I’ve been going grill-crazy this summer! The excessive heat makes me want to keep the kitchen cool, so rather than roast in the oven or hang out over the stove, I’ve been grilling a ton of vegetables (mostly from our wonderful CSA) and having a swell time.
Instead of just grilling what we need for one meal, I’ll grill loads at a time and used the excess to create all kinds of meals afterwards. As Sarah Hiner wrote about recently in her blog, having versatile leftovers makes it so much easier to eat healthfully. My total cooking time is, at most, an hour for a LOT of variety.
A few tips…
Use grill pans rather than grilling directly on the grate. This makes it so easy to work with the veggies—they don’t get burned (as long as you keep an eye on them) and there’s no risk of anything falling through the grates. The grill pans I prefer are stainless steel with small holes such as this Weber pan, or this one from Made By Design. These pans are great for grilling skinless chicken and fish too. I find the mesh-style pans are a nuisance to clean and more likely to burn your food. I always have two pans going at once.
Let the grill do the grilling. I don’t stand over the grill. I use it more like a speedy convection oven, keeping the temperature at about 400 degrees.
Keep on preppin’. As I put one thing on to cook, I run inside to prep whatever is next instead of prepping everything beforehand. I’ll simply run out to place or flip or stir or remove, setting the timer for four minutes each time I come back in so I don’t forget to check the grill. Nearly everything cooks within about 10 minutes.
Keep a large, deep platter by the grill and carefully transfer each veggie over as it finishes, then cover with foil until the next batch is ready. The food stays warm being next to the grill and is ready to serve at the perfect temperature when it’s time to sit down to dinner.
Plan accordingly. I don’t worry too much about the order of cooking, but there are a few things I am mindful of.
- Eggplant need time to “sweat” to lose its bitterness, so I prep them first (details below).
- Potatoes take the longest, so I usually prep and put them up first.
- The cabbage is better marinated, so I usually prep this after the potatoes.
- Consider the flavors left in the pan. I generally just go vegetable to vegetable without cleaning the pan. But if there are green herbs (such as rosemary after the potatoes) left in the pan, I will (carefully—while wearing an oven mitt) wipe it clean using a few bunched-up wet paper towels so they don’t burn. I usually cook cauliflower and cabbage last so that I don’t pass on the strong flavorings to other vegetables.
- More multitasking: If you like larger-sized whole potatoes (sweet or white) or are a beet fan, poke a few holes and wrap individually in foil to cook on the top shelf. I put these on at the beginning and take them off when everything else is done.
- If I’m making an animal protein (typically chicken or fish), I cook it at the very end.
MY GRILLED VEGETABLE DIARY
Here’s the list of what I’ve grilled recently, and a few tips on how to prepare.
Overall…I use a bit of sea salt on everything to help bring out the natural flavors of the vegetables, but there is plenty of flavor without it if you limit salt for health reasons. Keeping the flavors simple in the grill pan makes the leftovers more versatile. But I do vary it a bit to give some different flavors beyond just the uniqueness of any particular vegetable. I let people pepper at the table if they so desire.
Veggies prepped in a bowl
For all of these, I cut into small-ish pieces…put into a large bowl…drizzle with olive oil…sprinkle salt and, where noted, additional herbs and spices…stir to coat…then grill in the grill pan.
Broccoli:The stems are just as delicious as the florets, so you can either grill the florets on the stem (and see below regarding prepping on a tray) or cut everything into smaller-sized pieces. If you are a floret snob, at least save the stems for a salad or soup.
Cabbage: Red or green cabbage is delicious drizzled with balsamic vinegar, oil and onion powder—I generally don’t add salt to this one. It is even easier to marinate using a zipper bag, frequently turning it over. I usually prep this early (eggplant first, then potatoes, then cabbage) and cook towards the end of my grilling session.
Cauliflower: In addition to salt, I also sprinkle with curry powder and onion powder. It’s delicious to add fresh chopped cilantro afterwards too.
Mushrooms: Depending on the size of the mushrooms, you can leave them whole or quarter. I use stems and tops—it all tastes good!
Onions: My husband used to slice onions thickly and grill them flat. I find it easier to do a large dice and then mix them around instead of flipping.
Potatoes: I love grilling small potatoes whole—they get crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. Besides olive oil and salt, shake in onion powder, garlic powder, paprika and rosemary. When I can find them, I prefer purple potatoes, which are both tastier and healthier than white or red potatoes. At a minimum, I try to buy the potato medley, which is a combo of white, red and purple. If you prefer, you can dice potatoes, season and wrap in a foil packet to cook on the top shelf of the grill. Cooking time for potatoes is longer than the other vegetables, about 20 minutes.
Spinach: I also added sliced garlic, as I would if cooked on the stove.
Zucchini:Caterers always serve sliced grilled zucchini. I find that it’s a lot of work to flip all of those small-disks and a challenge to slice the long way, so I dice it. I sprinkle with oregano and/or basil, or with zaatar, in addition to salt and, as with the onions, mix instead of flip.
Veggies prepped on a tray
After slicing these vegetables, I lay them out on a baking tray, then spritz lightly with olive oil spray and sprinkle with salt plus whatever herbs and spices…then turn it all over to do the same on the flip side. (You do not want to use olive oil spray directly on the grill!) I use large tongs to flip in the grill pan.
Eggplant. Cut into ½-wide disks. Place on a baking tray, sprinkle with kosher salt and rub it in a bit to ensure the salt sticks when you slip it over. Salt the second side, and let it sit for at least half an hour. This process draws out some of the liquid and, most importantly, removes the bitterness that eggplant often has. When you’re ready to grill, rinse off the salt and dry the disks. Place on a clean tray, spritz with olive oil spray, then sprinkle with oregano and/or basil and garlic powder. You don’t need to add any more salt.
Pepper. I cut large peppers (of any color) into wide slices but will cook small peppers (including the mild jalapenos that I grow in my garden) whole.
Sweet potatoes. These are tasty with onion powder in addition to the salt. I’ve also roasted mini sweet potatoes by wrapping them in foil and putting them on the top rack while the other veggies grill.
Enjoying Your Vegetables Without Getting Bored
Having a variety to choose from keeps leftover-based meals from getting boring. Here are some of the ways I’ve repurposed our grilled veggies beyond just reheat-and-eat. Cut whatever you want into bites or strips and add into…
- Chickpea pasta with tomato sauce.
- Gluten-free fresh pasta (which I buy at Trader Joe’s) along with homemade pesto (I make it using basil and parsley from my garden).
- “Yellow” brown rice, which I prepare in a rice cooker (and plan on leftovers)—use broth instead of water…plus a minced onion…a teaspoon each of turmeric, onion powder, garlic powder and oregano and a bay leaf. For an all-in-one meal, this is good with chick peas or diced chicken. Chopped fresh cilantro throws this over the top for me.
- Fried rice. Again, using leftover brown (or white) rice, sauté minced garlic, minced ginger and onion in olive oil…once soft, add rice…sprinkle with soy sauce, a splash of rice vinegar or cooking sherry, a double-splash of toasted sesame oil. Then add in whatever chopped veggies. If you like your fried rice with egg, once everything else is warm in the pan, push it to the side to make room for cooking the egg…crack in the eggs (you can scramble right in the pan), then mix everything together.
- Buckwheat groats (again, cooked in the rice cooker with a chopped onion and broth instead of water). Delicious with Moroccan spices. You can also add diced chicken here.
- Tossed into a green salad. A couple of times a week, my husband will mix up a big chopped salad that we can enjoy for a few days. For an extra taste delight, I’ll add a couple of chopped dates and some walnuts. For a complete meal, I’ll add beans, diced chicken or canned salmon or tuna (or, perhaps, leftover grilled fish).
- Vegetable or fish tacos. Add black beans, fresh tomato and lettuce, guacamole, fresh cilantro. Top with my chipotle slaw…cheese too, if you’re so inclined (I am not).
- Wrapped inside lettuce and (nitrate-free) turkey slices.
And don’t forget grilled potato salad! I make a dressing with vegan mayo, mustard and oregano and add sliced scallions or chives and maybe some sliced green olives and chopped celery. You can add any other vegetables into this too—even make a whole meal out of it with some canned salmon or tuna.
If you want to get a bit fancy with your grilling, try these delicious grilled vegetable recipes from one of my favorite food writers/cookbook authors, Linda Gassenheimer.