Growth in gardening: Grilling garden vegetables

Move over meat, it’s time to grill some vegetables. Grilling, what’s the word on grilling: Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Is it healthy or not?

After all, one of the golden rules of eating healthy at restaurants is to choose “grilled” foods over “fried” choices. That’s because grilled food is generally a healthier choice– there’s no batter coating or dripping grease.

Besides, there’s something about the act of grilling that just makes food look and taste fantastic. Is it the smoky flavor, the fun flavors of marinades, the grill lines that form on the food, or the fresh taste that comes from cooking something over high heat for a short amount of time? Try all of the above.

I hate to burst your “isn’t-grilling-fun?” bubble, but the way I see it, there are two nutritional downsides to grilling.

Many Americans end up eating very highfat meats and sausages when they fire up the grill, pumping yet more calories, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol into their diets.

Then there’s the matter of a couple of potentially cancer-causing compounds: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). PAHs form when fat from the meat drips onto the hot coals or grill element. They’re then deposited on the food courtesy of flame-ups and rising smoke. Unfortunately, that yummy charring that forms on meat can contain PAHs as well. HCAs, meanwhile, are produced when red meat, poultry and fish meet high-heat cooking, like grilling or broiling.

But don’t despair, grill lovers a new, healthy way to grill is on the scene. Grill your vegetables!

Grilling vegetables is a great idea, whether or not you’re grilling meat or fish to go with them. We all need to eat more fruits and vegetables, and this is an appealing way to serve them. I probably don’t need to remind you that eating fruits and vegetables benefits the body in so many ways – reducing your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, obesity and some types of cancer.

But here’s the best part: PAHs and HCAs don’t form on grilled fruits and vegetables. Plus, if you are having grilled meat, it’s a great idea to get antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables in the same meal.

When you grill vegetables, low to medium-low heat is best. The vegetables should be nice and tender, not burned. Personally, I like to grill on all sides, but experiment as you wish.

Be sure to use some olive oil to coat your vegetables. Vegetables dry out when they hit the heat without a little oil. Before they hit the grill, toss them with a light coating of oil. Don’t use too much– it not only adds unnecessary calories, but dripping oil causes flare-ups and off flavors. Plus tossing them in oil helps your seasoning stick more uniformly.

Get to know your veggies, some vegetables take a minute or two to cook and others take longer. Denser vegetables like potatoes will take the longest to cook. Keeping them over too high a heat for too long will char them on the outside while keeping them raw on the inside. To prevent burning, sear vegetables over high heat, then move them to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking. Or precook them and just give them a few minutes on the grill to get some color on the outside.

Use a skewer or a grill basket for smaller veggies. Cherry tomatoes are great on the grill, but they’re a little unwieldy. To keep smaller vegetables like cherry tomatoes from rolling around and falling though the grate, put them on a skewer or use a grill basket. If you don’t have a grill basket, fold a 24-inch-long piece of heavy-duty foil in half and crimp up the edges to create a lip; this “basket” will prevent the food from falling through. Don’t have skewers? No problem, I love to use branches of rosemary as my skewers. They infuse a hint of rosemary into the food as it cooks – not to mention the beautiful presentation it makes.

Remember that when you are grilling, size matters. How you prep your vegetables dictates how they will cook. Cut them into smaller pieces if you want your vegetables to cook more quickly (and use a skewer to keep them on the grill). Cut round vegetables like onions or eggplant into thin “rounds”– you’ll get more surface area, which allows for a crispier outside, and because they’re thin, they’ll cook quickly.

  • Artichokes: Cut in half lengthwise, press down on them to spread the leaves open. Rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. 15–20 minutes per side, or until base is tender.
  • Asparagus: Roll spears in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. 5–10 minutes; turn every few minutes until tender.
  • Corn: Leave the stem and husk on. Pull back the husk, remove the silk, and soak for 15 minutes in cold water. Then carefully pull the husk back up, smoothing and twisting it if necessary so it stays closed. 10–20 minutes, turn several times.
  • Eggplant: Cut in half lengthwise or into circles about ¼ inch thick. Brush with olive oil. 4–5 minutes per side.
  • Fennel: Remove the stalks and cut the bulb in half lengthwise, or slice, keeping part of the root attached. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. (Lightly steam large bulbs before grilling.)5–6 minutes per side.
  • Leeks: Cut white portions in half lengthwise and wash well in warm water. Brush with olive oil. Lightly steam large leeks before grilling. 4–6 minutes per side.
  • Mushrooms: Use large caps, such as Portobello. Brush with olive oil and slice after grilling. 8–10 minutes per side.
  • Onions: Cut into ½-inch slices. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. 8–10 minutes per side.
  • Peppers: Cut bell peppers in half lengthwise, remove seeds and brush with olive oil. 6–10 minutes skin side down, then 3–4 minutes on the other side.
  • Summer Squash/Zucchini: Cut into thirds or halves, lengthwise like spears. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. 5–8 minutes per side.

So, this summer, make room on your grill for some veggies. Vegetables cook quickly and are so delicious with just the hint of smoke from the grill, you’ll just love the flavors that grilling unlocks. Plus, you don’t have to panic about whether they’re over or underdone in the middle like you do with a steak or a burger. In most cases, you can tell if vegetables are ready just by looking at them. Grilled vegetables not only taste great, but they make every grill look better. One of the highlights of any barbecue is a large, colorful platter of grilled vegetables.

Joe Urbach is the publisher of GardeningAustin.com and the Phytonutrient Blog. He has lived in the Central Texas area for over 30 years. Urbach is a certified Texas Master Gardener from Hays County and is currently serving as the director of training. For more information on the Master Gardener program contact the Hays County AgiLife Extension Service at 512-393-2120.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666