If you’re looking to serve up a great vegan barbecue, or just want to enjoy more vegetables on the grill, start with this simple guide for how to grill vegetables. The great flavors of fresh summer veggies are extra-special with the fast cook time and high heat of grilling.
Similar to oven roasting, a slight sweetness comes through, and combined with slight charring, results in fantastic flavors. This rundown will give approximate cook times, but you’ll need to monitor the process carefully. It’s highly variable, with factors including the kind of grill you use, the cut or thickness of the specific vegetables, and even the kind of marinade you’ll be using.
I’m going to admit up front that I’m not a grilling expert. But that’s actually very good news for all of you who aren’t, either. Why? Because if I can do it, anyone can. For some years, I had a somewhat basic charcoal unit. When it came time to retire this particular barbecue, I found myself less willing to stand over hot flaming charcoal—and even less willing to putter around with a gas unit.
So, I purchased a compact yet roomy (and very reasonably priced) electric grill. I’ll admit that true grill aficionados might not feel that this is “real” grilling, but it does the job of quick outdoor high-heat cooking (with those nifty grill marks). It’s a perfect choice for the grill-shy, for anyone with a small porch or patio, and for apartment complex dwellers.
In general, grilling is more art than science. You need to experiment at first to become familiar with the equipment you’re using. Each unit comes with enough information to get you started on the basic techniques. Since grilling is an area that many vegans and vegetarians have traditionally avoided (but no longer!), chances are that you’ll want to experiment with your own ideas and combinations.
The start of grilling season usually dovetails with the height of the true season for asparagus, which is late spring. Where this tasty vegetable is concerned, less is more when it comes to grilling.
Use whole spears. Brush on both sides with olive oil or Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade (see recipe at the bottom of this post). Lay them perpendicular to the grills so they don’t fall through. Roll around on the grill until touched with charred spots, about 7 to 10 minutes total.
Cut peppers into large chunks. Brush on both sides with marinade of choice (see recipes at the bottom of this post) or simply with olive oil. Grill on both sides until nicely charred, about 6 to 8 minutes total. Once cool enough to handle you can cut them into smaller pieces, depending on how you’ll be using them.
Baby bok choy, which is plentiful during the summer, is a perfect veggie for the grill. If your little bok choys are really small, simply toss them with Teriyaki Marinade or Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade (see recipes at the bottom of this post) and put them whole on the grill.
Turn several times until nicely charred, about 8 to 10 minutes total. If the baby bok choy you’re using is of the plumper variety, cut in half through the thickness; grill each side for about 4 minutes, or until nicely charred.
Cut broccoli crowns into large florets, about 3 inches long including the stem. Steam the broccoli until bright green and just barely crisp-tender. Rinse under cool water. Toss with Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade or Teriyaki Marinade (see recipes at the bottom of this post).
Grill, turning frequently, for about 6 to 8 minutes total, or until touched with charred spots. Broccolini is good on the grill, too, as is broccoli rabe. Cut into long spears and follow the directions as for broccoli.
When seared on the grill, the humble cabbage becomes quite a delicacy. This is especially good with red cabbage, but if green cabbage is what you have on hand, that works well, too.
Use a small head of cabbage. Cut into quarters through the stem end, leaving it intact so the leaves stay together. Brush the open sides with olive oil or Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade (see recipe at the bottom of this post). Grill on each open side for 4 to 5 minutes, or until nicely charred.
Carrots are often overlooked when it comes to grilling, but they’re quite a treat. Peel and cut into 4- or 5- inch lengths, then cut in half lengthwise. Brush on both sides with olive oil or Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade (see recipe at the bottom of this post). Roll around on the grill until touched with charred spots, about 7 to 10 minutes total.
Peel and husk as many ears of corn as needed and soak them in cold water for an hour or so. Wrap individually in aluminum foil. Grill for 20 to 30 minutes, turning every few minutes, or until touched with light brown spots. Alternatively, the corn can be microwaved until barely done, then set on the grill and turned a few times until lightly browned on all sides.
EGGPLANT and JAPANESE EGGPLANT
Summer is the time to use smaller eggplants, which are in season, and less seedy and bitter. White, red-and-white, and the standard dark purple varieties all come in more compact form.
For regular eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Brush on both sides with Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade or Teriyaki Marinade (see recipes at the bottom of this post). Grill on both sides until tender and nicely browned, about 5 to 7 minutes on each side.
Japanese eggplants may simply be stemmed and cut in half lengthwise. Brush on both sides with marinade of your choice, as suggested just above. Grill on both sides until tender and the fleshy parts are lightly browned, about 6 to 8 minutes total.
These are such a treat, especially when barbecue season dovetails with the availability of seasonal, local green beans. Toss raw green beans with marinade of your choice. My favorite for green beans is Teriyaki Marinade, but Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade works well, too (see recipes at the bottom of this post).
Grill, gently rolling with tongs to expose all sides for about 7 to 10 minutes total, or until touched with charred spots. If you’re using anything other than an electric grill, you will probably want to put the green beans in a grill basket.
Mushrooms are delicious grilled individually as well as part of kebabs. Choose larger mushrooms, wipe clean, and trim away the stems. Toss with marinade of your choice (see recipes at the bottom of this post).
Grill for 5 or 6 minutes total, or until touched with charred spots, turning frequently; brushing with additional marinade if need be, since mushrooms tend to dry out quickly. If using anything other than an electric grill, you might want to place smaller mushrooms in a grill basket; portobello mushrooms can go right on the grill.
Various types and sizes of onions call for varying treatments on the grill. Peel and cut large onions into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Brush on both sides with olive oil or Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade (see recipe at the bottom of this post).).
Grill onion slices on both sides until tender and touched with charred spots, about 10 minutes total. Try this with red and sweet Vidalia onions.
Potatoes, large or small, should be precooked or microwaved until about half done. If time allows, let them cool before cutting and grilling; this helps them hold their shape.
Cut large potatoes in thick slices and brush on both sides or toss with olive oil or Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade (see recipes at the bottom of this post). Grill on both sides until nicely browned, about 7 to 10 minutes total.
Cut tiny new potatoes in half and toss with enough olive oil or Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade to coat lightly. Place in a grill basket and grill until nicely browned, stirring them every couple of minutes or so, about 8 minutes total.
Cut a head of radicchio into quarters, leaving the stem end intact. Brush with Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade (page 000). Grill on each cut side, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until lightly charred.
Whole grilled scallions are quite tasty, but must be watched carefully and taken off before the green parts get too charred. Brush with Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade or Teriyaki Marinade (see recipes at the bottom of this post). and set on the grill for about 3 to 5 minutes total, or until beginning to brown.
Summer squashes are excellent candidates for the grill, since their not-too-hard, not-too-soft raw texture yields great results. Small zucchini or yellow summer squash can be cut them in half lengthwise. Regular-size squashes can be cut into long diagonal slices, though in that case you may need to use a grill basket.
Slice delicate-flavored pattypan squashes 1/4 inch thick, crosswise. Toss any of these with Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade (see recipe at the bottom of this post) and grill both sides until touched with charred spots, about 7 to 10 minutes total.
Not traditionally a summer vegetable, but it’s so good on the grill! Microwave until about half done — be careful not to overdo, as you don’t want mushy spots. When cool enough to handle, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Letting them cool before cutting and grilling helps ensure that they’ll hold their shape.
Combine in a mixing bowl with marinade of your choice; I think sweet potatoes are particularly delicious with Teriyaki Marinade (see recipe at the bottom of this post). Grill on both sides until nicely browned, about 7 to 10 minutes total.
Tomatoes tend to get soft very quickly on the grill, and they’re tricky to turn, but the results are tasty and worth the effort. I like to stick with the simple taste of Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade (see recipe at the bottom of this post) for really good summer tomatoes. No matter what kind of grill you use, you’ll want to use a grill basket for tomatoes.
Slice large, firm tomatoes at least 1/2 inch thick or cut plum tomatoes in half lengthwise and brush lightly with marinade. Grill on both sides until the edges brown, about 4 to 6 minutes total. Red or yellow cherry or grape tomatoes are excellent for kebabs, and need no preparation for that purpose. I don’t recommend setting them right on the grill on their own.
Photos (top and just above) by Susan Voisin, FatFreeVegan.com
Sweet and Savory Barbecue Sauce
This easy, no-cook grilling sauce falls into that general realm of sweet and-pungent tomato-based sauces generically known as “barbecue sauce.” It takes minutes to prepare, and I prefer it to the store-bought kind.
Makes about 2 cups
- 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup or agave
- 1 tablespoon molasses (or an extra tablespoon of syrup or agave)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon barbecue seasoning (like smoky maple or mesquite)
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk together.
If time allows, cover and let stand for 30 minutes to an hour to allow the flavors to blend, but if you need to use this right away, it will still be good!
Store any unused portion in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Note: Find barbecue seasoning in the spice section of most supermarkets. It’s a fantastic flavor booster!
A highly flavored marinade, a little goes a long way and adds exciting flavor to any vegetables that you wish to give an Asian spin on the grill.
Makes about 3/4 cup
- 1/3 cup soy sauce or tamari
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or other vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons agave nectar or maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced, optional
- 1 to 2 teaspoons grated fresh or jarred ginger
Combine all the ingredients in a small container and whisk together. If brushing on foods, swirl the mixture often to keep combined.
Olive Oil-Lemon Marinade
This basic marinade is excellent for grilling vegetables. The bit of lemon balances the fruity taste of the olive oil.
Makes about 3/4 cup
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, or a generous pinch of dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme or lemon thyme leaves, or a generous pinch of dried thyme
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a small container and whisk together. When brushing on vegetables, swirl the mixture around often to keep the oil and lemon combined.
Adapted and condensed from Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas.
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