Grilled vegetables

Spring means its time to fire up the grill again. But grilling is more than just hamburgers and hot dogs. For a health and tasty option, try grilling vegetables and serving them on skewers.(Courtesy/Lifestyles Magazine) 

There’s something about the wafting smell of a lit grill that takes me to a happy place: relaxing summer evenings and weekends with friends and family, dining al fresco under a clear blue sky and delicious dishes that signal warm weather has returned.

Grilling is an American birthright, woven into our culture along with apple pie and baseball. Grill masters take their art very seriously and it’s wise not to challenge the apron clad, tong and spatula wielding individuals who lord over the flames. That said, there’s always room for a new grill recipe, especially one that’s on the lighter and healthier side.

You might be surprised to find that some vegetables, and even fruit, make incredibly delicious grill fare. Cooking at a high temperature can really unlock the hidden flavors of common vegetables that are traditionally steamed or boiled and added to a meal as an obligatory offering. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The following recipes demonstrate that lots of different vegetables can be the gem in the grill’s crown: cauliflower steaks are popular dishes on posh menus around the country, vegetable kebabs make a perfectly pleasing quick and easy midweek meal and, chickpeas and tofu go from tasteless to tantalizing.

These healthier options will allow you to enjoy your sacred summer moments for many years to come!

Chipotle Lime Cauliflower Steaks

  • 2 large cauliflower heads
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 limes, zested and juiced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼-cup finely chopped cilantro leaves (optional)

Remove leaves and trim the stem of the cauliflower, leaving core intact. Place cauliflower, core side down, on a work surface. Starting at the midline of the cauliflower (this keeps the head intact), slice from top to bottom into four half-inch "steaks" (reserve any florets that break loose).

Whisk together the olive oil, lime juice and garlic in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the lime zest, smoked paprika, chipotle and salt.

Heat a gas or charcoal grill to medium heat. Brush one side of each cauliflower steak with the olive oil mixture and sprinkle generously with the chipotle powder mixture. Place the seasoned side down on the hot grill and then brush the tops with the olive oil mixture and season with the chipotle mix.

Cover the grill and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and carefully flip the cauliflower. Cook covered for an additional 5 minutes or until done to your desired texture. A shorter cooking time will produce a firmer center of the cauliflower steak.

Vegetable Kebabs

  • 3 tablespoons low sodium tamari (wheat free soy sauce; or low sodium soy sauce)
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 zucchini
  • ½ red onion
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 small red, yellow or green pepper
  • 8 white button or baby bella mushrooms
  • ½-cup pineapple chunks

(If using wooden skewers, soak in water for 30 minutes prior to assembly.) Combine the tamari/soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, thyme and olive oil in a large dish.

Dice the vegetables into similarly sized pieces —about 1-inch square — making sure that the pieces are large enough to support their weight on the skewers. Place the vegetables into the marinade and combine well. Leaving the vegetables in the marinade for up to 24 hours in the fridge will produce the best flavor, but a quick dip in the marinade will suffice too.

Thread the vegetables onto skewers and be sure to reserve the leftover marinade. Heat up the grill to medium heat. Place the kebabs on the grill and cook for 5-7 minutes before flipping and cooking for another 5-7 minutes. Place the cooked kebabs on a large plate and drizzle with the reserved marinade.

Chickpea Stuffed Avocado

  • ½-can chickpeas drained and rinsed
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 large avocados
  • ½-cup cucumber, diced
  • ½-cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/3 cup sweet corn
  • 1½ Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons tahini (optional)
  • Cilantro for garnish

Preheat your grill to medium/high heat.

Put the rinsed chickpeas onto a paper towel and dry well; transfer to a small bowl and toss with the smoked paprika and a pinch of salt and pepper. Place the chickpeas in an even layer into the bottom of a grill basket and place onto the grill; cook for 10 minutes.

Stir the chickpeas and cook for another 10-12 minutes until lightly charred and crispy. Remove from heat and let cool.

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pit and scoop out a portion of the center of the avocado so you have a large, deep hole. Place flesh-side down onto the grill and cook until grill-marks form, about 5 minutes. While the avocados cook, mix together the cucumber, tomatoes, chickpeas, corn and lemon juice in a small bowl; season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Divide the cucumber mixture between each avocado half, drizzle with 1/2 tsp tahini and garnish with cilantro.

Grilled Tofu with Peanut Satay Sauce

  • 1 block organic tofu, drained
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup light coconut milk 
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium tamari (wheat free soy sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Wrap the drained tofu in several paper towels and press between two flat surfaces (cutting boards or plates) and place a heavy object on top, such as a couple cans of beans. Change out the paper towels two or three times to get out as much liquid as possible. Cut the tofu into triangles and set aside.

Combine olive oil, peanut butter, coconut milk, tamari, apple cider vinegar, garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes in the blender and blend until the sauce is smooth.

Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Grill the tofu triangles on a grill mat or in the bottom of a grill basket. Remove tofu when grill marks are prominent and cover lightly with satay sauce. Reserve remaining sauce for dipping.

Leslie Harrison, of Tyler, Texas, is a certified Food For Life nutrition and cooking instructor.

Danny Mogle has covered news in East Texas for decades. He currently focuses on arts, entertainment and human interest stories and serves as the editor of Lifestyles Magazine.

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