The high heat and smoky flavors of a grill can work wonders on certain vegetables, including some that would surprise you. The trick is in the timing. And, like everything, a little bit of preparation goes a long way.
Fresh corn grills beautifully, especially when the heat caramelizes the kernels instead of steaming them. There are a few different methods for grilling corn. Some people like to do it with the husks still on or to wrap them in aluminum foil. Others claim that soaking them works best (though Cook’s Illustrated founder Christopher Kimball insists he has tested this carefully and finds no flavor or texture difference). Our favorite method is to husk them fully, coat them lightly in oil or butter, and place them directly on the grill. Just make sure you turn them frequently!
Asparagus is a favorite. Snap off the bottom end, marinate in olive oil, and add a little kosher salt and/or lemon zest. Four minutes on the grill, turning once, and they’re done.
Yams and Sweet Potatoes
Yams and sweet potatoes are superb on the grill when cut into 3/8-inch slices and skewered. But they’re pretty dense and can take about 10 minutes to cook through. Don’t worry about how dark they get on the outside, you can always peel off the outer layer with a fork. You want to make sure they are thoroughly cooked so you don’t end up with a hard, raw core.
Red peppers seem to take on a totally different flavor when they are grilled. Stem and seed them, then cut into julienne strips. Marinate these in oil and then place on a very hot grill using a grilling basket (see below) or skewers. Let the skin blacken just a bit.
Eggplant also gets transformed by the grill, but since the water content is pretty high, you need to make sure you leave enough skin and flesh on it. Cut the eggplant crosswise into slices that are at least 1/2-inch thick; marinate with your favorite oil; then grill for about 12 minutes per side.
Ever try grilling radicchio? You’d think that a head of radicchio might shrivel up on the grill, but it actually holds up quite well. Slice it into length-wise quarters, apply the usual oil/salt marinade, and grill for about 5 minutes per side. A bonus: the slight charring along with the purplish-red color of the leaves looks gorgeous.
Don’t Let it Slip Through the Cracks
Nothing is worse than watching an expertly grilled onion browned on the edges and perfectly caramelized fall through the grill and land in a pile of ash. There are three or four good methods for keeping your veggies above the flames instead of in them.
- Buy a hinged grilling basket. You can find them in just about any kitchen accessory store, and there are plenty online as well. One real advantage to these baskets is that they are not being used to cook meat, so they tend to stay much cleaner than your regular grill top. That’s important when you are grilling vegetables because they are likely to stick, hence the surface must be extremely clean.
- Set wire cooling racks perpendicular to the direction of your regular grill surface. For example, the rack that is probably inside your toaster oven. By “cross-hatching” these, you reduce the hole space and can keep those veggies from taking a dive. Be sure to spray or oil your racks before using them, and to clean them off promptly when done.
- Use skewers. Wooden skewers are cheap and can be protected from the heat by soaking them before use. Metal skewers also work great, but conduct the heat and handle with tongs or oven mitts. Of course, getting the vegetables to stay on the skewers is no easy task. Skewers work well with peppers, mushrooms, small potatoes (like Yukon golds), zucchini or summer squash, and some onions. Don’t use skewers with cherry tomatoes or asparagus. It won’t end well.
A Few Other Tips:
- At Sprouts, we sell only natural hardwood charcoal. This helps to minimize the health risks associated with grilling meat, poultry and fish at high heat, and it works perfectly well for vegetables too. The irregular-size pieces seem to make it easier to start and maintain a fire too. (If you have a gas grill, of course, you’re way ahead of the game.)
- Since vegetables need high heat to cook correctly on a grill, avoid the common tendency to throw them on after you have removed your meat and are letting things cool down. You can cook them first, then wrap them in foil and throw them back on for two minutes just as you are removing the meat.
- Marinades that include fruit juices like orange or lemon may serve to reduce the risk of chemical reactions that can create potential carcinogens. Fifteen minutes of marinating is usually sufficient.