Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Garden on the Grill Cooking over Fire Brings out the Best Flavors in Most Vegetables

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Garden on the Grill Cooking over Fire Brings out the Best Flavors in Most Vegetables

Article excerpt

Every year about this time, you roll out your grill, scrub up the rack, shovel out last year's ashes or hook up a new propane tank. You go to all that trouble and then what do you cook?

Chicken, steaks, hamburgers.

Yawn. Yawn. And jaw-cracking yawn.

You've slow-cooked enough ribs to feed all of Adam's descendants. You've taken the plunge and grilled fish. Shrimp? Been there. Pork? Done that.

Time for a new frontier. You need color. You need pizzazz. You need something to add to your grilling repertoire -- with as little work as possible, please.

Got it: vegetables. No, no, not just a few strips of zucchini or a simple kabob. There's a whole garden of vegetables out there. Asparagus. Eggplant. Okra, even. The slight licorice taste of fennel. Even fruit can be peachy.

Grilled vegetables take very little work and yield a lot, even leftovers. How about grilled mushrooms added to a pasta sauce later in the week? Or a salad sprinkled with slices of grilled onion?

"For me, there's no better way to cook vegetables," declares Steven Raichlen. "Nothing brings out the sweetness of a vegetable like the dry, smoky heat of the grill."

Raichlen should know. A magazine writer and cookbook author, Raichlen traveled the world for his book The Barbecue! Bible, (Workman, $27.95) which won the Julia Child Cookbook Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Ask him a grilling question and he takes off with the fervor of a street preacher with a charcoal pulpit:

"When mankind made the jump from apehood, it was probably over a fire. We're the only ones who cook our food.

"I really honestly believe that grilling was probably our first step toward humanity."

OK, OK -- but what about simple grilled vegetables?

"In grilling veggies, there are two things at play," Raichlen explains. "A lot of vegetables like peppers and onions have high sugar content. Grilling caramelizes their sugar and brings out flavor.

"The second thing has to do with the charring. Vegetables are about the only food you can burn on a grill and they still taste good. In fact, burning is what you should do, with things like eggplant. The secret to great baba ghannouj (the Middle Eastern eggplant dip) is to burn the skin. Ditto with bell peppers. If you char the skins, they become sweet.

"That should be comforting to novices. It's virtually impossible to destroy vegetables on the grill."

And by grilling vegetables, you can make wonderful discoveries. Take that okra we mentioned earlier. Raichlen encountered it in Japan, where it was brushed with sesame oil and lightly grilled.

"That was such a revelation," he said. "There is an alchemy -- that's the only way I can describe it. It's the most extraordinary way you'll ever taste okra. It minimizes that sliminess."

There are a few vegetables that aren't well suited to the grill, Raichlen said.

"They tend to be your very dense, dry vegetables -- your beets, your rutabagas, your turnips. Basically, the vegetables that do best are vegetables with a high water content -- your bell peppers, your mushrooms, your onions, your eggplants. That water keeps the vegetable moist and it speeds up the process.

"Although I can't say I think broccoli works real well on the grill."

But just about any other vegetable can work. Raichlen's book even includes grilled celery in a vegetable caponatacq. But you could easily chop it and add it to a salad for a smoky touch.

Corn is one of his favorites, of course.

"There's no better way to cook corn. I know everybody has their theories. I peel the husk back and I tie it at the bottom so it kind of forms a handle. I like to brush it with garlic butter or garlic cilantro butter. That is so delicious. The kernels get dark brown and they sort of crackle. I know a lot of people soak it or leave it in the husk or all sorts of nonsense," he said. …

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