There were more fireworks on my old beat-up kettle grill than in the Macy's light display over New York Harbor. I grilled every land animal, fish and plant I could find. Even my dog Teesha got a little nervous when we ran low on food!
After running through the classics, and after the quail, baby lamb and lobsters came off the grill, I seemed to throw on even more vegetables than protein. A healthy diet is important to me, so I try to eat lots of vegetables -- and it turns out you can grill almost all of them. You name it: string beans, asparagus, tomatoes, radicchio, Belgian endive, corn and baby leeks were surprisingly great. And of course, the usual suspects, such as red, yellow and green peppers, zucchini, red onions, eggplant and mushrooms delivered like champs, as always. You see, you could caramelize an old shoe, and it would taste great. Vegetables have sugar in them, just like protein does, and when you convert those sugars into carbon through searing heat, they taste just as delicious as a perfectly charred steak. There's nothing complicated about it: just prepare a favorite vegetable as you would for a more traditional recipe, and grill it instead of boiling or steaming. Of course, I added some personal touches and embellishments -- simple things like seasonings, cuts and methods can make a big difference in the final result.
Let the Seasoning BeginFirst of all, let's separate grillable vegetables into two groups: big flavors and small flavors. Think of vegetables as savory, and your goal to make them sweet, using the grill. However, seasoning these vegetables isn't like marinating meat. Vegetables have lots of personality that come from the sweet, acid and bitter flavors inherent to them. Simple things like salt, freshly ground pepper and olive oil are perfect foils; sprinkling a bit of sherry wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, chili oil or mustard is also great. Even try some lemon zest, orange zest and freshly grated ginger -- these seasonings definitely add a flare to your vegetables. And a quick toss in your favorite barbecue sauce (not too much!) is always another option. Making use of summer's bounty of fresh herbs is also a good idea. Oregano, rosemary, tarragon and summer savory tossed in with the olive oil at the beginning works well. I found that vegetables such as asparagus, tomatoes, radicchio, endive, peppers and kale taste better if they are seasoned after you grill them.
Further Fine TuningBeyond the seasonings, the cut of vegetables destined for the grill is equally important. To keep the whole process simple, cut the vegetables so they will all cook in the same amount of time. The big-flavored vegetables, with the exception of asparagus and tomatoes, take longer to cook than small-flavored vegetables. So cut these vegetables smaller -- half-moon shapes are great -- to speed up their cooking. Methods of grilling make a big difference, too. I prefer charcoal or wood fires, which will yield a vastly superior taste, especially with the small-flavored vegetables. Use the grill baskets I love so much for more delicate picks like asparagus, string beans, mushrooms, artichokes, onions and kale so they'll be easy to flip and won't fall through the grill. And then? You can serve any of these grilled vegetables as a main course for a light but satisfying lunch, with a bit of mild cheese -- try a creamy goat cheese or slices of fresh mozzarella -- alongside. Or try your veggies more traditionally, as a perfect side dish for fish or meat. Here is a simple recipe of mine that pairs beautifully with grilled vegetables of any kind and will make for a memorable summer's evening dinner. Cod Provencal
Serves: 4 1 28-ounce can whole peeled plum tomatoes in puree
1 1/2 pounds cod (a thin piece), cut into 3-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese) or regular unseasoned bread crumbs
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped 1. Heat oven to 500 degrees. 2. Separate tomatoes from the puree and chop them coarsely; mix back into puree. Spread tomato mixture evenly on a foil-lined baking sheet. Season cod with salt and pepper and place on top of tomatoes. 3. In a small bowl, mix bread crumbs with olive oil, garlic and oregano; season with salt and pepper. Cover cod pieces evenly with breadcrumb mixture and place the baking sheet in the oven. 4. Bake for 3 1/2 minutes, and then turn on broiler. Continue to cook until fish is done and breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Serve with grilled vegetables.
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