Summer brings such a bounty of vegetables that it’s easy to get more green (and orange and red and purple) into our diets.
But we also get so busy in the summer that it’s easy to get caught without a meal plan. One way to balance the carefree life of summer with the healthy choices of planning your meals is to keep a refrigerator chock full of grilled vegetables. Grilling brings out the full flavors of the veggies and, with seasoning, gives us the sense of a meal. (I can only eat so many raw baby carrots!)
What grilling also does is preserve the vegetables, enabling you to grill once for the whole week. That gives you more time to play in the sun. Whether you eat the grilled veggies cold, on a sandwich or salad, or quickly heated up for dinner, they will stay fresher longer in the prepared state.
So go to your local farmer’s market, your garden, or your favorite green grocer and get what looks good. Eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, peppers, yellow squash and onions grill beautifully, but so do bok choy, jicama and broccolini. Heck, you can even grill a salad, though that should be eaten right away.
While your choices may be different, my tips for grilling vegetables are universal.
Often my veggies for the week include: 2 bunches broccolini, 3 peppers, 1 eggplant, 1 bunch asparagus, 3 bunches bok choy, 6 baby zucchini, 2 portobello mushrooms, plus salsa ingredients: 1 red onion, 1 jicama, 1 bunch green onion, 4 tomatillos, 2 limes and 3 jalapenos.
- Prepare your veggies for the grill. Cut large vegetables like eggplant and zucchini into thick planks. Remember to grill your veggies in their largest form possible, but still get them nicely caramelized, then cut them smaller once they are done.
Cut the woody ends off asparagus, cut peppers in three parts and remove the seeds and inner white veins, and cut onions in quarters. Try to cut planks evenly so they grill uniformly.
- Oil your food, not the grill. Give all your veggies a light coating of oil. I put sesame oil on the bok choy, olive oil on my Mediterranean fare, and canola oil on my grilled salsa veggies – the tomatillo, red onion, green onion, jicama and jalapeno. Some need more oil – such as the sponge-like eggplant.
- Season for the season. Give all the vegetables a dusting of kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper. Add in herbs and other spices to individual groups of veggies. I used a basic Italian blend of dried herbs for the eggplant and zucchini, ground ginger on the bok choy, and cumin on my salsa veggies.
- Clean and preheat your grill. Always brush your grill before and after grilling with a good wire grill brush. Preheat your grill on high and put the lid down for 10-15 minutes. Once hot, give your grill a good brushing before you use it.
- Mise en Place: The French term means “everything in place” and applies to any cooking situation—but especially to grilling. Prepare your veggies, season and oil them, make sure you have tongs, platters, salt and pepper, a towel…so that everything is within arm’s reach.
- Grill your vegetables in similar groups. I grill each item at a time, or group them into what grills similarly. For instance, the broccolini and bok choy grill much more quickly than the eggplant and onions. Having things ready at the same time helps you keep a rhythm.
- Brush in between groups. This helps keep the flavors separate and keeps the last of the veggies from sticking because of any build-up on the grill.
- Chill whatever you aren’t going to eat right away on cookie sheets. Once cool, put them in containers for the week. If you put the lids on containers while they are still warm, they’ll steam further and turn to mush.
- Don’t forget about the dip! Having a few tasty dips makes eating your vegetables even more appealing. Yum!
- Pair it with a steak! Grilled veggies go perfectly with a nice juicy steak.