ten Speed Press. $35)
Piña Colada Pineapple Spears
We’ve talked mostly about vegetables in this story, but this grilled pineapple recipe from Bill and Cheryl Jamison’s book was too good not to share. In the new book, they write: “With its especially high sugar content, pineapple’s a natural for the grill, as long as you don’t torch it. If you like piña colada cocktails, or just want to dream about being in the tropics, this is the dessert for you.”
1 medium-size pineapple or one 20-oz. container unsliced fresh pineapple
1/3 cup dark rum, preferably, or light rum
Juice of 1 medium-size lime
2 Tbsp. canned cream of coconut
1/2 tsp. ground mace or nutmeg
Lime slices, for garnish
Fire up the grill, bringing the temperature to medium.
If you have a whole pineapple, slice off the top and reserve it for garnishing the plate. Cut off a small slice at the bottom so it can stand evenly and then cut off all of the pineapple skin, slicing only as deeply as needed to remove the tiny brown eyes. Halve the pineapple lengthwise and then cut each half into long 1-inch-thick spears. Cut away the tough fibrous core side of each spear. If working with already skinned pineapple, simply cut it into spears.
Place the pineapple in a zipper-top plastic bag or shallow dish. Combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl and pour the mixture over the pineapple. Let it sit at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes.
Drain the pineapple spears, discarding the marinade. Transfer the spears to the cooking grate and grill, uncovered, for 5 to 6 minutes, turning on all sides, until soft with browned edges. Serve immediately, garnished with the lime slices. Serves 4.
— From “100 Grilling Recipes You Can’t Live Without” by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (The Harvard Common Press, $16.95)