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Mastering grilled vegetables with TV personality, author and grill master Steven Raichlen

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 7:59 AM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Wood-Grilled Bruschetta with Fire-Blistered Tomatoes and Ricotta. Smoked guacamole. Ember-grilled sweet potatoes. Grilled Caesar salad. When one thinks of live-fire cooking, vegetables are often not top of mind. But should they be?

Marrying the art of grilling with the versatility of gorgeous seasonal produce and big flavor, “master griller” Steven Raichlen’s How to Grill Vegetables: The New Bible for Barbecuing Vegetables over Live Fire demystifies the world of grilling green. Raichlen has helped shape America’s obsession with live-fire cooking for decades.

And while vegetables have always been part of his grilling, his new book is the first time they are center stage, with over 125 mouthwatering recipes and creative grilling techniques that put vegetables front and center. Every recipe is indulgent and boldly flavored, in classic Raichlen style. And while not every dish is meatless, meat and seafood are used only to enhance the flavors of the vegetables, much like a condiment, and not overshadow them. Whether you’re a carnivore looking for electrifying, creative new recipes, or a vegetarian looking to up your grill game, this book has you covered. How to Grill Vegetables delivers recipes for everything from starters to sides to desserts alongside a complete step-by-step handbook to mastering the techniques of grilling vegetables, including:

· The differences between grilling meats and vegetables: For example, vegetables have less fat and absorb smoke differently, and the grill doesn’t need to be oiled when using shiny-skinned vegetables like eggplants and peppers

· The best gear for grilling vegetables -- from grill woks to planchas to metal skewers

· The best methods for cooking various types of vegetables: Direct grilling works best for high-moisture vegetables such as asparagus and zucchini; tender vegetables, like eggplants and mushrooms; small vegetables, such as okra and snow peas, and tofu, bread, and cheese; while indirect grilling is best for large or dense vegetables like rutabagas and beets

· Vegetable-specific grilling techniques-- from hay-smoking to smoke-roasting and much more

· The optimal temperature for grilling vegetables—a low temperature is best for onions, cabbages, and other large round vegetables; medium-high works well for firm green vegetables, like broccoli and artichokes; and a high temperature is optimal for high-moisture vegetables, like zucchini and tomatoes.

Here are seven key insights Raichlen shares in his book:

1. There are multiple ways to tell if a vegetable is cooked. For small, skinny vegetables like scallions and asparagus or sliced veggies like eggplant or zucchini, when the outside is blistered and darkened, the vegetable has finished cooking. For small, round or pod vegetables, like tomatoes or okra, use the pinch test: Pinch it between your thumb and forefinger. When squeezably soft, it’s cooked. Lastly, for larger vegetables, like squash or potatoes, use the skewer test: When you can easily pierce the vegetable with a slender metal skewer or cake tester, it’s done.

2. Vegetables absorb wood smoke differently than meats. Smoke penetrates the moist, porous surface of meat easily, but this is not the case with hard vegetables, like turnips and beets. The smoke tends to stay on the surface, which is why many smoked vegetables wind up smelling like ashtrays rather than barbecue. To avoid this, moisture-rich vegetables like tomatoes and onions should be grilled using the direct smoking method, while denser, drier veggies such as turnips and rutabagas should be blanched or boiled before smoking.

3. Most vegetables contain no intrinsic fat, so you have to add fat to keep them moist. That fat can take the form of olive oil in a marinade, butter in a baste or a strip of bacon or pancetta wrapped around a jalapeño pepper, an ear of corn or a wedge of acorn squash.

4. There are five main methods of cooking vegetables: Direct grilling is best for high-moisture vegetables like asparagus and zucchini, tender vegetables like eggplants and mushrooms, and small vegetables such as okra and snow peas. Indirect grilling, where the veggie is placed next to rather than directly over the fire, is best for large or dense vegetables; while smoke-roasting, a variation on this method, uses wood chips, smoker box, or smoker pouch to achieve a similar effect. Alternatively, smoking, a technique used for cooking Texas-style brisket and Kansas City-style ribs, works well with wet vegetables like tomatoes or onions, as well as baked beans and dense vegetables like beets. Spit-roasting uses a rotisserie and is a highly effective cooker for sturdier produce, such as a whole pineapple, head of cauliflower, or a stalk of brussels sprouts. And lastly, ember-grilling (aka caveman grilling) imparts a wonderful smoke flavor while caramelizing the veggie and can be done with virtually any vegetable, from onions to artichokes to peppers and even delicate snow peas and green beans. Just place them in a wire-mesh grill basket and lay it directly on the coals.

5. Boiling is not a dirty word. One of the canons of carnivorous barbecue is that you should never, ever boil ribs or other meats like chicken or brisket. Yet many vegetables contain cellulose, a hard, fibrous substance that makes it difficult to achieve tenderness and moistness solely from direct or indirect grilling. For this reason, blanching (briefly immersing a vegetable in boiling water) or parboiling (partially cooking a vegetable in boiling water) prior to cooking can work wonders, especially for hard or dense vegetables like artichokes, potatoes, or cauliflower.

6. While grilling vegetables does bring out lovely caramelized flavors, the one thing it can’t do is create a crisp crust. Luckily, there’s a hack for that: Top your veggies with toasted or sautéed breadcrumbs or nuts, or crumbled slices of grilled bread.

7. Grilling vegetables rather than meat is good for the planet! According to foodtank.com, it takes about 1,800 gallons of water to raise a single pound of beef and 576 gallons to raise a pound of pork. Contrast that with 216 gallons of water needed to grow a pound of soybeans and 108 gallons needed for a pound of corn.

CLICK HERE to find recipes, Steven’s blog and to find information on this book and more.

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