Welcome back! It’s a new week and a great time to improve your health! With summer just around the corner, I know many of you are reaching for your grills to whip up a quick dinner. Don’t leave out the vegetables! Check out this mouthwatering guest post by Darren Wayland from BBQ Host to learn how to grill vegetables, specifically ones you might not be used to seeing on the grill! Simple recipes included!
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When it comes to wellness, I’ve learned that deprivation is not the answer. Instead of thinking about the things that my body doesn’t need, I’ve learned to focus on what it does need—to incorporate these foods into my diet in new and exciting ways. Naturally, that includes using as many fresh vegetables as possible. That’s where the grilling technique comes into play.
Although society has trained us to think of the grill as a vehicle for delivering fatty cuts of meat, healthy foods can also benefit from exposure to an open flame. You don’t have to have a large or fancy grill in order to reap these benefits, either. All of the ingredients listed can be made in moderate amounts—perfect for a small two-burner gas-fired unit, or a travel-sized charcoal grill.
Here, we’ll take a closer look at five vegetables that taste far better when they’re prepared on the grill. Most can be enjoyed in several different ways—as stand-alone dishes, like sandwiches or pizza toppings, or tossed into a salad. Once you’ve learned how enticing these veggies can be, you’ll want to give them a regular spot on your grilling roster.
Preparing vegetables for the grill isn’t difficult. Most require only a light coating of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper in order to shine. The following recipes will help you showcase the natural flavors of your ingredients without overwhelming them.
When most people claim not to love eggplant, the problem often isn’t the taste (which is too mild to be offensive), but the texture. If you’re one of the detractors, try grilling it before you come to any definitive conclusions. The flames give the flesh a rich, robust flavor, with the perfect kiss of smoke.
For a quick and simple recipe, slice a whole eggplant into rounds about 1/2 inch thick. There’s no need to peel the eggplant—in fact, the skin will help the rounds hold their shape during cooking. The younger and smaller the eggplant, the more tender the skin will be. If the eggplant is larger or slightly tough, you can remove the skin once the eggplant is cooked.
Whisk together 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon each fresh minced parsley, basil, and garlic, 1-1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Toss the eggplant rounds in the mixture until thoroughly coated, cover, and refrigerate for about two hours. Grill over high heat for about 5 minutes per side, or until the flesh is well-marked and tender.
Since these mild, tender squash are at their peak during the summer months, they’re ideal candidates for the grill. As a bonus, they pair well with a variety of flavors, especially fresh herbs.
Like eggplant, zucchini does not need to be peeled prior to cooking. Just trim the stem and root ends from 2-3 small zucchini, rinse well under cold running water, and trim lengthwise into planks about 1/2 inch thick. If you’d like, you can trim the rounded edges so that the planks will lie flat on the grill, making them easier to turn during cooking. Above all, make sure your planks are about the same size and width, so that they’ll cook evenly.
In a bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss the planks in the oil mixture and grill over medium-high heat until tender, about 3 minutes per side. When they’re finished cooking, sprinkle with crushed red pepper and a few drops of lemon juice. Alternatively, you can brush on some homemade pesto made with fresh basil, or whatever herbs you have on hand.
It’s best to serve grilled zucchini as soon as possible. Otherwise, it might get soggy. If you’re preparing several grilled menu items, try to wait and cook the zucchini last.
Asparagus is one of the simplest veggies to prepare for the grill, and the results are among the most delicious as well.
Start with about 1 pound of asparagus. Trim about 1 inch from the end of each asparagus stalk. The tougher, woody ends should snap off in the right place when you apply gentle pressure to the center of the stalk. If you find that the first few are too short, use a sharp paring knife to do the trimming instead. Rinse the asparagus under cold running water and blot dry.
Whisk together 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Toss the prepared asparagus spears in the dressing and preheat the grill to medium-high. Thin, delicate spears should only require a few minutes of cooking, but thicker stalks might take up to 8-10 minutes before they’re charred and properly tender.
Be careful not to drop any spears through the grilling grate. You can use a grill basket for this step if you’d like. When the asparagus is done, remove it to a clean plate and sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. For a little Italian flair, drizzle on a little white truffle oil. Nutritional yeast does an excellent job at approximating the flavor of Parmesan cheese, and delivers greater health benefits to boot.
This vibrant green powerhouse is a broccoli-kale hybrid, and combines the best qualities of each. The stalks are long and slender, with delicate florets that crisp up beautifully on the grill.
Rinse about 10 ounces of broccolini under cold running water, then blot dry. Lay the stalks on a sheet pan. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil over the broccolini, then massage in about 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, and a few grinds of black pepper.
Grill the stalks over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, until lightly charred. Toss with a little fresh lemon juice before serving, especially if they’ve been sitting out for a few minutes.
Yes, that’s right: Lettuce on the grill. This phenomenon has picked up a great deal of steam in recent years, and with good reason. The process only takes a few minutes, and the intense smoky taste is the ideal complement to your favorite salad dressings.
The grill imbues the crunchy romaine leaves with all the savory notes you’d get from a flavor booster like bacon, minus the calories and fat. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll be tempted to fire up the grill for every salad from now on.
To prepare romaine lettuce on the grill, preheat your cooking surface to medium. You can use a grill pan for this if you’re nervous, but I prefer to place the prepared heads directly over the flame.
Slice two heads of romaine lengthwise in half, doing your best to keep the stem end intact. Brush the cut sides with a neutral oil, such as canola.
Grill the lettuce until the leaves are slightly charred, about 1-3 minutes. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top with minced basil.
Alternatively, you can prepare whatever salad dressing you prefer just before grilling the romaine, and drizzle it over the top before serving. Either way, the romaine should be served as soon as possible.
Other Tips for Grilling Vegetables
Make sure the grill is clean and well oiled before you add the ingredients. Burned bits will stick to the veggies and give them a bitter flavor. Similarly, if the grates aren’t sufficiently oiled, the veggies will stick to the metal, making them difficult to turn.
Blot any excess dressing or marinade from the vegetables before grilling. While it’s important for the grilling grates to have a decent coating of oil, too much of it could cause flare-ups.
Always taste the vegetables for seasoning after cooking and adjust accordingly. Often, what looks like too much salt turns out to be just enough. If you’re worried about sodium intake, remember that you’re dealing with fresh produce. Most people get the majority of their sodium from canned or processed foods–something you won’t have to worry about in these cases.
Bear in mind that these vegetables are all uniquely delicious on their own. What you’re bringing to the table (pun intended) by following these recipes is a sense of adventure, a departure from the ordinary. The act of grilling elevates ingredients into a new dimension and one that invites endless interpretations from the chef.
Darren Wayland is the blogger behind BBQ Host and he lives for great barbecue. While he loves all delicious barbecue, what he loves the most is getting to share it with friends and family. The food is just the beginning–he strives to make every gathering a unique one by any means necessary. Often, that means incorporating some theme into the party itself, preferably one that involves pools or other bodies of water (water sports are another passion). His entire mission is to make sure that every barbecue you have is the best one yet.