If grilling conjures up images of thick steaks and fattening hot dogs, consider something a little healthier… say, vegetables. Veggies are simple to prepare, easy to grill and quite forgiving — unless, of course, you put them up and take a one-hour hike in the woods. Grilling vegetables requires few other ingredients yet yields tasty morsels that are delicious on their own or a superb addition to salads, sandwiches and wraps.
Sadly, all too often grilled vegetables are served blackened, bitter and unappealing. But with the right information, it’s easy to prepare mouth-watering, juicy vegetables that are perfectly tender and never overdone.
Some things to keep in mind: size and shape matter. Vegetable kabobs look nice before they go on the grill, but once cooked they may lose their appeal. The problem is the shape of the pieces, and the fact that they are packed together on a skewer.
The best way to achieve perfectly grilled vegetables is to cut them into large flat pieces of the same thickness. Once cooked, these large pieces can be cut into smaller shapes and used in a variety of dishes. This method works particularly well with squashes and eggplant. Their natural shape allows you to cut them into long slabs that are about half an inch thick. Other vegetables may be more difficult to handle because they don’t have a uniform shape and size to begin with, but if you grill similarly sized pieces they will cook properly.
Onions should be cut into 3/8-inch- to 1/2-inch-thick rounds, in the width. The best way to do that is by placing toothpicks or skewers in the onion at ½ inch intervals then cutting between the skewers to achieve perfect rings. Make sure to start from one end and not by cutting the onion in half first. The picks will hold the rings together and keep them from falling between the grates.
Bell peppers are most versatile because they can be cut and skewered or grilled whole. To grill peppers, simply cut off the top and bottom of the pepper, remove the core, then cut the pepper in half from top to bottom. This way you end up with two flat rectangles that are grilled skin side down.
Tough vegetables like potatoes or sweet potatoes should be sliced very thin — 1/4 inch — to ensure even cooking throughout before the outside is charred.
Because vegetables contain no fat they must be brushed with oil before grilling. Use a flavorful olive oil or make your own flavored oil by steeping garlic or herbs in a bottle of oil for a few days.
Don’t forget the salt and pepper! Make sure to season veggies before they go on the grill and taste and adjust the seasoning once they have finished cooking. Freshly ground pepper and kosher salt along with a sprinkling of dried herbs will enhance your veggies every time.
The best way to oil and season vegetables is to lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, brush them with olive oil and season them with herbs, salt and pepper. Turn them over and repeat on the other side. You can also drop them into a zip-lock bag, add the oil and seasonings and toss them. This method works better with sturdier vegetables; onions will obviously fall apart.
Marinades are okay for vegetables, but avoid those that contain sugar or honey. These caramelize quickly and cause the exterior to char too much. When cooking a mixture of different vegetables, never marinate all of them. The result is a plate of food that all tastes exactly the same. The great thing about vegetables is that they have such a wonderful assortment of flavors; by marinating them all together you lose the interest and they become boring. It is better to choose one or two to marinate and allow the others to retain their natural flavors.
Finally, cook more than you need. If you are going to go through the process, you might as well cook more vegetables than you need for a single meal. Use them in omelets and sandwiches, to make pizza or grain and pasta salads. Perfectly grilled vegetables are a welcome addition to almost any meal.
Grilled Vegetable Salad
1 orange bell pepper, seeded, and cut lengthwise into 4 or 5 pieces
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 medium yellow squash, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons fresh basil, checked and thinly sliced, or 3 teaspoons dried basil
Preheat your grill to medium-high. Arrange the peppers, onions, zucchini and squash in a single layer on a tray or work surface. Brush both sides of the vegetables with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with ¼ teaspoon salt.
Grill the vegetables in batches, flipping once, until both sides are nicely charred and the vegetables are just tender, about 10 minutes total for the pepper, and 6 minutes total for the onion and squash.
When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, cut them into 1/2-inch dice and transfer to a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the vinegar, 1/4 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoons pepper. Toss the vegetables with the dressing. Gently stir in the tomatoes, and basil. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Serves 4.