By Angie Sutton
At Sutton Central when we think about grilling, we generally think about a steak or a pork loin. The kids’ favorite chicken legs and hot dogs find a usual spot on our grill grates as well.
However, the grill doesn’t have to be all about meat. While corn on the cob is undoubtedly the side dish of the season, try exploring the rest of summer’s bounty over the flame. Cherry tomato skewers, planks of summer squash, and thick slices of eggplant will liven up any cookout and provide many more nutrients than that bag of potato chips.
A lot of veggies do well on the grill, but some really stand out like asparagus, corn, eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, onions and cabbage. Generally vegetables with a higher water content are not recommended such as cucumbers, celery and most leafy greens. If you’re willing to experiment then certainly there are many opportunities to test out ideas.
Foil packets are an easy solution to grilling veggies, but I find they don’t impart that particular grill flavor we celebrate. Luckily, in the past few years specialized grill tools have flooded the market, making it simple to grill pizza, jalapeno poppers, dice-cut vegetables and more. They even have a simple basket that can hold enough vegetables for a dinner party and clean up is quick!
Vegetable Buffet Tray
1/2 c. thickly sliced zucchini
Place zucchini, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, squash, red onion, mushrooms and tomatoes in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix together olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice and garlic. Pour over the vegetables. Cover bowl and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Preheat grill for medium heat. Lightly oil grate. Remove vegetables from marinade and place on preheated grill. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes or until tender.
6 ears corn, husked and cleaned
Peel back husks form the corn, remove strings and leave just a few layers of husk on the corn. Spread butter over each ear of corn. Sprinkle Cajun seasoning lightly over each ear. Fold corn husks back over the corn. Wrap in foil. Place on grill for 25 minutes, turning occasionally. Unwrap foil and peel back husks to serve.
Guide to grilling your favorite vegetables
Grilled Vegetable Tips
Slice it right: For quick and even cooking, cut shapes and sizes that will expose more surface area to the grill. For example, cut eggplant, onions and zucchini into strips or 1/2-inch rounds rather than dicing into cubes.
Pair like with like: For evenly cooked skewers, pair softer vegetables together, such as tomatoes and mushrooms, and harder vegetables together, such as onions and bell peppers. If using bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them in water before using to prevent scorching. Leave a little bit of space between each piece on the skewer to allow for circulation.
Precook: Certain vegetables do better if they are briefly cooked before being placed on the grill. Precook firm veggies like asparagus and carrots for 3 to 5 minutes in a saucepan of simmering water. Potatoes can also be cut into slices or wedges and parboiled for about 10 minutes until just tender.
Use oil or marinade: Brush or toss vegetables with a little olive oil to prevent them from drying out and sticking to the grill. Oil helps seasonings like salt and pepper stick. You can also use a marinade or salad dressing for extra flavor and moisture.
Keep watch: To prevent burning, grill vegetables over indirect, moderate heat; turn them often; and move them to cooler parts of the grill as necessary. If you prefer a lower maintenance method, you can steam vegetables in foil packets rather than directly on the grill. Keep an eye on the grill if you’re unsure of cooking times. Vegetables should be tender when pierced, but not fall apart.
Quick guide to top veggies
Onions—To prepare: Trim the ends, peel and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Thread the slices on thin metal skewers or soaked bamboo skewers. Brush liberally with olive oil and season with kosher salt.
To grill: Heat a gas grill to high. Put the onion skewers on the grates and cook until the slices are well browned on both sides, about 15 minutes total. They will have dark marks on them. Turn one of the grill burners down to low and move the skewered slices to that area. Stack them loosely and leave them there for 10 minutes to finish cooking through. Alternatively, remove them from the grill and wrap them in foil to finish softening.
Zucchini and summer squash—To prepare: Trim off both ends and cut slices on a sharp diagonal into ovals between 1/4- and 3/8-inch thick. Brush both sides of the strips or slices with plenty of olive oil and season with kosher salt just before grilling.
To grill: Heat a gas grill to high. Put the strips or slices on the grill at a 45-degree angle to the grates and grill, covered, until well browned and limp, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Check occasionally and move the slices around gently with tongs so that they brown evenly; don’t undercook them. When done, remove them from the grill and drape them over a cooling rack to keep them from steaming as they cool.
Corn—To prepare: Shuck the corn, removing all the husk and silk. Lay each ear of corn on a 12-inch square of aluminum foil. Rub each ear with 1 teaspoon butter and season all over with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tuck a sprig or two of fresh thyme or any other herb next to the corn and wrap the corn tightly in the foil.
To grill: Heat a gas grill to high. Put the foil-wrapped corn on the grate, cover, and cook, turning every 5 to 6 minutes, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the grill and open the foil loosely. The corn should be blackened in places. If it isn’t, rewrap it and return it to the grill for another 5 minutes. Let cool.
Portabella mushrooms—To prepare: Wipe off any dirt with a damp paper towel. Cut or snap off the stem at the base. With a spoon, scrape out the dark gills on the underside of the cap and discard. Brush both sides of the mushroom cap with plenty of olive oil and season with kosher salt just before grilling.
To grill: Heat a gas grill to high. Put the mushrooms, stem side up, directly on the grate. Grill the mushrooms for as long as they need to get very well browned, about 5 to 8 minutes. Liquid will pool up in the cap. When the cap is brown, turn it over and press down to gently push out as much liquid as possible. Grill for another 4 or 5 minutes until they’re much thinner and drier.
Eggplant—To prepare: Use a vegetable peeler to peel lengthwise strips of skin from the eggplant. It will look striped. Alternatively, use a fork to score the skin deeply. Trim the ends. Cut the eggplant crosswise into rounds about 3/8-inch thick. Brush both sides of the slices with plenty of olive oil and season well with kosher salt just before grilling.
To grill: Heat a gas grill to high, put the eggplant slices on the grate, and cover the grill. Grill, checking occasionally with tongs, until the slices are well browned on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Move the slices from the heat and stack them to finish cooking on an upper rack. Let sit 15 to 20 minutes. Eggplant will often still be raw in the middle without this last step of letting the residual heat steam the flesh.
Bell peppers—To prepare: Leave whole.
To grill: Heat a gas grill to high. Put the peppers on the grate, cover, and cook until the skins are blackened on all sides, turning with tongs as needed, 3 to 4 minutes per side, or a total of 10 to 15 minutes. Wrap the peppers in foil or put them in a paper bag to cool completely. When cool, peel off the blackened skins and remove the stems and seeds, reserving the flesh and juices.
Asparagus—To prepare: Trim off tough ends. Brush liberally with olive oil and season with plenty of salt.
To grill: Heat a gas grill to high. Put the spears on the grate at an angle and grill, rolling over once, until lightly marked and slightly shriveled, about 2 minutes total.
Plum tomatoes—To prepare: Cut each tomato in half and gently seed. If time allows, sprinkle the cut sides with salt and allow the tomatoes to drain on a rack, cut side down, for 30 minutes. Rub lightly with olive oil.
To grill: Heat a gas grill to medium. Grill the tomato halves (cut side down) for 7 to 9 minutes and then carefully turn them over with a spatula and move them to the lowest heat. Cook (skin side down) until much of the moisture is gone, another 8 to 12 minutes. Again using a spatula, press them gently to flatten and to encourage the moisture to release. Let them cook as long as you can (the longer they cook, the better they taste); some will begin to fall apart, but the skin should help keep them together.