Vegetarians are the black sheep of the summer barbecue. At a meal where the centerpiece is typically not one, but many varieties of meat, grill masters may be stumped by those who shun the holy trinity of burgers, hot dogs, and chicken. Aside from corn on the cob and salad, the standard barbecue sends a strong message to veggie lovers—tough luck.
But Chef Bethlyn Rider, known for cooking up a wide array of vegetarian options at Broken Top Bottle Shop, says that with a little time and attention, grilled vegetables and other non-meaty items can easily serve as the main course or a spruced-up side.
The key to mouthwatering grilled vegetables is threefold: vegetable selection, marinade and the delicate balance of time, temperature and attention. Here are Chef Rider's top tips:
Choose High-Sugar Veggies
"Most of the flavor comes from the caramelization process, bringing out the sugars in the vegetables," Rider explains. "Usually veggies that grill better are those with more sugar content, like root veggies."
Good options include sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots and beets. Rider's favorite veggie to grill is eggplant; the only one she wouldn't recommend is celery—or anything small enough to fall through the cracks. And don't forget about fruit. Rider says her favorite grilling fruit is pineapple (because it holds together even when over-ripe), but she also recommends mangos, peaches, plums and nectarines.
She also suggests using a quick-release spray (like Pam cooking spray) directly on the grill to help keep fruits and veggies from sticking and to ensure you get those charred lines.
"Putting vegetables and fruit directly on the grill with no marinade doesn't work well. It dehydrates and loses its form," Rider says. "It's a personal pet peeve."
Marinades can be as simple or complex as you like. Sometimes—especially when grilling tofu—Rider mixes a basic marinade using Braggs' amino acids, olive oil and balsamic vinegar; other times she gets fancy and makes a coconut-based, teriyaki or green curry marinade, full of fresh herbs. She says she typically lets fruits and vegetables marinate for 30 minutes, and may dip them in a second time mid-grilling to seal in the flavor and moisture. For fruits, a quick dip in sugar and oil often does the trick.
Not Too Hot, Not Too Long
"A lot of people don't put a lot of effort into [grilling vegetables]," Rider adds, "but it's worth the time."
Cross-marking, limiting the heat to about 350-degrees and keeping an eye on the food all help ensure tasty results. If you set the heat too high, Rider warns, the vegetables will char without fully cooking.
One of Rider's favorite marinades is based on chimichurri sauce, which typically has a pesto-like texture. Here are the ingredients (Rider says she doesn't know the exact portions):
Salt and pepper
A tad of Braggs
A little sugar