This Father’s Day, why not let dad veg out?
We’re not talking about lounging on the couch in front of the TV, though there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re talking about making him a feast of grilled veggies for dinner, followed by some fruits fresh off the barbie for dessert.
For recipe inspiration and tips for getting the job done, we checked in with grilling guru Steven Raichlen and cooking school owner David Cook. Both are professionals who enthusiastically tout the joys of grilling vegetables and fruits.
“We all recognize the health benefits of eating at least a part plant-based diet,” said Raichlen, author of a new cookbook, “How to Grill Vegetables: The New Bible for Barbecuing Vegetables Over Live Fire.” “Consider the scorching success of the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger. What better way to show your love for Dad than by helping him eat healthier? And of course, a plant-based diet is better for the planet.”
He illustrates that last point in his cookbook, writing that it takes about 1,800 gallons of water to raise a single pound of beef, compared to 216 gallons of water to grow a pound of soybeans and 108 gallons to grow a pound of corn.
“Besides, there is simply no better way to cook most vegetables than by grilling,” he said in an interview. “The high dry heat of the fire caramelizes the natural plant sugars, adding a haunting, inimitable smoke flavor you simply can’t achieve indoors.”
If a dinner with no meat doesn’t sound like a winner, then you could toss a juicy rib eye on the grill and serve it alongside some impressive vegetable side dishes. But don’t be afraid to try an all-veggie meal. Based on reactions he got from a meat-eating part of the country, it might be well-received.
“When I was on tour for ‘Brisket Chronicles’ (his 2019 cookbook), I did events in some very carnivorous locales, like Kansas City and Texas,” he said. “When I announced my next book would be ‘How to Grill Vegetables,’ I got the predictable groans. Then guys would come up to me afterwards and whisper, ‘You know, I’m really looking forward to that book. I want to eat more vegetables, and I need to know interesting ways to grill them’.”
Raichlen is the master of “interesting,” and in this book, he offers creations like Nashville hot cauliflower, rotisserie Brussels sprouts with turmeric oil, cedar-planked eggplant parmigiana, smoke-roasted parsnips with crispy capers, ember-charred cabbage with caraway and mint, and smoked beet salad with smoky raisin vinaigrette.
For those looking for some help on how to prepare an array of grilled vegetables and fruits, Cook, who co-owns Gather Food Studio and Spice Shop, has some solid ideas and tips.
The right temperature: He says when grilling, it is always best to have at least one burner that is a much lower temperature than the rest. While the extremely hot temperatures and grates are fantastic for searing and charring, they can often be too hot for a nice, consistent cook. Start your veggies on the hot side of the grill until nice marks develop, then move them off to the lower heat to finish cooking evenly. This will also prevent burning.
The right moisture: Don’t throw dry veggies on the grill. They will cook, but they will also dry out, which doesn’t leave you with the best flavor or appearance. Either marinate them in an oil-based marinade or, for a lighter option, simply brush them with oil. Flavored oils are great. The oil also helps to develop darker, more flavorful grill marks on the vegetables.
The right size: A common mistake is to prep a bunch of vegetables for a colorful, tasty medley and throw them all on the grill at the same time. Remember that the size and density of the vegetable impact how long it will take to cook. Make sure to add vegetables to the grill in stages so they all finish at the same time.
The right skewering: Kabobs are always a crowd-pleaser, but when skewering the vegetables, resist the urge to put many different kinds together. Place the same vegetables, cut the same size, on the same skewer. Not all vegetables have the same cooking times, so if they’re mixed together on the same skewer, some of them will burn or fall off before the others are finished.
The right meat alternative: When it comes to mimicking a plant-based meat, Cook recommends using mushrooms. “Who doesn’t love a nice grilled mushroom?” he asks. “If you are trying to replicate a steak-like texture, pick a large mushroom. Then marinate it and grill it directly on the hot grates. If you are using a medium-sized or button mushroom, skewers are a lot easier to manage than turning a bunch of little mushrooms over individually over hot flames.”
The right way to think about grilling fruits: Cook is a big fan of grilled fruit, both sweet and savory. “The natural sugars in fruits will caramelize with the high heat,” he said. “Plus, the grill flavor will give you a new flavor profile experience. I love drizzling small bunches of grapes with a flavored olive oil and salt and pepper, and grilling them lightly and serving them on the side of a peppercorn-crusted steak.
“Fruit sauces and salsas are delicious too,” Cook says. “Grilled melons always make a fun base for a salsa for chicken, pork and fish. Grilled stone fruits like peaches and plums make a visually stunning and mouthwatering salsa base for the big game. Grilled pineapple and strawberries make a tasty addition to any fruit salad.”
contact the writer: 636-0271.