What’s Eating You? is a weekly advice column where I answer all of your burning cooking questions. To get the ball rolling, I’ve asked some of my friends to send me theirs. If you’d like your kitchen dilemma solved, feed it to me here.
Rodrigo is a Tijuana native studying in Palo Alto after living in New York and Madrid. He’s recently married and enjoying student life with his beautiful wife!
After moving to California late last year, my wife Stephanie and I have been slowly but surely setting up our home in sunny Palo Alto. Our house has plenty of outdoor space (a novelty after living in urban apartments), and we have taken full advantage of this by setting up a nice gas grill and some patio furniture. As you can imagine, I have found a new passion for all things grilling.
The problem is that Stephanie is not a huge meat eater. We usually get into a heated argument when we walk by the meat counter of our local supermarket and my eyes get wide with excitement. Left to my own devices, I would be firing up the grill every night, but I want to be sensitive to my wife’s preferences – and to my cholesterol level! What else should I be thinking about grilling for dinner besides meat?
The good news is, grilled veggies or not, you’re already on your way to being a fabulous husband. Which is a relief, because my advice is probably not as helpful on that subject. So, let me stick to what I know, and get you into shape to be a meat-free grill master by Memorial Day.
Vegetables are totally an afterthought when it comes to grilling – and what a shame that is! There’s nothing better than a good charred asparagus spear or ear of corn. Two summers ago, my dad decided that he wanted to become a grill master. Since he’s also a pescatarean, I tried desperately to find him an awesome grilling book for Father’s Day that included a lot of fish and veggie recipes. Easier said than done.
The principles of grilling vegetables are similar to meat, except your can keep things much simpler. You don’t need any fancy rubs or mops. The grill will add a nice smokiness and char to the veggies, and it’s best to let the produce shine. Make sure you have a really clean grill – it’s often best to start your grilling session with the veggies so that vegetarians can enjoy their meal without any burger residue. You don’t need to oil the grates, but do make sure your veggies are very well-coated in olive oil. This is especially important for vegetables because they lack the natural fat that will help grease the grates as they cook.
In addition to a good layer of olive oil (and salt + pepper), the second most important thing to keep in mind is that vegetables should be cooked over high heat. This sounds counter-intuitive since they cook much faster than meat. But because of this, you want to make sure you maximize the char. Get them on the fire, then get them off. If you cook the veg on a cooler spot on the grill it will take longer to get a good cross-hatch, and you risk over-cooking them. The ideal result is a super crisp, fresh vegetable with good flavor and good bite. If you wanted a shriveled asparagus spear, you’d just roast them in the oven.
This grilled vegetable ratatouille recipe is great for giving all types of vegetables a test-drive on the grill. The recipe is organized by cook time, so you can also get a sense for which types of vegetables cook faster than others. It’s a fabulous summer side dish.
Another one is Mexican grilled corn. You might know what I’m talking about! Shuck the corn, but leave the husk attached at the bottom so that you have handles for when you’re turning the corn on the grill. Brush with olive oil, stick it on the grill, then when it’s nice and charred, squeeze lime juice all over and roll the corn in a shallow dish of finely grated cotija cheese. Mmmmm.
Last but not least, if you’re really looking to replace the meat in your diet, try grilling up portobello mushrooms for your burgers. Since this is a “meatier” vegetable, it can stand a little bit of a marinade. I coat the mushroom caps with a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to really bring out the umami factor. If you want them to taste just like a burger, try brushing them with a little steak sauce during the last few minutes of grilling.
For more grilled vegetable recipes, keep checking in as the summer drags on!