Memorial Day marks the beginning of grilling season, and even though there is a frost warning tonight (June 8), it is the time of year to grill.
Vegetables cooked on the grill develop a sweet and smoky taste that is irresistible. Because of the natural sugars present in vegetables, the dry heat of the grill causes the vegetables to form a caramelized crust that seals in flavor and moisture. For more flavor, the vegetables can be tossed with an herb-scented oil or a soy sauce–based marinade before grilling. Even better, the grilled vegetables can be tossed with salad greens, blended into a pasta sauce, layered with polenta, or stirred into couscous. Grilled vegetables can be stuffed into pita pockets, dressed with pesto on Italian bread, or tucked into tortillas. The variety of great vegetarian dishes you can prepare on the grill is boundless.
If you are going to be grilling a lot of vegetables, do yourself a favor and get the one piece of equipment that makes grilling vegetables truly worthwhile—an enamel-coated metal vegetable grill rack, or grill topper, as they are sometimes called. Sure, without one you can grill asparagus (if you are careful) and slabs of eggplant and zucchini, not to mention veggie burgers.
A vegetable grill rack opens a whole new range of cooking possibilities. What the vegetable grill rack does is enable you to cook vegetables that are already cut into bite-size pieces. Basically, it enables you to sauté over an open flame. Think of the possibilities—garlic-soaked, flame-kissed zucchini whisked off the grill and tossed with just-cooked pasta; soy-marinated broccoli and tofu lightly seared over an open flame and bedded down with rice; lime-marinated peppers and onions tucked into tortillas to make rich-tasting vegetarian fajitas.
Bite-size vegetables cook faster than large slices, and yet they have a stronger grill flavor because of the increased surface area that is exposed to the heat. Because they don’t have to be chopped after grilling, the vegetables are more likely to retain their heat and texture as they are moved quickly from grill to table. Veggie burgers and tofu slices, which have a tendency to fall apart on the grill, hold their shape on the vegetable grill rack.
A grill rack can be used to make pizza on the grill. The pizza cooks directly on the grill rack, which can be moved on and off the grill, eliminating the need for a baker’s peel to transfer the loaded pizza. A grill rack is also wonderfully portable for campfires and barbecues at a campground. You never know what was on the grate over the fire pit before you arrived. With a vegetable grill rack, your food doesn’t come in contact with the public grill grate.
The advantages of grilling vegetables are many. Foremost is the delicious flavor that smoke adds to crisp-tender vegetables. But beyond that, grilling is also fast and easy, and there’s very little clean-up. Best of all, the food I take off the grill is special, enhanced by the direct kiss of flame and smoke.
I know alot about grilling vegetables because several years of my life have been devoted to grilling vegetables as I tested recipes and developed ideas for the Vegetarian Grill and its revision, The New Vegetarian Grill, both published by Harvard Common Press. If you are going to be grilling vegetables this year, you might want to buy a copy. And visit my kitchen where I have posted a couple of recipes.