Chef-Dietitian Mark Rogers Serves Up Veggie Grilling Tips
On the heels of Apple Blossom weekend in my beautiful Annapolis Valley, I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to write this post on grilling. It’s the time of year when we all develop an aversion to the indoors and endure slightly chilly evenings and blackfly bites to enjoy friends and family on those precious first summer evenings cooking and eating outdoors.
As a dietitian who spent his formative years as a chef, I sometimes find myself caught in a balancing act between health and flavour. But not so in the spring, when the barbecue reveals itself under the receding snow bank and I can once again cook with a primal satisfaction that cannot be experienced indoors.
I feel however, that many of us underestimate our barbecues. Too often they are typecast as a mere conduit for burgers, steaks and chicken breasts brushed with a sweet glaze. My favourite meals begin and end on the barbecue, and whichever protein I choose takes a back seat to the vegetables.
Here are some simple tips for my favourite grilled vegetables and how you can master heat, timing and presentation to achieve the height of health and flavour.
The first step in preparing vegetables for the grill is to peel and chop. Leave vegetables in large pieces such as halved or quartered potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, or whole mushrooms and asparagus.
In a large mixing bowl, toss the vegetables with a small splash of vegetable oil, making sure that each piece is evenly coated with oil. A pinch of salt and pepper is standard, but grilled vegetables are a great way to experiment with herbs and spices.
Potatoes go great with everything; I usually give them a dash of chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, dry mustard, oregano, paprika… You can forget about recipes and work toward developing your own style.
If this is nerve wracking for you, start with a small pinch of one spice and see how it turns out. You have all summer to experiment!
Sweet potatoes and carrots love a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, coriander or fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary.
For more tender vegetables like mushrooms, asparagus, peppers, and tomatoes, I tend to enjoy the simplicity of salt, pepper and flames!
I believe confidence and creativity are like flavours of their own when your guests are watching you grill and tasting the food that you’ve created.
Experimenting with herbs and spices without the guidance of a recipe may seem intimidating, but will rarely end in disaster and will allow you to improve your cooking skills with each meal. I believe confidence and creativity are like flavours of their own when your guests are watching you grill and tasting the food that you’ve created.
Now that your vegetables are prepped, preheat your barbecue. Let it heat with all burners on high for at least 10 minutes, or until it registers well over 400° f. This may seem excessive but it’s necessary to clean the grill well and get nice grill marks on your vegetables (or meat). It’s also prudent not to leave the top open any longer than necessary in order to retain your heat. Ceramic grill bricks as well as heavier cast iron grills are a major asset here.
Without further ado, brush your grill and give your veggies a final toss in the oil and spices. Place them on the hot grill with the flattest side facing down. A long pair of tongs is practical if you value the hair on your hands but placing the vegetables on by hand is much quicker and retains your heat. Close the lid and grill for about one minute, depending on the vegetable and temperature.
When you’ve achieved a nice sear, give the vegetables a quarter-turn, while moving them to a fresh part of the grill. This will allow them to form nice ‘hatch’ marks, and will make your plate cookbook-worthy. Grill for another minute on high heat, then flip the veg and place it on the top rack, or on a side of the grill with the burner turned off to continue cooking through. Again, the time will vary depending on the vegetable, size and temperature. The trick here is to sneak a sample after a few minutes to gauge when they’ll be done.
If you’re grilling meat or fish also and are concerned about timing, start your vegetables first. If they are done before your meat or fish, remove them from the grill and then put them back on for a moment while your meat is resting after cooking (which it should for a minute anyway). Generally, potatoes and sweet potatoes will take 25-35 minutes, while other vegetables will be much quicker. Whole grilled mushrooms are a favourite of mine, and usually take 15-20 minutes.
Some vegetables such as peas and beans that are too small to place on the grill, can be done in a pan on the grill. Avoid using non-stick pans and those with plastic or rubber handles on the grill. Place the pan directly on the grill while it preheats, and make sure to use your oven mitt. Prepare these vegetables in exactly the same way as described above. This allows you to develop all the flavour of the grill and avoid running between the kitchen and patio to tend to your meal.
Even a salad can be a showstopper when prepared on the grill. Cut romaine hearts in half lengthwise and lightly brush the cut side with vegetable oil. When your grill is sufficiently preheated, place the cut-side down for just a moment to develop flavour, then remove them and chop for a salad.
My last tip for grilling healthy vegetables is to cook larege amounts! Let the vegetables steal the show! Everybody will be enthusiastic about a healthy balanced plate and going back for seconds will be encouraged! If you’re lucky you may even have some leftovers, but this hasn’t happened to me yet!
Cheers to a summer of healthy grilling!
My last tip for grilling healthy vegetables is to cook larege amounts! Let the vegetables steal the show!
About Mark: Mark wears many hats and is currently practicing as a Dietitian at Partners for Healthier Weight, a Research Coordinator and Dietitian at Hearts in Motion, a Research Coordinator at D-WISE and also does private catering and cooking classes. Mark says his ultimate professional goal as a dietitian and chef is to work with individuals and the greater population to repair and foster our relationship with food and cooking. Read more about Mark here.