Along with the burgers and brats usually thrown on the grill, a heavy serving of fruits and veggies is always a good idea. But this year, think beyond the ears of corn and zucchini spears that have become mainstays. These sometimes overlooked vegetables and fruits grill well, and will liven up any of your summer barbecues.
Avocados can be grilled either as slices (which could be used as a burger topper or a side) or halves (which can become a makeshift salad bowl when salsa, other veggies, or feta cheese are added). Grilled avocados also make a great smoky guacamole. Just be sure to properly oil the fruit so that it doesn't lose all of its moisture, use foil if your grill grates are too wide, and only leave it on the heat for 2-3 minutes.
2. GREEN BEANS
Green beans have been boiled, sautéed, and stir-fried for centuries, so it is well past time to get them onto the grill. Toss them with some olive oil, salt, and garlic, and you are set to start grilling. If you have yard-long beans (you can sometimes find these in Asian markets) or very long haricots, you can try laying them crosswise on a medium-hot grill, but you are probably flirting with a few beans falling through the grate. For shorter beans, use a grill plate or grill basket, and remember, green beans will cook relatively quickly.
Yup. You can grill watermelon! Make sure the grate is clean, and then place thick wedged slices on the grill for 2-4 minutes. A quick coating of oil and salt makes grilled watermelon a perfect light appetizer, or serve with blue cheese and prosciutto for an upscale feel. And to freshen up a summer salad, add watermelon to a spinach and mozzarella plate or make it the main ingredient in this feta, mint, and olive dish.
There are so many ways to cook potatoes: mash 'em, fry 'em, boil 'em, roast 'em, and, yes, grill 'em. Grilled potatoes take a few steps to make sure each potato piece is fully cooked on the inside and not just charred on the outside. To ensure a totally cooked tater, parboil potato slices (or microwave whole ones and then slice them) so that they are almost cooked before they get near the hot grill. Or, put uncooked potato slices or wedges on a cooler part of the grill and roast them slowly before moving them to a hotter section later. Either way, oil and season the potatoes before grilling.
You can also wrap sliced potatoes, your choice of seasonings, and onions and peppers into a packet of foil and let them bake while you work the rest of the meal.
Not only does eggplant take especially well to grills, grilled eggplant can also be turned into a phenomenal salad or a baba ganoush. Many eggplant recipes call for salting the slices for a while to draw off water, but you can also marinate half-inch-thick slices in an Italian salad dressing or a vinaigrette for an hour or so. Then cook the slices on the grill until they have softened or charred a little bit and pair with chicken or fish.
If you are used to stuffed or roasted artichokes, you'll appreciate the extra smoky appeal of grilled artichokes. Grilled ones need the usual prep work of trimming the stems and leaf points and pulling out the choke. For grilling, choose smaller “baby” artichokes and parboil them. Then cut them in half and baste them with a lemon garlic sauce, serve them with melted butter, or add a bit of mint to the mix.
Grilled peaches (or nectarines) are an incredibly easy way to add some warmth to dessert. Cut peaches in half, remove the pit, oil both sides or brush with melted butter and place them on the grill. When both sides are soft and a bit charred (roughly 4-5 minutes each), move the fruit to a fresh bowl of vanilla ice cream. Or, coat them with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar for a slightly caramelized topping.
Make your vegetarian friends feel extra welcome at your cookout by throwing some tofu on the grill. Choose a firm tofu and cut it into slabs or into cubes to be skewered. Season with soy, maple syrup, and spicy garlic paste (or try a cilantro and lime concoction for something a little less spicy) and—even more than usual—make sure your grate is clean and well-oiled.
In the summer, most cabbage gets relegated to cole slaw duty, but grilling cabbage helps cut down on some of the bitterness and strong taste that the leafy veggie can have, making it a more appealing side dish on its own. Cut a head of cabbage into wedges, lightly coat with olive or canola oil, and grill as is. Top with a spicy lime or blue cheese dressing for a self-contained salad, or used an aluminum foil packet to grill the cabbage with butter, onions, and garlic for a heartier side.
One of the great things about grilled asparagus is that they are a fast side dish to whatever main course you have in the works, and they are perfect with just a light coating of oil, salt, and pepper. They also take well to marinades, like a balsamic and oil drizzle or a thicker mayonnaise-based paprika and garlic coating. Grilling asparagus on a pan or in foil will save most from slipping through the grates, but arranging four to five spears on skewers also works if you'd prefer a bit of char.
Whether you like to add pineapple to your burgers or want a tropical side, pineapple is quick and easy to grill. The easiest method is to cut a fresh pineapple into wedges, slices, or thick spears and grill until they are browned on both sides (or, add pineapple chunks to skewered kabobs with chicken and peppers). Drizzle with honey and cinnamon for an immediate dessert, or marinate them beforehand with a honey and hot pepper mix to add some tang to your meal.
All images via iStock.