Domesticity Nouveau

Friday, September 2, 2011

Grilled Vegetables

Same vegetables prepped three different ways:  
for a grill basket (left), direct grilling (center), and kebobs (right). 
Grilled  Vegetables

We’re starting our series on cooking basics with an original cooking technique from long ago. 

Food + Fire = Dinner, stick optional

Because of where I work (a spice shop) I get a lot of cooking questions.  These questions tend to reflect, more than anything, the person’s aptitude for cooking and their belief system about cooking.  Some people see cooking as something only professionals, who have spent years training, can do properly.  They are intimidated by boiling water; Amazed at how the people on TV can turn out a glorious feast in 30 minutes.  For them, cooking is about perfection and appearance.  Feeding themselves seems like an insurmountable challenge because they can’t get it “right” or figure out how to do it with the ease they see on TV or in magazines.  If it isn’t worthy of a photo shoot for a magazine, they have failed.

I want to scream at them.  But I don’t; because I am at work, and I really like my job.

 I eat my food, I don’t hang it on a wall as art.  I appreciate a beautifully crafted meal, but the day to day, work-a-day world just doesn’t allow for that.  AND there is a certain beauty in simplicity!

The only wrong way to cook is to not cook at all!  Yes, there are techniques that work better and some that are worse, but in the end, if you can get food on a plate and eat it, you are doing it right!  I’m talking about real foodNourishing food.  Not frozen pizza.

Cooking is essentially applying heat and time to a raw ingredient.  There really isn’t more to it than that. As the kids these days say... It’s so easy a caveman could do it!

Grilled Vegetables



Preheat grill to a high heat.  While waiting, cut vegetables into desired size and shape.  Apply a very light coating of oil & season to taste.  Place veggies on grill and cook till crisp-tender.  Time will vary based on the vegetable, the size you  prepped it and what your grill considers a high heat.  Figure about 5-10 minutes, turning half way through.

For many people, this recipe is too vague... I understand that you want specifics.  What vegetables?  Which oil?  What do I season with?  Here are my answers...

Any Vegetable can be cooked on the grill.

-Really.  Any veggie you fancy or any combination.  If you are just beginning, start with one vegetable like broccoli or asparagus or zucchini slices.  Once you get the hang of things, use a combination of vegetables, keeping their sizes respective to how long they take to cook so they all finish at the same time.  A few produce picks (artichokes cut in half, potatoes or sweet potatoes in 1/2 inch slices, etc) benefit from a quick parboil in salted water prior to grilling.  To do this, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, drop your pieces in and cook for a few minutes until just starting to become tender, but don't let them cook all the way, that's why you are grilling them.  Immediately drop into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.  Drain and dry off; they are now ready to go! 

Any oil can be used.
-Really.  Any oil you chose will work.  Olive oil, room temperature schmaltz, leftover bacon drippings, butter... whatever you fancy.  Simply brush a very light coat on all sides of the veggies.  Don’t have a brush, place a small amount in your hand and gently rub to coat evenly.  The oil is simply your insurance that things don't stick.  I never have a problem with sticking, and you shouldn't either, provided your grill is hot enough.  Make sure to let that grill heat up for 15 minutes at least!

Cook till done.
-This is the tricky part as we all like our veggies cooked to different levels of crispness.  Experience will be your guide, which is a frustrating answer when you are just starting out on your cooking knowledge.  One thing to keep in mind is that your produce of choice will continue to cook a wee bit after you remove it from heat, so pull it just before you think it is ready.  Zucchini takes less time than cauliflower, asparagus is quicker than onions.  You know a veggie has reached the crisp-tender stage when you can pierce it with a fork, it is bendy but not floppy, and it still retains its bright color and shape.  The good thing about vegetables is if undercooked, they aren't going to make you ill, like say undercooked chicken would.  You can always throw them back on the heat if they aren't done.  If they accidentally become overcooked, you can still eat them and you learned about heat + time!

Any seasoning your taste buds fancy will work.
-Salt and pepper is easiest and you can’t really go wrong with it.  Crushed red peppers, Aleppo pepper flakes, garlic powder, toasted onion powder, Mrs. Dash, curry powder, smoked paprika, garam masala, ground cumin, chili powder, fresh grated parmesan, vinaigrette dressing, lemon juice, lime juice, zatar, szechwan salt and pepper... you get the idea.  How much to use is totally a matter of personal taste.  Start with a little and adjust as needed;  you can always add, but you can't take it away.  If you are lucky enough to have a Penzeys store near you, go spend some time sniffing all the jars of spices till your nose and belly agree on what sounds tasty.

Three different grilling options:  Grill basket, kebobs and direct grilling.  I normally direct grill on the lower grate, but ran out of room with this abundance of yummies!  It just takes longer on top, and in some cases that works out well while you cook something equally yummy below!

A grill basket allows for smaller pieces that might fall through the grill to still make it to the BBQ.  It also allows for quicker cooking because the pieces are smaller.  Grill up extra to have leftovers for the next morning’s omelets!

Kebobs are nice because the stick keeps the veggies together, thus preventing them from falling through the grill.  It also makes for nice serving sizes and well, food on sticks is fun!  If you use bamboo skewers, make sure to soak them for at least 30 minutes before threading with the vegetables.  This will keep the skewer from burning up.  When you turn your skewers, use your tongs to grab a couple of the vegetables for grip in turning.  Simply grabbing the stick with the tongs can be an exercise in frustration.

Direct grilling is great for bulky vegetables or when you want to grill large pieces.  Make sure your grate is VERY hot when you place your vegetables on to grill, this helps to prevent sticking.  The key to this method is obvious:  make sure the vegetables are large enough that they don’t fall through and position them appropriately with the direction of the grill.

Now muster up some courage and go grill a vegetable!

Coming up next.... Basic Chicken!

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