Veggies take to the grill

May 26, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

At last. The rain is gone (mostly). The sun is out (often). The evening air is soft, and the mosquitoes haven't mustered to full strength. Let the grilling season begin!

AThere's something joyful about pulling out the grill, getting out the charcoal or propane and laying in a stock of paper plates. And with Memorial Day on the horizon, it's a natural time to invite the neighbors over for a cook-out.

Let's see, there's Ed and Jane, and Tom and Charlie, and Denise and . . . wait a minute. Isn't Tom a vegetarian? Come to think of it, so is Jane. And Jane's daughter Sally. And Denise's new husband Dion . . .

No problem. Grilling is among the most versatile cooking systems there is, and vegetables are among the most versatile of foods. Chefs have long known how easy it is to satisfy the palates of every guest.

"In the summertime, I do a lot" of grilled vegetables, says Nancy Longo, chef-owner at Pierpoint restaurant in Fells Point. "I prefer to grill vegetables that are easily marinated. I use things like corn, eggplant, peppers . . . and those big, monster Portobello mushrooms -- they're fabulous."

Ms. Longo says she uses Portobellos (available at specialty markets and some gourmet supermarkets) in risotto, a dish that, if made with vegetarian stock and served with a fresh green salad, would make a marvelous meal for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Grilled marinated mushrooms are also good cut up and served on greens, Ms. Longo says. When you use a marinade such as sherry vinegar and garlic-infused oil, the mushrooms give up a lot of juice; the resulting mixture makes a great salad dressing, she says. (You can make your own garlic oil: Drop garlic cloves, or minced garlic, into good-quality olive oil; let sit overnight then use as needed. A good vinaigrette mix is one part vinegar to three or four parts oil; or adjust to taste.)

Annie Somerville, chef at Greens restaurant in San Francisco, a well-known all-vegetarian restaurant, says, "We have found so many ways to grill so many different kinds of vegetables. Potatoes are particularly good."

Shiitake mushrooms are another favorite of Ms. Somerville's; she likes them grilled and tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette and a little soy sauce.

Grilling on weekends can be a great time-saver during the week, Ms. Somerville suggests. "Once you've gone to the work to get your grill lit, you might as well grill several things."

Extra grilled vegetables can be stored and served later on a big platter, with a couple of sauces on the side.

It's easy to put together brochettes -- food on skewers -- from different types of vegetables. A good mix might include peppers, squash, zucchini, mushrooms, and pearl onions.

Brochettes are a good way to accommodate both vegetarians andnon-vegetarians at a single meal; use a vegetarian marinade, such as a vinaigrette or soy-based sauce, and simply leave the chicken or beef off some of the skewers.

Larger vegetables, such as corn or regular eggplant, can be cooked right on the grill. "Things like eggplant come out nice and crispy, almost like they were fried," says Lucy Moll, executive editor of the monthly magazine Vegetarian Times.

And while you're grilling, there's no reason to confine yourself to vegetables -- grilled fruit is delicious too.

"You can marinate bananas and pineapple together," Ms. Moll says. She suggests marinating fruit in a mixture of brown sugar and melted margarine. (Fifteen minutes is plenty of time to marinate fruit; brush it while cooking with a little of the marinade.)

There are other grilled desserts as well. Ms. Moll says the new issue of Vegetarian Times includes a recipe for grilled angel food cake with a sauce of pureed blueberries or nectarines mixed with a little fruit juice and some lemon zest.

While all the grilled fruit and vegetable dishes can work for most casual vegetarians and meat-eaters, stricter vegetarians need not be shut out of the grilling menu. The Vegetarian Resource Group, an international, non-profit educational institution based in Baltimore, offers nutrition information and recipes for meatless meals.

Some items that can be mixed with vegetables for those desiring substitute for meat are tofu (bean curd cake), tempeh (cultured soybean cake) and seitan (known as "wheat meat"). All three are particularly high in protein.

Edward "Alphonse" Chabot of "Meals of Fortune," a private chef who cooks in the macrobiotic style for several Baltimore-area families, says a favorite dish he prepares for himself is brochettes of vegetables alternating with those three protein foods. Tempeh and tofu are especially suited to marinating, he says, because they "just soak up" the flavors. (Macrobiotic diets are also grain-based, but exclude certain vegetables and may include fish. For his clients, Mr. Chabot prepares enough soups, stews, salads, entrees, pasta -- "everything with natural foods" -- for several days.)

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