Meat Free Mondays — Grilled Vegetable Salad

Now that the weather is warming up, it’s time to clean up the grill, get some fresh propane or charcoal, and start thinking about the best menus for cooking out.

Cooking on the grill can be more limiting for vegetarians than it is for carnivores, but for those looking to avoid meat the backyard barbeque need not be avoided altogether.

For example, I recently wrote about a party I catered that featured a California vegetarian menu — with meat options — that focused on grilled vegan burgers and tofu dogs.

Today we will consider the grilled vegetable salad, one of my personal favorite summertime vegetarian meals.

The grilled vegetable salad offers a lot of different options for the home chef: various kinds of vegetables to include, fun plating opportunities, and a variety of salads that can anchor the plate — including those made with greens, grains or even beans.

Any kind of vegetable can be grilled: If you can cook it, you can grill it. Some, however, benefit from being blanched — the process of steaming or boiling until softened, then immersing in ice water to halt the cooking process — before being “marked” on the grill. Among these would be asparagus, potatoes, carrots and other harder textured vegetables.

Others grill perfectly from the raw state. These include any kind of peppers, onions, eggplant, mushrooms and other softer textured vegetables.

When grilling vegetables, there’s a couple of key concepts to remember:

  • You are grilling vegetables, not charring or burning them. Usually, veggies work best if you simply mark them for a few moments over the hottest part of the grill, then move them to a cooler spot where there is indirect heat for them to complete their cooking without becoming overcooked.
  • While you can grill any kind of vegetable, try to include a variety of colors, shapes and flavors to liven up your final plate. If all your vegetables are green, for example, the final product will look boring.
  • Grilled vegetables give you a lot of freedom for creative plating. Think of your plate as a frame and arrange your vegetables artfully for the most appealing visual effect. Don’t forget about the 3-D opportunities your plating can include: Consider stacking your vegetables into “towers” so that they come up out of the plate.
  • Don’t forget to use pan spray and seasoning for all your vegetables. A tiny bit of salt and pepper will bring out the natural flavors of your grilled vegetables.

For this salad, I used zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, asparagus and eggplant (it’s under the salad where I used it as a pedestal), then topped it with a chopped salad of red leaf lettuce, sliced cabbage for a crunchy texture, and julienned tomatoes and radish, all topped with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese.

Grilled vegetables can be served warm or cold and can easily be marked off hours before you serve them. In restaurants, we would arrange our intricate vegetable platters long before service then simply warm them up for a few moments under the broiler, in the oven or even in the microwave to speed up service.

Finally, leftover grilled vegetables can be chopped up and served again later as a ratatouille if you like.

Grilled vegetables are a welcome addition to any plate at any time of the year, but take on a more prominent role on summer dinner menus. As this year’s grilling season begins, it’s time to start thinking about the best ways to feature our vegetables by grilling them.

What grilled vegetable dishes do you love to make? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!