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Monday, July 30, 2012 - Page updated at 04:30 a.m.
For stress-free veggie grilling, grab a basket
By Susie Middleton
I love grilled vegetables, but sometimes prepping them for the grill, and then standing vigil over them patiently, is just a little more time than I'm willing to give.
Using a grill basket definitely helps. If you don't have one, buy one — you won't be sorry. They are inherently destructible and won't last forever, so don't bother spending a lot of money. (You can find a Char-Broil nonstick grill basket for $16.99 at Seattle-area Target stores.)
Using a grill basket is like stir-frying on the grill, but better because you don't have to pay really close attention. Usually stirring the vegetables every three or four minutes works, as opposed to every 30 seconds. As long as you follow a few guidelines, you can cook practically any combination of your favorite vegetables in about 10 minutes of mostly hands-off time.
Here are a few tips for cooking vegetables in a grill basket:
1. Choose a combination of vegetables that are loosely similar in density and moisture content. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, sugar snap peas, young beans, bok choy, broccoli raab are all fine. (Yeah, I'm defining density very loosely here). Don't use potatoes or roots other than carrots here. It's also fine to throw in a hearty leafy green like cabbage or radicchio — delicious if you don't mind a few charred edges. But don't use delicate greens such as spinach here unless you toss the leaves in at the end of cooking.
2. Cut all those vegetables into pieces about the same size. Then augment them with at least some peppers, onions or mushrooms — aromatic vegetables that give off moisture as they cook. The aromatics not only spread flavor around but also help all the other vegetables cook, too.
3. Estimate how many vegetables you'll need by putting the raw veg into the (cool) basket. Mine feels fullish with 3 to 4 cups of vegetables. You want your basket to be slightly overcrowded. With the grill lid down (and occasional stirring), the indirect (ovenlike) heat of the grill, along with the moisture the crowded vegetables will give off to each other, will help cook the vegetables through while they brown.
4. Be sure the vegetables are thoroughly (but not excessively) coated with oil. You need the oil to draw the heat in and cook the vegetables. Season with kosher salt, too.
5. Preheat the grill with the grill basket in it for 5 to 10 minutes. Cook over medium heat. The vegetables are done when they are all tender (some will be crisp-tender) and gently browned in places.
6. When the vegetables come off the grill, you can do almost anything with them. I like to toss them with a compound butter (fresh herbs, citrus zest, salt), which is quick and easy to make. Then sometimes I take it a step further and toss the seasoned vegetables with cooked whole-wheat spaghetti or another pasta and call it dinner (or a big part of dinner). If you like the compound-butter idea, I've included a formula below for making one. You might not use the whole batch on the vegetables; use any extra with your eggs in the morning or on a steak tomorrow night.
Compound Herb Butter
In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons well-softened butter with ½ teaspoon citrus zest, 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, 1-½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh tender herbs (chives, mint, parsley, cilantro, basil), and 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup (optional). Mash with a wooden spoon until well combined. Store tightly covered in the fridge for up to three or four days.
Susie Middleton is the author of cookbooks "Fast, Fresh and Green" (Chronicle Books, 2010) and "The Fresh and Green Table" (Chronicle Books, June 2012).
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