Conquering the grilling of vegetables

Scott JacksonComment

A soot-smeared caveman squats beside a smoldering campfire. He takes a twig off the fire and grunts at the charred haunch impaled thereon. Then he looks closer at the stick. Peels off the bark.

Thus did “grilled vegetable” enter the dictionary of human dining.

Fortunately, the intervening millennia have done a lot to improve the selection. Fat red peppers blister in the heat and ooze sweetness, testaments to the transformative power of fire. A rim of smoky char balances the blandness of zucchinis, and thick slices of mushroom gain a meaty richness. The natural sugars of onions render into savory caramel, irresistible to the innocent picnic-table bystander.

It’s almost enough to make vegetables sexy.

So why hasn’t green grilling run rampant? The unforgiving nature of the subjects certainly plays a part. On a cooking grate, the interval between merely warmed and catastrophically charcoaled is small indeed.

Fortunately, all you need to conquer grilled vegetables is well within your reach. If you can cut them into reasonably similar pieces and pay attention as they cook, your audience will stop throwing tomatoes, and hurl marinated mushrooms instead.

Pieces of similar thickness are important when you’re cooking stuff that might take five minutes, total, on the grill. Uneven pieces mean uneven cooking times. But if they’re close, you can deal out the slices on a grill surface like a solitaire deck. Lay them down in rows. Start on the left side of your cooking surface, say, and you’ll know that when they’re all in place it’s the ones on the left you need to check first, because they’ve been on the heat longest.

Watch, because vegetable moisture content and grill heat variations make every batch of red peppers cook up a bit differently. Peek until you decide it’s time to turn them. Remember that you can always cook more, but never less.

Work methodically, turning them over in the same pattern you laid them, and they’ll be evenly cooked when you’re done.

Know also that you’re going to ruin a bunch of vegetables before you get it right every time. There are just more subtle variables to vegetables than, say, beefsteak. But don’t fret; the antidote for all the variances is simple: Pay attention. In every instance except roasted peppers, you want to stop at brown and never get to black.

Grilled peppers

4 red, orange or yellow bell peppers

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

To taste:Basalmic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt and fresh ground black pepper

Wash four red, orange or yellow bell peppers. Cut out the stems and seeds, and slice them into 8 to 12 wedges per pepper, considering the distance between bars on your grill. (Less than an inch wide at its widest point, and the pepper might slip through, meeting a fiery, unredeemable end.) Toss them with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Arrange the drained pepper wedges, shiny side down, on a grill over medium heat. When a few brown spots bloom, turn the pepper over. After they’re all shiny side up, put the lid of the barbecue down and let them roast for 3 or 4 minutes. If they bend under their own weight, they’re done, or close enough. Remove from heat. Add restrained sprinklings of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and fresh ground black pepper, as your taste requires.

Roasted peppers

4 red, orange or yellow peppers

1 to 3 cloves minced garlic

1 tablespoon (or more) fresh herbs like basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary or thyme

œ cup olive oil

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Arrange 4 red, orange or yellow peppers over a hot grill, or on a foil-lined pan close to an oven broiler. When the surfaces facing the heat become black, turn the peppers with tongs. Keep turning unblackened surfaces toward the heat until the peppers are at least 9/1 0 blackened. Take them off the heat, where they should begin to wilt. Put them in a paper or plastic bag, and fold or twist to seal. They’ll steam in their own heat, and when they’re cool enough to touch, about 30 minutes, put the container they’ll go in near the sink. Pull apart the peppers, slipping off blackened and unblackened skin, flicking off any seeds or stray black flecks into the sink or a waiting newspaper.

Rinse your hands if you want, but not the peppers. Tear the roasted peppers into strips, and lay them in the dish. Add 1 or 2 or 3 cloves’ worth of minced garlic, a tablespoon or more of fresh herbs like basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary or thyme, cup of good olive oil, salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, and mix to distribute. Let marinate overnight if possible before serving. (Some people like to dip sliced rustic bread into the roasted pepper oil after it’s been grilled for bruschetta.)

Grilled portobello with shroom juice

6 portobello caps, cut into œ - to ø -inch slices

Shroom juice

Pull off the stem stub of 6 big portobello caps. Wipe the tops clean with a moist towel. Cut them into œ - to ø -inch slices, as consistently as possible. After preheating a medium charcoal or gas grill, dunk mushroom slices in shroom juice (recipe below), shake off excess, and place on grill, cut side down. Turn after 2 or 3 minutes, as mushrooms soften and liquid begins to pool on surface. After another minute or two – as a mushroom slice held with tongs droops – remove from heat. Grilled mushrooms can be brushed with marinade, if desired.

Shroom juice

1 cup dry red wine, such as a Cabernet Franc

ø cup olive oil

ø cup dry sherry or Marsala

ø cup soy sauce

ø cup water

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger (optional)

Put all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. As it starts to simmer it might try to boil over; reduce heat until it settles down. Simmer 30 minutes or more, until reduced by half.

Grilled zucchini

and yellow squash

4 to 6 zucchini or yellow squash

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

To taste: Basalmic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt and fresh ground black pepper

Wash 4 to 6 squash. If an inch or less in diameter, zucchini and yellow summer squash can be simply halved lengthwise. Otherwise, they should be cut in even slices no thicker than ø -inch, lengthwise or diagonally. (Don’t simply chop them into discs, or they’ll slip through the grate with ease.) Toss in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Arrange slices on a grill over medium heat. When a few brown spots bloom, turn slices over. If they bend under their own weight, they’re done, or close enough. If not, consider putting the lid down to roast them for 1 or 2 minutes. When flexible and slightly marked by the heat, remove from heat. Add restrained sprinklings of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste.

Herb-almond dipping sauce

2 cups packed fresh basil, cilantro, or Italian parsley leaves, or a combination

ø cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons toasted almonds, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Put, almonds and lime juice and a dash of oil in a blender or food processor bowl, and whir into a paste, scraping down the sides of the vessel. Add herbs and repeat. With the blades whirring, drizzle in oil. Process until desired consistency, 1 to 3 minutes. Add salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Grilled vegetable bruschetta

6 to 8 slices hearty bread, grilled or toasted

2 cups grilled vegetables

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Fresh grated Parmesano- Reggiano or Romano cheese (optional)

Chop 2 cups of roasted vegetables into approximately œ -inch pieces. Dress in 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 1ø tablespoons balsamic vinegar, salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Spoon mixture onto ø -inch slices of grilled or toasted hearty bread. If desired, dust with fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

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