Backyard Barbecuing? Don’t forget the veggies!

With Memorial Day weekend upon us, many are planning to celebrate the “unofficial start of summer” by inviting our loved-ones into our backyards to grub down on our favorite barbecue. Steaks, chicken breasts, fish fillets, and racks of ribs are being rubbed, dunked, slathered, and submerged in the hosts’ prized sauces. Guests will lovingly debate controversial issues like molasses vs. brown sugar, fresh vs. powdered garlic, and cayan vs. paprika. Everyone likes their barbecue a little different, and let’s face it…as long as the guests are licking their fingers, the hosts are happy.

But while you’re planning your trip to the market to pick up your chosen menu items, don’t forget how versatile veggies can be on the grill! The natural sugars in vegetables become a catalyst for gorgeous grill-marks. Sweet marinades on bitter greens pick up a surprising smokiness after just a few moments over the open flame. With very little effort, and even fewer ingredients, your otherwise boring veggies can be transformed into succulent side-dishes.

Here are some of my favorites:

Radicchio. I love this bitter, leafy lettuce any way I can get it, but grilled is, without a doubt, my favorite.  The naturally spicy undertones are easily mellowed after just a couple minutes of grilling. Prep: Slice down the middle, leaving the core in. Marinate in olive oil, fresh minced garlic, and balsamic vinegar for a few minutes before grilling to get a sweet, spicy, bitter, and flavorful surprise.

Bell Peppers.  You can’t go wrong with a brightly colored, delicious bell pepper. Any color, any size…they’re perfect for the grill. Prep: Cut in half, and remove core, ribs and seeds. Cover in a light coating of olive oil, then sprinkle on copious amounts of black pepper. Skin-side up on the grill to begin, then flip once the grill marks are to your liking.

Eggplant.  I could eat nothing but eggplant and be perfectly happy. When grilled, it is mind-blowingly delectable. Prep: Cut in half and leave the skin on (it blisters amazingly well).  Give the pieces a  light coating of olive oil, then dredge them in chopped basil…as much as will stick. Grill both sides until the eggplant is fork-tender. YUMMM!

Tomatoes.  Tomatoes on the grill are incredible. The smokiness they pick up give them a totally unique chipotle flavor. Big heirloom tomatoes work best for this particular recipe, but in all honesty, you could do this with any tomato. Prep: Cut top of tomato off and discard. Scoop the middle out with a spoon, about half way down the inside.  Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar inside and out, then stuff with your favorite pesto. Grill until the skin of the tomato just blisters, then remove. It…is…so…heavenly.

Portobello mushroomsBy far the most versatile veggie to grill. They can be stuffed with just about ANYTHING. Bacon & breadcrumbs, shrimp & avocado, basil & mozzarella, they can even be grilled and sandwiched between hamburger buns. Rub with olive oil first, and throw them on for a couple of minutes. Again…get those grill-marks.

Get creative! Keep it simple, and your veggies will be a crowd pleaser.  Happy grilling!


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