Grilling Vegetables

"Vegetarian barbecue" is not a contradiction in terms, even though most of us think of meat when we think about grilling food. Vegetables are excellent choices for grilling because the fire brings out an appealingly sweet, smoky flavor that most people can't believe exists in a vegetable.

grilling vegetables
Arif Budiman
The flavor of vegetables is enhanced by grilling, barbequeing or smoking on the grill.

Though those unfamiliar with vegetable grilling may consider it very limited, it's actually quite the opposite. With so many possible choices of excellent dishes, the biggest challenge is narrowing them down to just a few special recipes that take advantage of the outdoor grill.

All kinds of veggie foods can be grilled, with great results. Beets become sweet. Potatoes get crisp on the outside and stay sweet and moist on the inside. Carrots and onions caramelize. And those vegetarian standbys -- veggie burgers; tofu and its fermented cousin, tempeh; and gluten-based seitan -- take on a smokiness that enhances their flavors.

Select vegetables or vegetarian versions of meaty foods that are firm and that can hold up to slicing and grilling. Slice them in large, thick (at least 1/4-inch) sections, since small pieces can easily fall through the grid and into the fire. Cut zucchini lengthwise or on a long diagonal, for example. If you plan to prepare a recipe that calls for smaller pieces, try grilling them on skewers or wrapping them in foil packets. Vegetables such as peppers can simply be grilled whole, then peeled and sliced.

Because vegetables lack fat, they need oil, liquid, or some sort of marinade to prevent them from burning and sticking and to keep them moist. Brush vegetables with oil (preferably vegetable oil because it has a high smoke point) or a flavored oil mixture, such as a salad dressing or your own mixture of oil and herbs or other seasonings. Or marinate vegetables in a dressing or marinade of your choice for at least 30 minutes before grilling.

White wine, oil, garlic, onion, and celery salt make a good marinade, as do beer, oil, garlic, and cloves. Yogurt, garlic, pepper, curry, and cardamom can give an Indian flavor to grilled foods, and add nice color. Vinegar, soy sauce, oil, sugars, and ginger can give an Asian flair to your grilled foods. Lemon juice also makes a good base for grilling marinades. And to sweeten the deal, try pineapple juice, soy sauce, lemon juice, and garlic with seitan or firm vegetables. Orange juice, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and lemon zest make a light marinade for summer squash or tofu.

Consider the texture of the ingredient to determine marinating time. Mushrooms, summer squash, and extra-firm tofu may need only 30 to 40 minutes to marinate. Tougher ingredients, such as seitan, tempeh, sliced carrots, potatoes, or squash can marinate for a couple of hours.

To further prevent food from sticking to the grill and to aid in cleanup, spray the grid with nonstick cooking spray before heating (never spray into the fire) or wipe the grill rack with oil before you start cooking.

Special equipment is minimal. A special grill top is useful to keep veggie foods from tumbling into the fire. Metal or wood skewers are useful for making kebabs that are easily rotated on a grill. (Wood skewers should be soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to loading on the veggies so they won't burn on the grill.) Heavy-duty foil is the best type to use for lining grills or for wrapping food in packets for grilling.

Find tips about tailgating and grilling in the next section.

To learn more about grilling, check out these additional articles:

­