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SMOKY AND FLAVORFUL VEGETABLES SIZZLE WHEN COOKED ON THE GRILL.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

Grilling and backyard barbecues most often conjure up images of sizzling steaks, burgers, chicken or fish.

But has it ever crossed your mind to toss a colorful array of fresh vegetables on the grill? If not, you'll be amazed at how simple, healthy and fabulous tasting grilled produce can be.

``Most vegetables cook beautifully on the grill with just a minimum of preparation or attention,'' notes Kelly McCune in her ``Vegetables on the Grill'' cookbook.

``We have been encouraging people to cook an entire meal on the grill for years, and finally people are coming around,'' says Betty Hughes, consumer affairs director for Weber-Stephen Products Co., the company that manufactures Weber grills. ``People are really missing out if they don't do vegetables on the grill.''

Grilling vegetables heightens their natural sweetness resulting in a fabulous smoky, carmelized flavor that is very different from those that are steamed, microwaved or boiled.

The smoky flavor is derived from the juices from the vegetables dropping down on the grill's heat source and thus cooking and carmelizing the sugars in the vegetables, says Hughes. ``You'll get the same smoky flavor whether you use a gas or charcoal grill.''

For more of a wood flavor add flavored wood chips to a gas grill, advises Hughes. Simply place wet chips in a small foil pan and put the pan in the hottest area of the grill underneath the cooking grates, which in Weber gas grills is in the front left hand corner. Don't place the food directly above the chips to avoid a flare up or a fire.

Experiment and learn what works best on your grill. Here are some tips for success - gleaned from experts and our hands-on experience:

--Vegetables are easiest to manage and hold their shape best when grilled in larger pieces. For instance, cut zucchini and eggplant (either Japanese or regular) into lengthwise slices rather than small pieces. Tomatoes are best grilled halved rather than in slices or quarters. Same goes for red, white or yellow onions and red, green or yellow bell peppers. Asparagus, mushrooms and green onions should be left whole.

To keep asparagus spears from falling through the cooking grates, use thicker spears or tie thinner spears together into bundles of five or six spears with plain kitchen twine.

There are several ways to grill corn on the cob. You can soak the husks in water for an hour and then place them on the grill or cook in the husks without soaking. Unlike other veggies, corn needs to be turned often when grilling. If desired, a couple of minutes before serving, peel back the husks to get a little brown color and grill marks on the corn, along with some additional smoky flavor.

--For best results and fastest cooking, be sure the grill is very hot before adding the vegetables of your choice, emphasizes Hughes. Start a charcoal grill 30 minutes in advance of cooking or preheat a gas grill for 10 to 15 minutes.

--The simplest and best way to grill vegetables is to brush them all over with olive or vegetable oil, and place on the grill. No blanching needed.

While we prefer to season with salt and garlic or regular pepper after grilling, some cooks like to toss the vegetables with oil, salt and pepper prior to grilling. Don't bother to marinate vegetables before grilling as they don't absorb much, if any, marinade.

For more flavor - after grilling - drizzle the produce with herb-flavored oils, dressings or marinades and fresh herbs, but go easy so the clean sweet flavors of the vegetables dominate. Hughes likes to add bottled vinaigrette dressing to a platter of grilled vegetables before serving as a side dish.

--Be sure the cooking grates are clean before you grill, notes Lisa Hanauer, an Oakland-based food writer and former chef restaurateur, who loves grilling vegetables and shares her corn-on-the cob grilling tricks in the September issue of Tauton's Fine Cooking magazine.

Although grill experts have differing opinions, we found wiping the cooking grates lightly with oiled paper towels prevents the vegetables from sticking. Experiment and see what works best for you.

--For best results, grill vegetables over direct medium to medium high heat, turning once half way through the cooking time. Generally figure it'll take six to 10 minutes total for grilling most vegetables. (Corn on the cob and potatoes will take longer.)

Vegetables can be placed close together on cooking grates, but they should have full surface exposure to the heat to cook evenly.

Hughes recommends cooking with the grill lid down as it reduces the chance of flare-ups and shortens the cooking time since more heat is retained.

However, due to constant tending of the veggies, we only covered the grill for a few minutes at a time, mostly for the not so-tender vegetables like carrots or corn on the cob, to cook them through. Suit yourself.

--Use grilling times only as guidelines. Timing will vary depending on: thickness of the vegetables, temperature of the grill, temperature of the vegetables when you start cooking them (cold, room temperature, etc.) and how you like them cooked.

--Vegetables are best cooked crisp tender rather than soft and mushy. You want them to retain their shape and flavor.

--Don't walk away when grilling vegetables. Watch them as they cook rapidly - you don't want them overdone, soggy and limp.

--If you plan to serve a vegetable platter for a large group, grill the vegetables a few hours before guests arrive, arrange on serving plates, cover with foil or plastic wrap and serve at room temperature. Provided you haven't overcooked them, the vegetables will have beautiful color - and wonderful flavor.

--Mix and match vegetables - and think about color combinations for the most attractive arrangements on platters. Peruse farmers' markets or supermarkets for the best in-season buys.

--Remember, practice makes perfect. The more you grill vegetables and experiment, the more confident you'll become. As noted in ``Weber's Art of the Grill,'' cookbook, ``The road to great grilled vegetables is paved with experimentation.''

Don't overlook the possibilities of grilled vegetables for main as well as side dishes on menus year-round.

You can present the vegetables ``as is'' on a platter or drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chopped fresh basil - or combine the smoky flavors of the grilled veggies with other ingredients like pasta, sauces, soups, breads and other ingredients for robust meals - either meatless or with meat.

You can even turn out great grilled salads - by grilling romaine lettuce hearts very quickly, then topping with chopped fresh tomatoes, grilled chopped up eggplant, a few Kalamata olives and a generous sprinkling of feta cheese.

Red peppers, grilled and topped some olive oil, are simple and divine on an antipasto platter with tapenades, salami, buffalo mozzarella cheese and tomato slices and a sprinkling of chopped fresh basil.

Hughes likes to toss grilled veggies with cooked pasta or turn them into a grilled pizza (she uses frozen bread dough, thawed, or a Boboli shell).

Hanauer likes to whip up salads - with any vegetables she has around. ``I go for color and texture - and toss with olive oil, garlic, vinegar, etc.'' She also uses grilled produce to create salsas and ratatouilles and fill quesadillas, omelets and crepes.

Keep in mind that grilled vegetables, embellished or not, can provide a satisfying meal that even meat eaters will applaud. Serve them hot from the grill, at room temperature or chilled, alone or in a variety of creations. You'll be amazed at how the distinctive flavors of the vegetables shine through. You're in for some flavorful dining.

GRILLED VEGETABLES WITH DIPPING SAUCE

DIPPING SAUCE:

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

2 yellow peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely diced

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons Indian curry powder

Sea salt to taste

3 tablespoons white wine

1 cup mayonnaise

VEGETABLES (CHOOSE AT LEAST 5):

4 heads Belgian endive, halved

4 leeks, well-trimmed, halved and cleaned

1 bunch green onions

1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced lengthwise 1/2-inch thick

1/4 pound snow peas, strung

16 fat asparagus spears

16 baby carrots, cleaned

1 bunch radishes, rinsed and trimmed

1 small head cauliflower, separated into 1-inch florets

1/2 pound shiitake mushroom caps

2 red peppers, stemmed, seeded and each cut into 6 wedges

Olive oil to coat

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

To make Dip: Warm olive oil over medium heat in a small skillet. Add peppers, curry powder and salt. Saute, stirring frequently, until peppers are very soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Pour in wine and cook 2 minutes more. Add mayonnaise and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Taste for seasoning and place in a serving dish. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve. (The dip will keep 1 week in refrigerator.)

For grilled Vegetables, select ones you wish to grill and lay out in a large roasting pan. Drizzle enough olive oil to coat lightly and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill vegetables until crisp-tender. Different vegetables will take slightly different amounts of time. Watch carefully. As vegetables become cooked, arrange around Dipping Sauce on a large decorative platter. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

GRILLED TOMATO AND ONION SALAD

SALAD:

2 large beefsteak tomatoes

2 large onions

Olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 pound blue cheese

2/3 cup pecan halves, toasted

CLASSIC VINAIGRETTE:

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

For Salad, slice tomatoes and onion into large slices, 1/2-inch thick. Coat lightly with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Crumble blue cheese and toast pecans. Set aside.

For Classic Vinaigrette, whisk together vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in olive oil, making sure it is emulsified before adding more oil; continue until all oil is incorporated. Set aside.

Place onions on cooking grate and grill 5 minutes each side. Add tomatoes and grill 2 minutes on each side. Place 2 slices of tomatoes and 2 slices of onion on each plate. Top with blue cheese, pecans and a drizzle of Classic Vinaigrette. Serve at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

GRILLED TUSCAN BREAD SALAD WITH SUMMER VEGETABLES

3 large, ripe beefsteak tomatoes, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch dice

1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and cut on a sharp diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick slices

2 tablespoons drained capers

1/2 cup imported black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, shredded

1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 medium zucchini OR summer squash, halved lengthwise

2 long, thin eggplants, halved lengthwise

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and halved

1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and halved

1 large red onion, peeled and halved

4 large slices day-old European-style bread, cut from a round loaf

In a large mixing bowl toss tomatoes, cucumber, capers, olives and basil with 3/4 cup olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside to marinate at room temperature 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss zucchini, eggplant, peppers and onion with 1/4 cup olive oil. Brush remaining 1/4 cup oil lightly over both sides of bread slices.

Place vegetables on cooking grate, uncovered, turning to sear all over, until crisp-tender, 5 to 9 minutes total.

Grill bread on both sides until golden, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer vegetables and bread to a cutting board and chop all into 3/4-inch chunks. Combine with tomato mixture, tossing well. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.

GRILLED TOMATO HAVLES WITH CHEESE AND BASIL

3 large firm, ripe tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil OR 2 teaspoons dried basil

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese OR more to taste

Small basil leaves for garnish

Brush tomatoes with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on oiled grill, cut side down, 4 to 5 inches from hot coals. Grill 4 to 5 minutes. Turn tomatoes using a wide spatula, and sprinkle with basil and cheese. Cook 3 to 5 minutes longer or until tomatoes are tender but still hold their shape. Remove from grill and garnish with basil leaves. Serve hot or warm. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Colorful, flavorful for the grill of it all

Here's a guide to grilling selected vegetables. Keep in mind that grilling times are dependent on lots of factors including how hot the grill is, the temperature of the food prior to grilling, the thickness and tenderness of the food being cooked, etc.

ARTICHOKES: Trim whole and baby artichokes and cut in quarters (or in half if small). Parboil just until tender; cool and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper, if desired. Grill, covered, directly over medium coals or medium heat on gas grill, cut side up first, turning once, about 5 to 7 minutes per side until nicely browned and tender.

ASPARAGUS: Trim tough stems; coat with olive oil and salt and pepper, if desired. Grill directly over medium heat, turning frequently, about 5 to 8 minutes total, until nicely browned.

BELL PEPPERS: Cut peppers in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Brush lightly all over with olive oil. Grill over medium coals, turning occasionally, until tender, about 12 to 15 minutes total. You should have nice brown grill marks.

CORN: Shuck corn, rub with butter and salt and wrap in foil. OR leave corn in the husk and remove just a few outer layers. Grill corn, covered, in foil directly over medium heat, turning as necessary. Grill corn in husk, covered over medium hot coals, turning frequently. Grill corn in foil about 20 minutes, turning once. Grill corn in husks 10 to 15 minutes or longer, until charred all over. Remove from husk and leave on grill a minute or two to sear and gain grill marks and more smoky flavor.

EGGPLANT: Cut regular or Japanese eggplant in half lengthwise or into 3/4-inch thick lengthwise slices. Brush generously with olive oil. Grill directly over medium coals or heat, turning once until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes total.

LEEKS: Clean well; trim tops. Brush whole small leeks or larger leeks, halved lengthwise, lightly with oil. Grill over medium coals, turning occasionally until tender, about 8 to 12 minutes total. Leeks get limp quickly so watch carefully.

MUSHROOMS: Use large mushrooms (portobellos work particularly well). Wipe clean, remove stems, leave whole, toss well with olive oil and salt and pepper. Grill over medium-hot coals; turn once or twice. Grill portobellos about 5 minutes per side, other about 2 to 3 minutes per side, until nicely browned.

GREEN ONIONS: Brush whole onions lightly with olive oil. Grill over medium coals, turning occasionally until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes.

RED OR YELLOW ONIONS: Cut onions in half and brush with olive oil. Grill over medium-hot coals about to 5 to 7 minutes per side, until soft, but not limp, lightly charred and translucent. If charring too fast, move to indirect heat to finish grilling.

POTATOES: Quarter or halve small red or yellow potatoes; cut Idahoes lengthwise into slices; parboil if desired in microwave oven; toss with olive oil, salt and fresh herbs. Grill directly over medium-hot coals; move to indirect heat (with grill covered) to finish cooking if not parboiled. Grill 4 to 6 minutes per side, until well browned all over; cook with indirect heat 6 to 7 minutes to finish if not parboiled.

TOMATOES: Cut large tomatoes in half. Brush lightly with oil. Grill over medium coals, turning once, until heated through, 5 to 7 minutes total. Watch carefully to avoid overcooking and having tomatoes lose their shape and become limp.

SQUASH (yellow or zucchini): Cut small squash (about 3 to 4 ounces each) in half lengthwise. Cut large zucchinis into thick lengthwise slices. Brush lightly with oil. Grill over medium coals, turning occasionally until tender, 8 to 12 minutes total.

SWEET POTATOES: Pare potatoes and slice 1/2 inch thick. Brush lightly with oil. Grill over medium heat, turning occasionally until tender, 14 to 16 minutes total.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo: (1 -- 2) Grilling an array of colorful vegetables is easy and fast - and you end up with delicious results.

(3) Grilled vegetables have a fabulous, smoky flavor and can be served as is or drizzled with oil and vinegar.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer

Box: Colorful, flavorful for the grill of it all (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Aug 23, 2000
Words:2770
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