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|August 7-13, 2008
• Veni, vidi, vendor
Enjoying the charms of street food
by Thomas Swick
• Fishing for seafood
Jax provides Boulder with a marine habitat
by Clay Fong
Careful slicing, perfect grilled veggies
by Erica Marcus
Grilled vegetables. They’re healthy, delicious and perfect for summertime meals. But the truth is that great vegetables — evenly cooked, tender yet with a nice brown finish on the outside — are one of the hardest grilling tasks to tackle. I cooked my way through a couple of pounds of vegetables and discovered that the single biggest determinant of successful grilled vegetables is how you cut them.
You want to make the pieces long and/or wide, so they don’t fall through the grate. You want to make them sturdy, so they don’t fall apart.
You want to make them of uniform thickness — shoot for about one-third inch — so they cook at the same time.
Read on for general tips and specific advice on the most commonly grilled vegetables.
Eggplant & zucchini
Buy smallish eggplants, medium zucchini — about 6 inches long is optimal. Cut off stem ends of vegetable, then cut it in half lengthwise. Lay each half, cut side down, on a flat surface and cut each half in half lengthwise again for a total of four long slices. Cut smaller vegetables into fewer slices, larger into more.
The trick here is to make sure that every slice contains a bit of the core, for stability. Trim off most of the fronds. (You can save them for garnish.) Trim the base as little as possible — only to remove any discolored or corroded bits. Cut the bulb in half through its base. Lay each half, cut side down, on a board. Now make one or two more cuts, parallel to the first, always through the base. If the “top” cut is very fat, cut off the cheek.
Here, the goal is to cut the thicker part of the carrot so that it cooks as quickly as the thinner part. Use small, thin carrots — but not the “baby” variety. Carrots with the tops on are usually a good size. Cut off tops and any discoloration at top end — the wider end — of the carrot. Peel the carrots and cut off any wispy ends. Now make a cut lengthwise, from the top to the middle of the carrot.
Cut off the bottom and top of pepper so you have as boxy a shape as possible. Make one lengthwise slit and then lay the “opened” pepper gently on flat surface. Remove any seeds and pith. Cut the pepper into large pieces where there are natural creases, so that they will lay as flat as possible on the grill.
Cut the root and stem end off large onions and peel. Cut each onion into wide rings. Thread each slice with two metal skewers, about 1 inch apart — with only one skewer, the slice will come apart when you turn it. If you have flat skewers (rather than ones that are round in cross-section), you need only use one per slice. Bamboo skewers are usually not strong enough to penetrate a raw onion.
Scallions are easier to grill than onions, and they look terrific on a platter. Barely cut the roots off and trim the tops to get rid of any bruised or thin leaves. You can leave the scallions on the grill as long as you’d like.
Make sure your grill is clean
When the grill is hot, use a metal-bristled brush to scrub any residue off the grate. Since you are going to oil the vegetables, there is no need to oil the grill.
Grill-side tools and supplies
You should have close at hand: the prepared vegetables, a sheet pan or cookie tray, olive oil, kosher salt, long-handled tongs.
All about heat and timing
Over a medium fire, vegetables will take, in general, from 3 to 5 minutes on first side and a little less on second side, but this varies with the heat of fire and the thickness and water content of the vegetable. Turn a gas grill to “medium.” With a charcoal grill, start the coals in a pile in the middle; when they are hot, arrange them around the edge of grill. (To get a final char on an already-cooked vegetable, move it directly over the coals.)
Time to grill
When the grill is hot, season the vegetables: Pour a couple of glugs of olive oil into the sheet pan and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Press the prepared vegetables into the salted oil and, using your hands, make sure both sides are lightly coated with oil. Place vegetables on the hot grill. Add more oil/salt to the pan as needed.
Once the vegetables are on the grill, cover it and do not peek for at least 3 minutes. (Walk away if you must.) After 3 minutes, use tongs to lift up the edge of a vegetable; if it is nicely browned, flip it over; if not, give it another few minutes. Do not fuss with the vegetables; fussing is the leading cause of sticking. The second side will need less time than the first.
Cook only one (or two) types of vegetables at a time. Grilled vegetables are at their best served at room temperature, so there’s no need to rush to get them cooked all at once.
Except for eggplant, all vegetables can be cut up to a day in advance. Place them in resealable plastic bags, extract as much air as possible and refrigerate.
A platter of grilled vegetables needs nothing more than a few sprigs of fresh herbs and an anointing with good olive oil.
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