Let’s examine some tips on making winter greens the star of the meal instead of an afterthoughts.
I live in a small town in rural Idaho. Right now we have about 18 inches of snow blanketing the landscape and the temperatures rarely make it above the low 20s. Even still, you’ll find me shin-deep in snow with my grill ablaze because the produce this time of year is just so darn good on the grill.
When I say “winter greens” I mean green vegetables that know how to survive – vegetables like bok choy, broccoli rabe and Brussels sprouts that are sturdy and can take a punch. High-heat grilling is exactly what these ingredients need to realize their flavorful potential. They’re basically begging for it.
As an example, I’m going to use one of my favorite winter vegetables that, in my mind, is totally underappreciated – the Brussels sprout. It’s essentially a bite-sized head of cabbage and the flavor supports this description although Brussels sprouts are slightly more bitter. The bitterness is probably one of the reasons people don’t eat this vegetable as much. But bitterness is an essential flavor and goes a long way in cutting heaviness found in many winter dishes. Let’s get to it.
First and foremost, you should really use a gas grill for winter grilling. Keeping temperatures up with charcoal can be a daunting task; one that demands a lot more of your attention (i.e., you’ll be standing out in the snow longer). If you really want to enjoy winter grilling, a gas grill is the way to go because it allows you to turn on the heat and go back inside. Just make sure you have enough gas in your tank and always check the hose for cracks before igniting the grill.
Another thing I always use when grilling vegetables is a grill basket. Here’s mine:
As you can see, it’s been used a time or two. A grill basket makes grilling vegetables exponentially less frustrating. Just make sure the pieces are large enough they won’t go through the holes.
The next tip in grilling winter vegetables is to prep both the greens and the grill. Prep the grill by cranking up the heat as high as it will go (again, check the tank and hose first), put the grill basket on the grate and close the lid. Heating the grill and grill basket first prevents food from sticking.
To prep the vegetables, we’re going to parboil and shock them. This starts the cooking process, helps them keep their vibrant color and introduces extra moisture, protecting them from the high/dry heat of the grill. To parboil and shock, bring a pot of water to a boil and set a large bowl of ice water next to it. Boil the vegetables for about 1 minute, then remove them from the boiling water and plunge them into the ice water.
After the vegetables have cooled completely, remove them from the ice water to paper towels and pat dry.
When cooking something that doesn’t have much natural fat in it, like chicken breasts or vegetables, you need to add some oil to prevent sticking. Some people brush oil onto their grill or they’ll spray it from a bottle. I’m not a fan of either method. I prefer putting my vegetables in a bag with seasonings and a small amount of oil and just tossing them to coat.
Now add the vegetables to the grill basket and let ‘em go.
Now add the vegetables to the grill basket and let ‘em go.
You’ll want to check on the grill every 5 minutes or so, tossing the vegetables each visit. Since you’re grilling in the winter, keep the heat on high. And don’t forget the brats, which are awesome with Brussels sprouts.
You can serve the vegetables any way you want, but with Brussels sprouts and brats I’ve received rave reviews for my Swiss cheese and Dijon sauce. Really simple to make:
Put 3 cups of unsalted chicken stock into a pan and reduce it by 2/3 so you’re left with about 1 cup of reduced stock. Add 1/2 cup of cream, 1 1/2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard and whisk together. Then melt in about 6 ounces of Swiss cheese, whisking gently. Add kosher salt and black pepper to taste although you won’t need much salt, if any, due to the salt in the cheese.
Thar she blows. You can apply these same tricks to any winter vegetable and even most summer vegetables (when that time comes). So go slip on the boots and fire up that grill. Be sure to come back and let me know what vegetables you cooked and how they turned out.
Brussels sprouts are a robust vegetable that are perfect for the grill. Their natural bitterness works well in balancing rich flavors, such as those found in this sauce. Pairs well with grilled bratwurst and smoked ham.
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthwise and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon of cooking oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 cups unsalted chicken stock
- 1/2 cup cream
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 6 ounces Swiss cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon chicken stock plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch (optional)
- Place a grill basket on your grill. Turn the grill on high heat.
- While the grill is heating, parboil and shock the Brussels sprouts by putting them in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove them from the boiling water and immediately put them in ice water.
- Once the Brussels sprouts have cooled, remove them from the ice water to paper towels and pat dry.
- Toss the Brussels sprouts, oil, salt and pepper together in a bag until the sprouts are evenly coated.
- Add the Brussels sprouts to the heated grill basket and cook for 10-15 minutes, tossing every 4-5 minutes.
- In a small pot, bring the unsalted chicken stock to a boil. Lower the heat to a steady simmer and reduce by 2/3 until you're left with about 1 cup of reduced stock.
- Whisk in the cream and Dijon mustard.
- Reduce the heat and add the Swiss cheese, stirring constantly to melt the cheese evenly and prevent burning.
- For a thicker sauce, combine 1 teaspoon of cold chicken stock with 1 teaspoon of cornstarch to make a slurry. Add the slurry to the sauce and bring to a simmer to thicken.
- Add the sauce to the Brussels sprouts a couple spoonfuls at a time and toss to coat. Continue adding the sauce until coated as desired.