Gourmet Grilling

By Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

Since humankind discovered fire, someone's been out in the backyard grilling. We've come a long way from an unkempt pile of lighted wood and food dangling from the end of a sharp stick. Nowadays, there are gas or charcoal grills that cost more than some cars, and that come with attachments and tools for every grilling desire.

Grilled food is not just relegated to burgers and hot dogs anymore either. Tune into the Food Network or cruise the cookbook aisle of your local bookstore and you'll find directions for creating exotic, elegant cuisine using your grill.

It's up to you to decide in which type of grill you'd like to invest. A hibachi on the fire escape or a built-in ceramic-and-stainless steel model can each yield some great food. In other words, it's not the toys, it's the technique. Whatever you decide to buy, just be sure it can contain the flames and the heat of the fire.

Accessories are pretty important. Your grill doesn't have to have a lid or a cover, but you do need some way to enclose the food. A metal colander can be used to cover grilling food in order to create a steaming effect. Whatever you do, don't use a plastic colander! Invest in a metal colander with handles that are safe for holding over high heat.

Different types of wood and quality of fire are highly personal items for the experienced griller. Cherry, mesquite, or maple woods can impart different flavors to foods, so experiment. I'm not going to suggest how to build a fire; you're on your own there. You might want to consult your old Scouting manual. For the grilling neophytes out there, I will tell you that you don't want to start grilling until the flames have died down. Follow the manual that came with your grill.

If you have a large enough grill, there may be several racks in it at different heights. This way you can take advantage of all the time and effort that went into building the fire. You can wrap white or sweet potatoes or corn in foil and place them underneath the coals. You can grill heartier foods, such as eggplant, onions, carrots, or winter squash, on the rack closest to the fire, and more delicate items, such as extra-firm tofu, mushrooms, or asparagus, on the rack farther from the heat. Put together a vegetable stew in a cast-iron Dutch oven (deep pot) with a cover, and place it on a rack far away from the heat to cook slowly (the crock-pot effect). Heat an apple in foil with some spices and margarine (see the Grilled Sweet Peaches recipe on page 10) and place it next to the stew pot. As long as the weather holds up, your oven is going to get mighty lonely.

There are some tricks of the trade. To prevent food from sticking to the grill you can either keep the grill racks greased with vegetable spray (before heating—never spray into the fire) or you can wipe the grill racks with oil before you start cooking. This will not add an appreciable amount of oil to your cooking. If you are going to put a pot on the grill, a hint for preserving pots is to coat the bottoms with liquid soap. Just be sure there won't be any food directly under it.

If you plan on doing different types of cooking on your grill, you'll need a cast-iron pot for stews and a hinged wired basket for grilling veggie burgers, extra firm tofu, or slices of vegetables, seitan, or tempeh. You'll want a sharp knife available to slice into veggies to determine their doneness. Long-handled tongs are easier to use than spatulas for turning food, and they can double as serving utensils. Metal or heat-resistant wood skewers are useful for making veggie or tempeh kabobs that are easily rotated on a grill. Heavy-duty foil is the best type to use for lining grills or for wrapping food to be placed on it. Invest in some long-handled brushes for post-prandial cleaning.

You have several choices when it comes to grilling vegetables or meat alternatives. You can use frozen, unthawed vegetables or sliced, washed fresh vegetables. You can cut up vegetables or cook whole small vegetables, such as tomatoes, baby carrots, or petite sweet onions. If you think your ingredients are too delicate to place directly above the heat, put them in foil packets and let them steam on the grill rack. Heartier ingredients, such as carrots, potatoes, or tempeh, can be placed directly on the grill or under hot coals for 10-15 minutes. Or you can grease a rack above the coals and use thick slices of mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes. If you want to cover your ingredients, use an upside-down metal colander to seal in some of the juices.

Grilling does take a lot of moisture out of foods, so some people like to utilize marinades, which can also add flavor to grilled items. For an elegant touch, use a wine and tarragon mixture for potatoes, tofu, or tempeh. White wine, oil, garlic, onion, and celery salt make a good marinade, as do beer, oil, garlic, and cloves. Soy yogurt, garlic, pepper, curry, and cardamom can give an Indian or Indonesian flavor to grilled foods, and add a nice spiciness and color. If you prefer not to use wine, then vinegar, soy sauce, oil, sweetener, and ginger can give an Asian flair to your grilled foods.

Lemon juice makes a good base for grilling marinades. Use a simple lemon juice and olive oil blend, or get a little fancier and mix lemon juice, hot sauce, onion, dry mustard, and paprika. And to sweeten the deal, try pineapple juice, soy sauce, lemon juice, and garlic with seitan or firm vegetables. Orange juice, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and lemon zest make a light marinade for summer squash or tofu. Experiment with some of your favorite salad dressings as grilling marinades. If you are in the mood to cook, sauté some celery, onions, carrots, oil, parsley, thyme, basil, and black pepper. Once the onions and carrots are soft, put the mixture in a blender and use the purée as a marinade. Or you can stew and purée dried apricots or nectarines, onions, garlic, curry powder, vinegar, and cayenne and use it as a marinade.

Most vegetarian ingredients do not need to marinate for long periods of time. Look at the texture of the ingredient to decide on marinating time. Mushrooms, summer squash, sweet onions, and extra firm tofu may only need 30-40 minutes to marinate. Tougher ingredients, such as seitan, tempeh, sliced carrots, potatoes, or winter squash can marinate for a couple of hours.

All kinds of veggie foods can be grilled. Beets take on an inky glaze and their sweetness is magnified with the grilling. Potatoes get crisp on the outside and stay sweet and moist on the inside. Tofu, tempeh, and seitan take on a smokiness that enhances their flavors. Imagine tempeh marinated in white wine and tarragon, grilled with roasted beets and roasted white potatoes. How about portobello mushrooms marinated in balsamic vinegar and basil, with a skewer of roasted tomatoes, summer squash, and sweet potatoes!

Grilling can add a new elegance to ingredients. Grilled eggplant slices stand regally on the plate and satiny portobello mushrooms attain a smoky richness on the grill. Marinated, grilled seitan or tempeh, paired with braised greens and sun-dried tomato pasta, is reminiscent of nights on the Mediterranean coast. Be sure to grill several extra portions so you can serve your gourmet grilled dish chilled the next day.

Grilled items can also serve as excellent accent points to traditionally cooked foods. Wrap sweet onions and tomatoes in foil and allow to simmer down to a smoky goodness. Serve them, chopped, over pasta or couscous with some fresh basil. Add a skewer of grilled carrots, mushrooms, and peppers as a garnish for three-bean soup, or grilled pineapple, pears, and apples to a white bean chili. You can grill all the traditional ingredients for salsa—tomatoes, chilies, onions, and peppers—and create a roasted tomato salsa.

If you want more grilling hints, try www.barbecuebible.com. This is the website of Steven Raichlen, the renowned grilling guru who has written many books and done many television shows on grilling. Raichlen's site is not all vegetarian, but it does have tips on grilling vegetables and general information on grilling equipment.

Grilled Eggplant

(Serves 5)

This recipe has many uses. You can serve grilled eggplant slices with salsa and a salad as a simple meal, or you can create elegant sauces to showcase the eggplant. Use grilled eggplant as part of a lasagna, or add chopped cold eggplant to green or pasta salads.

  • 2 pounds eggplant, sliced ½-inch thick
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped parsley

Wash the eggplant and sprinkle with salt. Place slices in a single layer on a rack so they can drain for about 30 minutes. Rinse and dry.

Get your grill going on high.

Arrange eggplant on a plate, and sprinkle with oil, oregano, pepper, and parsley.

Place eggplant on grill. Cook for 5 minutes per side until browned. Serve hot or cold.

Total calories per serving: 145 Fat: 11 grams
Carbohydrates: 11 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 7 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Mediterranean Grilled Portobellos with Pine Nuts

(Serves 4)

This dish can be served as an elegant entrée, paired with sautéed greens and couscous, or used as a filling for a hot or cold sandwich.

  • 4 portobello mushroom caps, washed and stemmed
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, ripped
  • 2 Tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ⅓ cup olive oil

Stuff garlic into some of the gills of the portobellos, basil in some, and pine nuts in some. Sprinkle the oregano and rosemary over the gills.

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar and olive oil. Brush the vinaigrette on the caps and allow to marinate for at least 1 hour.

Heat grill to high, and when ready, place the portobellos on the grill, gill side down, and cook for 4-6 minutes. Turn and repeat on the other side. Serve hot or cold.

Total calories per serving: 234 Fat: 20 grams
Carbohydrates: 11 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 14 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Curried Barbecue Tempeh

(Serves 5-6)

Serve this as an entrée with fragrant jasmine rice, or as a hot sandwich on grilled garlic bread. Make extra, as this freezes well. Reheat in a microwave or, covered, in a warm oven.

  • 1-½ cups unflavored soy yogurt
  • ½ cup lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime or lemon zest
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 pounds sliced tempeh

In a large glass or plastic bowl combine soy yogurt, lime juice, zest, garlic, ginger, coriander, cayenne, and curry powder to create a marinade. Add tempeh slices to marinade, cover, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

Remove from marinade and grill on high until tempeh is warmed through.

Total calories per serving: 351 Fat: 19 grams
Carbohydrates: 20 grams Protein: 32 grams
Sodium: 19 milligrams Fiber: 9 grams

Roasted Pepper and Eggplant Dip

(Makes about one pint)

Try this dip with grilled eggplant, mushrooms, or corn. If you don't have a grill, roast the vegetables on the burners on your gas stove or in your oven.

  • 2 large red peppers
  • 1 large green pepper
  • 1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound)
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup chopped red onions
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil

Roast the whole peppers and eggplant over an open (grill) flame or in a broiler until blistered and charred on all sides (about 5 minutes). Take them off and let them cool. When they have cooled enough to be handled, pull off and discard their skins. Chop the eggplant and seed and chop the pepper.

In a sauté pan, heat the oil. Add the eggplant, pepper, and garlic and cook until eggplant is softened. Add onions, oregano, and basil. Continue to cook for 3 more minutes.

Remove from heat. Place the pepper and eggplant mixture into a blender and pulse until it is almost smooth. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to use.

Total calories per fluid ounce: 33 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 4 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 2 milligrams Fiber: 1 grams

Pineapple-Peach Salsa

(Makes about 1 pint)

Try this salsa with grilled eggplant, asparagus, or corn. It can also be used as a marinade for vegetables or tofu, seitan, or tempeh.
  • 1 pound fresh pineapple
  • 2 ounces peach nectar
  • 4 chili peppers, chopped and seeded
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 green onions, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Peel and core the pineapple. Cut into very small cubes.

Place peach nectar, chili peppers, garlic, onions, and cilantro in a glass or plastic bowl, and mix. Add pineapple and let stand for at least 2 hours before serving.

Total calories per fluid ounce: 24 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 6 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 4 milligrams Fiber: 1 grams

Grilled Asparagus – Japanese Style

(Serves 4)

Many people think of asparagus as a steamed vegetable, but it likes the heat of the grill as well. When purchasing asparagus for grilling, look for the thicker stalks. You can peel off the tough outer skin with a vegetable peeler if you want a more tender dish.

  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed
  • 2 Tablespoons oil (any sesame oil is good)
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper (optional)
  • Toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat grill to high.

Skewer 4 asparagus spears together, using two skewers, making an asparagus raft.

Combine the oil, soy sauce, garlic, salt, and pepper, if desired. Brush the mixture on the asparagus, and place the raft on the grill. Cook and turn until exterior is slightly browned. Sprinkle sesame seeds over both sides to finish.

Total calories per serving: 96 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 6 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 252 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Grilled Sweet Peaches

(Serves 4)

This technique can also be used with fresh apricots or very soft fresh pears.

  • 4 freestone peaches, pitted and halved
  • 4 Tablespoons fresh or frozen, thawed blueberries, rinsed
  • 4 teaspoons vegan margarine
  • 4 teaspoons orange juice concentrate
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 5 teaspoons chopped walnuts

Place split peaches, cut sides up, on pieces of foil large enough to cover whole reassembled peach. Place 1 tablespoon blueberries, 1 teaspoon margarine, 1 teaspoon concentrate, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1-¼ teaspoons walnuts in the center of one half of each peach. Rejoin halves to look like uncut peaches. Wrap tightly in foil.

Place on grill rack in coolest area of grill. (Do not allow to cook over active flame.) Allow to cook on grill for about 20 minutes, or until soft and tender.

Serve hot, topped with lemon or orange sorbet.

Total calories per serving: 132 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 21 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 1 milligram Fiber: 5 grams

Roasted Corn

(Serves 4)

Depending on the type and intensity of your fire, you can place the corn under hot coals or on a rack. Cooking time will depend on your fire and how big the ears of corn are.

  • 4 corn ears, still in their husks
  • 4 teaspoons softened vegan margarine
  • 2 Tablespoons parsley
  • 1 clove garlic, quartered

Preheat grill to high.

Turn down, but don't detach, the corn husks, and pull or cut out all the strands of silk. Rub corn with margarine, sprinkle on parsley, and place one quarter of garlic on each corn. Tie husk back around corn with cotton string or twist ties.

Place on grill, turning once during cooking time. When the husk leaves turn papery and have char spots (but are not totally blackened), check for doneness by turning down a husk leaf and popping a kernel with your knife. If the corn is not quite done and you've turned off your grill, you can leave the other corn cobs in the husks and place them on the cooling grill, as the corn should continue to cook in the husk for a little while longer.

Total calories per serving: 175 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 34 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 21 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE, is VRG's Food Service Advisor and the author of, most recently, Vegan Meals for One or Two.