There’s so much more to grilling than just meat! Whether it’s a main course, side dish, or dessert, there are tons of ways to incorporate fresh produce into your summer barbecue.
Almost any fruit or vegetable has something to gain from time on the grill: the sugars are caramelized, the flavors are condensed, and the food takes on a wonderfully complex sweet/smoky flavor. It’s a great way to prepare fresh produce when you’re camping. If you’re at home, cooking outdoors means no extra heat in your kitchen, and fewer dishes to do. What’s not to love about that?
Bell peppers, sweet corn, summer squash, and onions are some of the most commonly grilled veggies, but they’re just a few of many delicious possibilities. Here are a few of my favorites that you may not have considered.
Simply toss with olive oil, and grill for about 3-4 minutes, until just tender. If you’re feeling decadent, wrap the spears with bacon before grilling!
Marinate whole kale leaves for a few minutes in olive oil and a bit of fresh lemon juice. Place on the grill for about 30 seconds, until it just begins to char. Flip and cook the other side briefly. Eat as a side dish, or as an interesting and healthful topping on a burger or brat.
This is one of my favorite veggies on the grill. The smoky flavor is a wonderful complement to the mellow sweetness of the eggplant; and the high heat sears the moisture in, leaving a soft, creamy interior. Slice the eggplant into thick rounds and toss with olive oil. Eggplant can soak up a lot of oil, so don’t skimp! Grill for 5-6 minutes on each side, until slightly charred. Grilled eggplant is great all by itself. It also makes an excellent sandwich filler or pizza topping.
There are several ways to grill potatoes. The easiest is to grill them whole—remember to poke a few small holes in them first so they don’t explode! This method can take a while, but yields some of the best “baked” potatoes you could ask for. Another, quicker method that works for larger potatoes is to make “chips:” Slice the potatoes longways, toss with olive oil, and grill until tender. A third method is to cut them in small cubes and wrap in tinfoil pouches with a pat of butter and seasonings. It can be hard to time the cooking with this method—when you’re dealing with the high heat of the grill there’s a very fine line between burnt and undercooked—but if you keep them as far as possible from the hot coals and check them often, the results are worth it!
I learned to love grilled hot peppers on a trip to Jalisco, Mexico, where grilled pearl onions and Serrano peppers garnish almost every dish. Simply place whole jalapeño or serrano peppers on the grill and cook until slightly charred. They make an awesome garnish for any Mexican meal, or chop them up and use in salsa or guacamole.
You might be surprised by how many fruits do well on the grill, and the versatility of their use: bananas, cantaloupe, apples, pears, figs...they’re all great. When grilling fruit it’s important to start off with a clean grill—you don’t want the flavors of last week’s brats to rub off! It’s also a good idea to lightly brush the grill with some melted butter beforehand to keep things from sticking. Here are a few of my summertime favorites:
Grilling brings out an amazing amount of sweetness in this tartest of all fruits. Cut lemons in half and grill, cut side down for 3-4 minutes. Turn them over and grill the peel side for a few minutes. Grilled lemons can be used in any recipe that calls for fresh lemon; they also make an awesome garnish for fish or chicken. If you’re feeling adventurous you can even use them to make lemonade!
My birthday falls right in the middle of local strawberry season, and these kebabs are one of my favorite birthday desserts—like pie without the crust! Using shish-kebab sticks keeps the berries from falling through the grates. Grill the fruit lightly until slightly charred and softened, turning as necessary. Be careful, if you overcook them, the berries will become too soft and fall into the grill. You can also add other small fruits like apriums or cherries. Grilled strawberries are delicious in a classic shortcake, over-top vanilla ice cream, or dipped in warm chocolate.
Peaches, Nectarines, and Apricots
I’ve found that grilling is a great way to bring out the sweetness and juice in these stone fruits, even if they’re not completely ripe. Simply cut the fruit in half and grill for 4-5 minutes per side. For added flavor, marinate the fruit in liquor and spices before grilling—rum and tequila are some of my favorites. Depending on your seasoning, fruit grilled in this manner can be used in a vast array of recipes: peach tequila salsa, roast chicken with grilled nectarine chutney, rum ginger apricots over ginger ice cream.... the sky, and your creativity, are the limit!