Grilling vegetables the right way…with Steven Raichlen

Entertainment

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The grilling forecast is looking good as we finally escape the nighttime frosts of spring and the cool afternoons. Your exclusive 10 Day Forecast is turning warmer as we go through the second half of May and inch closer to Memorial Day Weekend.

While some have already started their grilling season with the scattering of warm days we’ve had already, many more will be BBQ-ing in the weeks ahead.

If you’re looking to get beyond just burgers and brats, BBQ Expert, PBS Host, and author, Steven Raichlen says don’t forget about veggies. You can make them the star of the show and create some great dishes.

His newest book is “How to Grill Vegetables” and in it he shares his insights on how to take grilled vegetables to the next level. He tells WANE 15’s Nicholas Ferreri that, while his book is focused on vegetables, it’s not a completely “vegetarian” book.

BBQ Expert and Author
Steven Raichlen
Image Credit: Roger Proulx

It’s vegetable forward. I’d say about 90% of the recipes are vegetarian. But, for that 10%, for those meat-lovers, I have vegetables that are wrapped in bacon, wrapped in ham, paired with seafood. There’s a quesadilla made with grilled corn and poblano chiles and, then, shrimp, which is absolutely amazing.

Steven Raichlen on his new book “How to Grill Vegetables”

Here are the recipes featured in our WANE interview. They are excerpted from How to Grill Vegetables by Steven Raichlen, photographs by Steven Randazzo. Workman Publishing © 2021.   

While his book is filled with more than 125 recipes and multiple tips/techniques for any griller, Raichlen shares these 7 key insights on grilling vegetables:

1.       There are multiple ways to tell if a vegetable is cooked. For small, skinny vegetables like scallions and asparagus or sliced veggies like eggplant or zucchini, when the outside is blistered and darkened, the vegetable has finished cooking. For small, round or pod vegetables, like tomatoes or okra, use the pinch test: Pinch it between your thumb and forefinger. When squeezably soft, it’s cooked. Lastly, for larger vegetables, like squash or potatoes, use the skewer test: When you can easily pierce the vegetable with a slender metal skewer or cake tester, it’s done.

2.       Vegetables absorb wood smoke differently than meats. Smoke penetrates the moist, porous surface of meat easily, but this is not the case with hard vegetables, like turnips and beets. The smoke tends to stay on the surface, which is why many smoked vegetables wind up smelling like ashtrays rather than barbecue. To avoid this, moisture-rich vegetables like tomatoes and onions should be grilled using the direct smoking method, while denser, drier veggies such as turnips and rutabagas should be blanched or boiled before smoking.

3.       Most vegetables contain no intrinsic fat, so you have to add fat to keep them moist. That fat can take the form of olive oil in a marinade, butter in a baste, or a strip of bacon or pancetta wrapped around a jalapeño pepper, an ear of corn, or a wedge of acorn squash.

4.       There are five main methods of cooking vegetablesDirect grilling is best for high-moisture vegetables like asparagus and zucchini, tender vegetables like eggplants and mushrooms, and small vegetables such as okra and snow peas. Indirect grilling, where the veggie is placed next to rather than directly over the fire, is best for large or dense vegetables; while smoke-roasting, a variation on this method, uses wood chips, smoker box, or smoker pouch to achieve a similar effect. Alternatively, smoking, a technique used for cooking Texas-style brisket and Kansas City-style ribs, works well with wet vegetables like tomatoes or onions, as well as baked beans and dense vegetables like beets. Spit-roasting uses a rotisserie and is a highly effective cooker for sturdier produce, such as a whole pineapple, head of cauliflower, or a stalk of brussels sprouts. And lastly, ember-grilling (aka caveman grilling) imparts a wonderful smoke flavor while caramelizing the veggie and can be done with virtually any vegetable, from onions to artichokes to peppers and even delicate snow peas and green beans. Just place them in a wire-mesh grill basket and lay it directly on the coals.

5.       Boiling is not a dirty word. One of the canons of carnivorous barbecue is that you should never, ever boil ribs or other meats like chicken or brisket. Yet many vegetables contain cellulose, a hard, fibrous substance that makes it difficult to achieve tenderness and moistness solely from direct or indirect grilling. For this reason, blanching (briefly immersing a vegetable in boiling water) or parboiling (partially cooking a vegetable in boiling water) prior to cooking can work wonders, especially for hard or dense vegetables like artichokes, potatoes, or cauliflower.

6.       While grilling vegetables does bring out lovely caramelized flavors, the one thing it can’t do is create a crisp crust. Luckily, there’s a hack for that: Top your veggies with toasted or sautéed breadcrumbs or nuts, or crumbled slices of grilled bread.  

7.       Grilling vegetables rather than meat is good for the planet! According to foodtank.com, it takes about 1,800 gallons of water to raise a single pound of beef and 576 gallons to raise a pound of pork. Contrast that with 216 gallons of water needed to grow a pound of soybeans and 108 gallons needed for a pound of corn.

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