July 2013 Issue
Fire Up the Barbie — A Basic Guide to Grilling Summer Vegetables
By Bryan Roof, RD, LDN
Vol. 15 No. 7 P. 66
I grew up in the southern part of the United States where grilling and barbecuing were distinctly different: The former was a weekday task, and the latter a weekend hobby.
Grilling is quick cooking over a relatively hot fire. It’s best suited for small cuts of meat (eg, steak, chicken breast, burgers), fruits and vegetables, and sometimes for more esoteric items such as pizza. Barbecuing involves slow roasting larger cuts of meat (eg, shoulders, legs, ribs, brisket, whole animals) over indirect heat, using hardwood or charcoal, and smoke.
When I was young, my family grilled several times a week, and consequently I ate grilled beef more often than I care to remember. This was before gas grills were common and when charcoal was still lit with lighter fluid. I have good and bad memories of those meals. I realize now that most of that food tasted more like lighter fluid than the actual grill’s essence. Today, I use other methods for lighting charcoal.
Now I live in the Northeast, where it’s cold much of the year. Grilling on gas grills is something people occasionally do, and real barbecuing at home is a myth. Still, I do what I can to cook outdoors as much as possible from early spring until that first unwelcomed blast of winter. Even though I was reared on beef, more often than not I have a batch of vegetables on the grill in the summer. Not only because vegetables are plentiful during that time of year but also because grilled vegetables, slightly charred on the edges and perfectly tender throughout, just taste good.
Grilling vegetables is easy, but there are a few points I’d like to stress to make them taste that much better. First, vegetables are lean, so they need some fat to achieve sufficient browning. Rather than dowsing them with oil, I like to use a simple vinaigrette to provide additional flavor. Lemon and herbs go particularly well with nearly all vegetables, so a lemon vinaigrette is my go-to. The vinaigrette also helps the seasoning adhere to the vegetables.
Second, all jobs are simplified with the right tools and proper preparation, and grilling is no exception. A good grill brush, sturdy tongs, and a stiff spatula really are all you need. Preheating the grill grate until hot, cleaning it thoroughly with the grill brush, and then oiling the grate sufficiently with a piece of old rolled-up kitchen towel dipped in oil will help prevent food from sticking to the grill. And once on the grill, the vegetables soften as they cook, so switching from tongs to a spatula toward the end of cooking can preserve the veggies’ integrity by minimizing breakage.
The final point: Pay attention. Grilling, far more than barbecuing, requires constant monitoring. Altering the food’s placement to moderate the heat or combat flare-ups and flipping as often as needed to prevent burning is all part of the sport. The goal is even cooking, nice caramelization, and a pleasant amount of char on the food’s surface. Oh, and the only lingering taste should be just a hint of smoke, which I now greatly prefer to lighter fluid.
— Bryan Roof, RD, LDN, is a chef, dietitian, and food writer living in Boston. Follow him on Twitter @bryanroof.
Vegetable Mixed Grill
Serves 6 as a side dish
3 T fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp coarsely chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper
6 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 Japanese eggplants, halved lengthwise
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise
2 red bell peppers, stemmed and seeded
2 portobello mushroom caps, stems and gills removed
1 lb asparagus, trimmed
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
2 T fresh chives, thinly sliced
1. Build a medium-hot fire on the grill. While the grill heats up, whisk the lemon juice, garlic, thyme, mustard, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil until combined. Reserve 2 T of the vinaigrette for serving.
2. Add the vegetables to the remaining vinaigrette and toss to evenly coat. Grill the vegetables over direct heat, flipping and moving as necessary, until uniformly browned and tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
3. Transfer the vegetables to a serving platter and sprinkle with the goat cheese and chives. Drizzle with the reserved 2 T of vinaigrette and serve.
Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 260; Total fat: 20 g; Sat fat: 6 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 15 mg; Sodium: 320 mg; Total carbohydrate: 13 g; Fiber: 5 g; Sugars: 7 g; Protein: 8 g