Grilling Veggies

“The Healthy Gourmet”
June 24, 2010

It’s healthy, easy, and there’s not much mess to clean up.  So what’s not to like??

We talked about grilling meats in a Spring HealthQuest column but this week I’d like to talk about grilling vegetables.  There is a lot of great produce available at local farmers markets, roadside stands, and even at the grocery store right now, and those veggies are made even tastier when cooked over an open flame.  Plus, there’s no pot or pan to clean up when you are finished – now that’s a real bonus!!

Grilling vegetables can be done directly on the grill grate, with foil, on skewers, or with grill pans designed specifically for grilling.  When using foil, you can either make a small package out of foil in which to roast the vegetables or you can cover the grill grate with foil before you light it.  Skewers can be made of metal or wood – if you use the wood skewers be sure to soak them in water for an hour before using them.  Grill pans are easy to use because you can turn the vegetables with a (practiced) flip or shake of the pan, plus it is easy to remove all the vegetables from the grill at exactly the same time.  You can also get a grill “cookie sheet” that lays flat on top of the grill grate and has holes in it – this allows you to remove all the food from the grill at the same time and gives a flat cooking surface.

Some vegetables lend themselves to grilling:  corn, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, and portobello mushrooms.   Cutting each type of vegetable into consistently sized pieces makes your grilling results more consistent as the vegetables will cook at the same rate.  Consider the density of different vegetables if you are going to grill more than one type – denser vegetables like potatoes will take longer to cook than more liquid vegetables like tomatoes.

When cooking a mixture of vegetables, plan to take them off the grill at varying times – the different densities will require varied cooking times.  Serving the vegetables warm or at room temperature when they all do finally get done is still delicious – and trying to serve various grilled vegetables all fresh from the hot grill is difficult to choreograph.  So make your life easier and plan to serve various grilled vegetables at room temperature!

Preparing the vegetables for grilling is an important step:  try to get as much exposed surface area on the grill as you can when cutting the vegetables.  This allows the vegetables to cook quickly and thoroughly plus gives you that great grill marked look!  Skewer smaller vegetables, like cherry tomatoes and button mushrooms, and difficult to manage things like sliced onions.  Be sure to use thin skewers, and in general metal skewers are easier to work with as they won’t catch on fire.  Just before grilling, brush the vegetables with some oil (or spray them with cooking spray) so they don’t stick to the grill.  And for even better flavor, try brushing on a flavored oil instead of the usual olive, canola, or vegetable oil.

Use a medium-hot grill to avoid scorching the vegetables.  Light the charcoal or gas grill and then hold your hand 5 inches above the heat.  If you can only keep your hand there for 3 to 4 seconds then the grill is medium hot.

Always have the vegetables washed, dried and cut up before you start to grill – you cannot afford to leave the vegetables unattended on the grill as they can burn easily.

Here’s some specific times and methods to try:

Zucchini:  few things say “summer” like zucchini!  And grilling it makes the summer feel really  in full swing.  Slice the zucchini lengthwise into ½” planks (you may want to shave off the peel on the outside pieces to expose the most flesh to the grill).  Cook for 8 – 10 minutes total, turning once.

Onions:  cut the onions into thick slices and skewer with thin metal skewers.  The skewers keep the onion rings together and also allow you to flip the onions over easily.  Cook for 10 -12 minutes total, turning once.

Mushrooms:   Skewer the mushrooms through the stem and cap (so they won’t spin when you turn them) on thin metal skewers and grill them for 10 – 12 minutes, turning every 3 minutes.

Bell peppers:  Make sure to not overcook peppers – while grilling brings out a sweet taste in peppers, overcooking them can lead to a bitter taste.  Cut the pepper in half lengthwise (cut down from the stem), and remove all seeds and membranes.   Cut each half into thirds lengthwise.  Grill 7 – 9 minutes, turning once.  Use all colors of peppers – green, orange, red, or yellow.

Corn on the cob: remove all the husks except for the innermost – you should be able to see the kernels but they should be covered.  Snip off the silks, or long hairs, at the tip of the ear.  Grill for 8 – 10 minutes, turning every 1 ½ – 2 minutes.  Corn does not have to be brushed with oil before cooking because it is basically being steamed in its own thin layer of skin/husk.

Eggplant:  cut crosswise into ½” pieces, brush with oil, grill for 11 – 13 minutes per side.

Enjoy these tasty summer treats – and savor your easy clean up after a delicious meal of grilled vegetables!