We are lucky living in Savannah since we can grow a variety of fresh vegetables all year long. I’m extra lucky because I am a food stylist working for Paula and sometimes I “borrow” a couple of the beautiful vegetables from her garden when I’m working at her home. Please don’t tell her, it’s our little secret, but I think she might already know.
Grilling these vegetables after liberation from the boss’ garden is one of my favorite forms of preparation. Why dirty up another bowl, pan or dish after a long day? Not to mention the ease and speediness in which dinner is ready and the cost effectiveness of grilling a side dish. The exclamation points are the appealingly sweet smoky flavor that a grill imparts and the bright colors left behind.
I cook seasonal vegetables alongside my main dish on the grill and dinner is ready in a flash. Although not often, since I am a carnivore at heart, I have even been known to have a “vegetarian barbecue” for dinner.
Here are some of my handy grilling tips for vegetables along with a couple of recipe ideas. I hope the next time you have a chance to pick vegetables fresh from your boss’ garden or your local farmers market you use these tips and cook them on the grill.
** Spray the grill with non-stick cooking spray prior to heating the grill to help make clean up a snap.
**Make sure your grill is medium hot. One way to test this is place your hand over the grill. If you can hold it there for 4 seconds, the fire is medium hot.
**Prevent your vegetables from drying out on the grill by soaking them in cold water first.
**Vegetables should be cut to expose the most surface area to the grill. This helps them to cook quickly. Also, cut the pieces equal in size so they will cook evenly. For example: Cut your squash and eggplant into strips not rounds of the same width.
**Use kosher salt or sea salt on your vegetables to bring out extra moisture. Season with salt and pepper both before and after grilling helps to make them sweet and full of flavor.
**Someone in the family doesn’t like grilled vegetables? Try this trick. Sprinkle a little sugar on the vegetables half way through the cooking. This gives them a wonderful caramel flavor.
**Use tongs to turn your vegetables on the grill instead of a fork. You don’t want to puncture them, as it will release the moisture.
**Smaller vegetables such as cherry tomatoes (we’ll just pretend and call this a vegetable) and small mushrooms might fall through the grill and should be skewered first. Thick onion slices should also be skewered all the way through to keep them whole while grilling. I like to use metal skewers instead of bamboo since they don’t burn and I can reuse them.
**Because vegetables lack fat, they need oil or some sort of liquid marinade to prevent them from burning and sticking to the grill. Brush them with a vegetable oil or flavored oil such as a prepared salad dressing prior to placing on the grill. You can also marinate them in a prepared dressing or your own marinade recipe.
Try this sweet simple summer marinade recipe:
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
juice and zest of 1 lemon
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Add sliced vegetables to the bowl, toss to coat and let marinate for 30 minutes. Remove from marinade and place on a medium hot grill to cook.
Or this simple flavored Basting Oil:
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup olive oil
juice and zest from 2 lemons (substitute any citrus you have on hand)
3 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped fine
In a small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and allow to stand for 10-15 minutes so flavors will infuse. Brush on vegetables and place on grill to cook.
Grill Times and Tips:
Corn on the cob (my favorite): Gently pull back the husks but keep them intact. Remove the silks and soak the cobs in cold water for 30 minutes. Dry and brush with butter or make your own compound butter by mixing together 1/4 cup butter (room temperature), 2 teaspoons ground chipotle pepper, and zest of one lime. Fold the husks back down over the kernels, twist the ends and place on the grill for 8-10 minutes, turning every two minutes. Serve with extra Chipotle, Lime Butter or have fun and invent other compound butters.
Asparagus: Cut off ends and soak in water for 30 minutes. Brush with oil. Grill 2-3 minutes, or until tips begin to brown.
Eggplant: Cut lengthwise into 1/2” slices. Brush with oil. Grill 2-3 minutes per side.
Garlic: Cut the root end off of a whole bulb. Brush with oil and place cut side down on the grill. Grill 10 minutes, or until the skin is a dark brown.
Onions: Remove skin and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Run a metal skewer through the entire slice. Brush with oil. Grill 5 minutes per side.
Bell Peppers: Cut the pepper in half from top to bottom. Remove stems, seeds and ribs. Brush with oil. Grill 3-4 minutes per side.
Zucchini or Summer Squash: Slice lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick slices. Brush with oil. Grill 4-5 minutes per side.
Cremini or Button Mushrooms: Wipe clean with a dry cloth. Thread on a metal skewer and brush with oil. Grill 8-12 minutes, turning every 2 minutes.
Romaine Lettuce (for a quick grilled Caesar salad): Cut in half lengthwise. Brush with oil and place cut side down on the grill. Grill 2-3 minutes.
Have fun grilling your vegetables this summer, and never fear…if the weather is bad outside, a cast iron grill pan on a hot stove is a perfect substitution for an outdoor grill!
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