Veggies get their due on grill

  • Article by: JEANMARIE BROWNSON , Chicago Tribune
  • Updated: July 16, 2014 - 2:32 PM
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Vegetables can be transformed by the heat of a grill in dishes like Lemon Garlic Grilled Portbellos With Burrata and Tomatoes.

Photo: Bill Hogan • Chicago Tribune,

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Of all the foods we grill on perfect summer days, vegetables rank among the most exciting. Perhaps it’s because the grill so thoroughly transforms everything from bland eggplant to plain-old potatoes and squash into new, richly flavored, smoky treats. Suddenly, boring must-eat sides morph into interesting creations.

Our family tip: Cook plenty. We always eat more grilled veggies than we ever do of the steamed or boiled counterpart. Plus, any leftovers happily metamorphose into yet another treat for the next day’s meals. Grilled potatoes liven up potato salad as does grilled asparagus in a batch of scrambled eggs. I tuck slabs of grilled green and yellow summer squash along with tomato slices inside a pita for a terrific, unusual weekday sandwich.

Two secrets come to mind for successful veggie grilling: Keep them moist and season highly. Since grills offer dry heat, a light coating of oil seals in moisture when grilling cut vegetables. Alternatively, I trap moisture by wrapping firm veggies such as potatoes, beets, turnips and carrots in foil. Season sliced oiled vegetables with rubs, herbs and salt before grilling so the flavors penetrate. Likewise, season vegetables cooked in foil packets.

Sweet potatoes in the heat of summer may surprise you. We thickly slice and then sprinkle ours with a “barbecue” seasoning. A medium grill will soften the hard potatoes and char their natural sugars beautifully. My family sneaks them right off the grill. They think I don’t know. Instead, I cook double the quantity so we have a great accompaniment to grilled steak, pork chops and ribs. I hide leftovers to turn into a meatless main course later in the week.

We also like to grill Belgian endive and small heads of red radicchio for interesting sides. To do so, split them in half lengthwise, and cook on a medium grill while basting frequently with a flavorful vinaigrette. Once they’re tender and the edges look golden brown, sprinkle generously with chopped fresh chives and Parmesan shavings. Yummy when served warm.

Portobellos — the giants of the mushroom family — are often eaten grilled as a main course in Italy. I like to stuff the caps with their own grilled and seasoned stems. Topped with a gently grill-warmed tomato and a wedge of exceedingly unctuous burrata cheese, they make a stunning first course. For a meatless main, accompany the caps with pasta dressed simply with olive oil, black pepper and fresh herbs.

Any leftover stuffed portobello caps can be turned into a salad, so I cook extra with that in mind. The next day, I chop the leftovers roughly and mix them with 2 or 3 cups torn country bread that’s been darkly toasted or, better yet, grilled. Drizzle on some of the remaining vinaigrette or a bit of oil and stir in chopped fresh basil.

The grill and summer vegetables: a match made in heaven.

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