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Tips for veggies on the grill

Once spring can be measured in sunlight hours rather than muddy shoe prints across the kitchen floor, barbecue season has arrived.

It’s a form of cooking I have always loved, whether it was during my college apartment days when I made do with a hibachi on the balcony, my high-country adventure years with a portable grate and packed-in charcoal briquets, or the fancy-schmancy phase we’re in now where I have 3 options to choose from: a charcoal grill, a gas grill and an electric smoker.

Each style produces different-yet-delightful results. Gas grilling’s more convenient and less messy, but I prefer the flavor of food that’s been grilled over old-fashioned charcoal or our fabulous, electric, auger-driven Traeger smoker. So we keep all kinds of grills on the premises.

With so much grilling equipment around, it’s only natural that I’ve broadened my repertoire to include a wide range of grilling ingredients beyond meat, fish and poultry. Indeed, vegetables are a natural for the grill because they develop such an irresistibly sweet and smoky flavor during the process.

Whether you eat vegetarian style all of the time, part of the time or simply want to create some interesting side dishes to serve with a meat-based meal, the following recipes should raise your Grill Chef status around the neighborhood. Particularly as the lovely aroma of toasting onions and peppers wafts its way noseward over the backyard fence.

Jan’s Marinated & Grilled Veggies (with Portobello Mushroom Burger option)

For the marinade:

1/3 cup red or white wine vinegar

1/4 cup dry red wine

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 cloves finely minced garlic

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Vegetables for grilling:

1/4 pound mushrooms (halved or whole, depending on size)

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut in strips

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut in strips

6 fresh asparagus spears (remove tough lower portion, then cut into 1-inch pieces)

1 whole sweet onion, cut into thin strips or rings

Combine the vinegar, wine, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil. Place the vegetables in one large container or 2 zip-close plastic bags. Pour the marinade over the vegetables and let marinate for 1 to 2 hours.

When ready to cook, remove the vegetables from the marinade (the marinade will keep for a couple of weeks, so refrigerate in a sealed jar for another round of veggies within that time-frame). Place the grill pan on top of the grill grate over hot coals or gas flame and let it heat through. Add the vegetables and let them cook, turning and tossing the veggies sort of as you would for a stir-fry, until they’re lightly golden and cooked through.

Remove from heat. Delicious with rice, polenta or even in a sandwich.

Portobello Mushroom Burger: Prepare the marinade as directed above. Place portobello mushrooms in a zip-close plastic bag, pour in the marinade and marinate up to 2 hours. Remove the mushrooms from the marinade and grill, turning once, until golden and soft. Meanwhile, toast the cut sides of hamburger buns. Prepare the buns with mayonnaise and a bit of lettuce, tomato and onion. Top with the grilled mushrooms and top portion of bun.

Mushrooms on a stick variation: After marinating mushrooms as directed above, thread them onto skewers and grill. Makes a delicious appetizer.

Basic Grilled Baby Carrots

1 pound baby carrots

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or toasted sesame oil (or combination of both)

Coarse salt

Prepare a medium fire in the grill with a lightly oiled vegetable grill rack in place.

Scrub the carrots; dry well. Toss the scrubbed and dried carrots with the oil(s) to coat well.

Sprinkle the carrots, then place on the vegetable grill rack and cook, tossing frequently, until tender and grill-marked, about 10 minutes. The carrots will char if you don’t pay attention. Remove from the grill when they are just tender. Place in a serving bowl, sprinkled lightly with more salt to taste. Serve hot.

— Recipe adapted from “The Vegetarian Grill,” by Andrea Chesman.

A Simple Grilled Vegetable Melange for Pasta or Pitas

1 large unpeeled sweet onion (or red onion), cut lengthwise through stem and root ends into quarters

4 or 5 medium-sized Roma-style tomatoes, cored and cut in half lengthwise

8 to 10 medium-sized fresh mushrooms

1 sweet bell pepper, pierced in 2 places with a knife

2 Anaheim chiles, pierced in two places with a knife

4 cloves garlic, unpeeled (snip off the tips, and then secure all four cloves on a bamboo skewer)

Extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

French bread

Brush the onions, tomatoes and mushrooms with olive oil and then place all of the vegetables (including the skewer of garlic cloves) on a grill 4 to 6 inches above a bed of medium coals or gas flame. The onions should be placed with a cut side down; tomatoes should be placed cut-side up. Turn all of the vegetables except the tomatoes as they brown. As the tomatoes brown on the bottom and become very soft, remove to a bowl.

Continue cooking the onions, turning often, until they are tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. The bell peppers and chiles need to be turned several times so they will brown evenly on all sides.

Remove the browned vegetables and store in the bowl with the tomatoes, refrigerated, for up to 24 hours, or proceed with recipe.

Cut each onion quarter into thin slices. Dice the tomatoes and mushrooms. Peel and cut the peppers into pieces. Mince the garlic cloves. Return the vegetables to bowl and set aside. Drizzle with additional olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve at room temperature, accompanied with slices of French bread. The bread can be served fresh or lightly toasted on the grill.

Grilled Eggplant and Arugula Sandwich

1/2 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon herbes de Provence

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 large Japanese eggplant, trimmed and thinly sliced lengthwise

4 thick slices rustic country bread

Thinly sliced onion

12 leaves arugula

Whisk together olive oil, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Brush all over the eggplant slices and bread. Place the eggplant and bread slices over a hot grill, turning as needed until the eggplant is lightly charred on both sides and the bread slices are toasted. To assemble the sandwiches, place some eggplant slices on one bread slice. Top with a few slices of onion, some of the arugula and the top portion of bread. Slice and serve.

Golden Potato Wedges

4 medium-size Yukon Gold potatoes (1½ to 1¾ pounds)

2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons Louisiana-style hot sauce

Salt and black pepper

Ground red pepper or paprika (optional)

Prepare a medium-hot fire in the grill.

Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise, then slice each half into 4 wedges. Combine the wedges in a bowl with the butter and hot sauce and toss to coat well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. For a little more heat, dust with a little red pepper or paprika, if desired.

Grill the potatoes, basting with the hot sauce mixture, and turning every 5 minutes, or until golden, fork-tender, and grill-marked, 15 to 25 minutes. Remove the wedges as they are done. Serve hot.

— Recipe from “The Vegetarian Grill,” by Andrea Chesman.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.