Unique Grilling Ideas: Veggies, Fruit and Other Surprises
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What is it about grilling that makes food taste so good? Is it the unique magic that smoke imparts? The fun of communal cooking with friends and family? Or does grilling over open flames scratch some kind of primal itch? It’s all these things and more. Grilling has an almost unfair advantage over other cooking methods because it awakens all of our senses. We experience the sizzle and pop of the fat as it hits the grill, the intoxicating scent of the food as it caramelizes, the satisfying sight of the grill marks, the textural crunch of the food’s charred exterior, the intensified taste of umami. When all of these elements come together, they’re practically impossible to resist. The lure is even greater for wine lovers, because the char of grilled foods pairs so beautifully with the toasty notes in barrel-aged wines, such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. (Be sure to check out our grilled foods and wine pairing tips.) At Jordan Winery, the grill isn’t only a tool for cooking meat and fish—it’s also used to bring out unexpected flavors and textures in a wonderfully wide array of fruits, vegetables and other foods, from cherries to fava beans. Here are some of my unique grilling ideas with simple, delicious preparations.
Unique Grilling Ideas That May Surprise You
Just about any vegetable tastes better when it’s cooked on the grill. Not only does the intense, direct heat and quick cooking time help preserve their vitamins and nutrients, grilling also caramelizes vegetables’ natural sugars and locks in flavors.
Crisp, fresh romaine gains smoky goodness from a quick turn on the grill. Cut romaine hearts in half lengthwise, and brush cut sides with olive oil. Grill cut-side down over medium-high heat until light grill marks appear and lettuce begins to wilt, about 3 minutes. Place the lettuce on a platter, drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette and top with crumbled blue cheese, toasted walnuts and freshly ground pepper. This unique grilling idea makes regular salad seem boring.
Favas can be intimidatingly time-consuming to prepare and cook using traditional methods, but grilling them whole is surprisingly easy and yields delicious results. Toss the pods with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then char on a hot grill for 4–5 minutes on each side. When they’re finished, toss the pods in a bowl with a little more olive oil and salt. To eat, just remove the beans from the pods with your fingers and pop them into your mouth. (This also works with garbanzo bean pods or just about any type of shelling bean.)
Cut a large, meaty heirloom tomato into thick slices, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and place them in a grill basket. Cook lightly, about 2 minutes per side, to ensure they maintain their form and texture. Serve with fresh fish or polenta—they also add great texture and flavor to salsas, or you can grate them onto grilled bread rubbed with fresh garlic. With a temperature-control grill, you can also grill tomatoes whole at 160 degrees for an even more intense flavor.
Grilling gives avocados an extra-creamy texture with a luscious appeal. Cut a firm (but not hard) avocado in half and remove the pit. Brush the cut side with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat, cut-side down until light grill marks appear, about four minutes. Squeeze with lime, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and enjoy.
Allium vegetables—those in the onion family—were made for the grill. That’s because they’re full of natural sugars that caramelize as they cook, mellowing the alliums’ pungent flavors. Grilling the nutrient-dense vegetables also creates delicious char that provides a wonderful complement to barrel-aged wines.
Just as roasting garlic in the oven creates a creamy texture and sweetens its flavor, cooking it on the grill has the same luscious benefits. To grill a whole head of garlic, slice off the top of the bulb to expose all cloves. Drizzle the cloves with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme. Wrap the bulb in aluminum foil and place on a hot grill over indirect heat. Cook for 30–40 minutes, until soft. Remove the cloves from the skins with a small knife, then spread onto grilled bread or add them to a salad dressing or marinade. The garlic’s sweet-mellow flavors pair well with both red and white wines.
You may not have ever considered this unique grilling idea, but green onions caramelize beautifully on the grill. Brush trimmed onions with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill them over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until they’re lightly charred on all sides, about 5 minutes. Squeeze a wedge of lemon over the scallions just before serving.
Grilling fruit softens its flesh and intensifies its sugars, giving it an irresistible baked quality, and the charring adds intriguing complexity. When selecting for the grill, choose fruits that are ripe-yet-firm, so they will hold up during cooking. At Jordan, we love to use warm, grilled fruits as a centerpiece for desserts.
Apples and Pears
All varieties of apples and pears benefit from grilling, and their flavors make a fabulous complement to the stone fruit flavors in Jordan Chardonnay. Core the fruit and cut into slices. Place on a grill rack and cook for 6-8 minutes on each side, turning halfway through. Transfer fruit to a dish, brush with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon, cardamom and sugar.
Figs and balsamic vinegar were made for each other, and the combination is even more sublime when the figs are lightly caramelized on the grill. Cut washed figs in half, drizzle them with a little olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place figs on a hot grill pan, cut side down, and cook for a minute or two. Drizzle with reduced balsamic vinegar blended with a little honey.
Tossed into salads or spooned over ice cream, sweet grilled cherries taste like summer—only better. Start with ripe, pitted cherries. Toss them with a little olive oil and place them in a grill basket or on a grill pan. Grill until the cherries start to burst open, just 2 to 3 minutes, tossing them as they cook. This is an unexpected and very unique grilling idea that really wows.
Growing up in Hawaii, pineapples were a staple on my family’s table—and at backyard barbecues. I like to grill them whole, unpeeled, turning frequently until they’re warmed through. This mellows the pineapple’s acid, allowing it to pair with a dry chardonnay, like Jordan. After grilling, either dice the fruit to create a wine-friendly salsa, make a purée, or juice and reduce into a syrup to drizzle over homemade ice cream.
Fruits and vegetables aren’t the only foods that get better with grilling. Here are some of my under-the-radar favorites for those who love bread, pie and other carbohydrates.
Grilled polenta is incredibly versatile. It’s flavorful and easy to make. Grilling enlivens polenta’s creamy texture by creating a crunchy exterior that’s perfect for soaking up the juices from barbecued meats. First, make your favorite polenta recipe and let the mixture chill in a baking dish overnight. Just before grilling, cut it into pieces. Brush the hot grill with extra virgin olive oil before adding polenta. (You can even add a spoonful of meat drippings for extra flavor.) Grill until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the grill and brush polenta with extra virgin olive oil, truffle oil, lemon oil or even a vinaigrette, and season with sea salt and fresh pepper. Garnish suggestions include sautéed mushrooms, sautéed fennel, roasted chilis, herbs, fennel pollen or fresh corn. It’s also a lovely dessert, brushed with maple glaze before serving with dried fruit reconstituted in dessert wine and mascarpone on top.
Soft on the inside, crunchy and lightly golden on the outside, grilled Texas toast is a fantastic accompaniment to juicy barbecued meats. Cut country-style white bread into 1-inch-thick slices. Mix melted butter with a few cloves of minced garlic in a bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste, and brush the mixture on both sides of the bread. Place bread directly on the grill and cook 1 to 2 minutes on each side until the toast is golden. Top with two parts butter and one part olive oil, mixed with a little chopped elephant garlic, dried garlic, Aleppo pepper, dried oregano, kosher salt and freshly chopped parsley.
Grilled Apple Pie
Cooking apple pie in a smoker or on a grill brings delicious, old-school flavors to the traditional dessert. As the pie cooks, the sweet smoke from the wood (fruit woods are best because they impart more delicate flavors) is infused within the layers of the crust. The result is simply unforgettable. Assemble the pie using your recipe of choice and heat your grill for indirect cooking at 350–375 degrees. Place pie on the smoker/grill in the indirect zone. Bake 30–40 minutes until crust is golden brown and filling bubbles up around the edges. Remove and cool before serving.
Are you a lover of all things grilled? Check out our other grill-centric content.