In general, vegetables benefit from a direct, high-heat grilling method. The exceptions are dense root vegetables, like potatoes and turnips, that are best cooked by the indirect method or by parboiling and finishing over the fire.
Asparagus, okra, green beans, and other long, skinny, fibrous vegetables: Snap or cut off the ends of the vegetables and lay 4 to 6 vegetables side by side on a work surface. Skewer them crosswise with slender bamboo skewers. Brush with olive oil or sesame oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat until nicely browned on both sides. Cook asparagus 6 to 8 minutes in all. Okra cook in 8 to 10 minutes, green beans, too, in 8 to 10 minutes. Scallions need a total time of 4 to 8 minutes.
Corn: There are two schools of thought on this one. The easiest way is simply to toss unshucked ears on the grill and cook over high heat until the husks are completely charred. Scrape off the charred husks with paper towels (the silk will come off with them). You’ll need about 15 to 18 minutes in all. The corn will be sweet and mildly smoky.
My favorite way to grill corn is to start with shucked ears, which I generously brush with melted butter or olive oil and generously season with salt and pepper. I grill the corn over high heat, directly over the flames, until the kernels are darkly browned and starting to pop. This will take 8 to 12 minutes in all. The advantage of this method is that the corn acquires a wonderful smoke flavor.
Eggplants: Choose eggplants that are long and slender. Preheat the grill to high. Grill the eggplant until the skin is black and charred on all sides and the flesh is soft. (Test it by gently poking the top.) You’re supposed to burn the skin that’s what gives the eggplant its smoky flavor. Turn the eggplant with tongs as it cooks: The whole process will take 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer the eggplant to a plate and let cool, then scrape off the charred skin. (You don’t have to remove all the burnt pieces they add a terrific flavor.) The eggplant is now ready for chopping to make salads or puréeing to make dips.
Note that some recipes in this book call for Asian eggplants, which are about 1 inch in diameter and about 6 inches long. They cook in 9 to 12 minutes.
Mushrooms: Mushrooms tend to get somewhat dry if grilled plain, so it’s best to marinate them for a few hours in an oil-based marinade or slather them with an herb or flavored butter during grilling. Thread small mushrooms on skewers so that they lie flat on the grill grate, for easy grilling and turning. Grill over high heat. Cook 3 to 6 minutes per side (6 to 12 minutes in all). When grilling portobellos, cook cap side down first, then invert. Cook portobellos 4 to 6 minutes per side (8 to 12 minutes in all). Grill stuffed mushroom caps, rounded side down, 15 to 20 minutes, using the indirect method. All mushrooms should be generously basted as they cook.
Onions: Cut onions in quarters, but leave the root intact on each piece. Peel back the skin to the root end. (The root holds the onion together during cooking.) Brush the onion quarters with oil or melted butter. Grill over a high flame until nicely charred on the outside and cooked through, turning to ensure even cooking. You’ll need 10 to 12 minutes in all. Scrape off the burnt skin before serving.
Peppers (this works for both bell peppers and chile peppers): Choose peppers that are rotund and smooth, with relatively few depressions or crevasses. Preheat the grill to high. Place the whole peppers on the grill and cook until darkly charred on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes per side (16 to 20 minutes in all) for larger peppers the smaller chiles will take less time. Don’t forget to grill the top and bottom if necessary, hold the peppers with tongs if they won’t balance properly on either end. This is another food you’re supposed to burn. Transfer the grilled peppers to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap or place in a closed paper or plastic bag. This creates steam, which makes it easy to remove the skin. When the pepper is cool enough to handle, scrape off the skin with a paring knife. Cut out the stem and remove the seeds.
Another way to grill peppers is to brush them lightly with olive oil and grill until nicely browned but not burnt. In this case, you wouldn’t bother peeling the peppers.
Radicchio or kale and other leafy vegetables: Cut radicchio in quarters, wedges, or thick slices. Grill kale leaves whole. Grill over high heat until the leaves start to brown. Cook 2 to 4 minutes per side. Watch carefully do not allow the leaves to burn to a crisp.
Tomatoes: Thread small or plum tomatoes on a wide, flat skewer and grill over high heat, turning, until the skins are browned and blistered all over. Grill individual tomatoes the same way, turning with tongs. To grill really large tomatoes (such as beefsteaks), cut them crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices. Brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and grill over high heat. Cook small or plum tomatoes 8 to 12 minutes in all. Larger, whole tomatoes take twice as long, and tomato slices take 2 to 4 minutes per side.
Zucchini and summer squash: Cut the vegetables lengthwise into 1/4-or 1/2-inch-thick slices. Brush each side with olive oil or walnut oil. Season with salt and pepper and grill over high heat. Cook 4 to 6 minutes per side.
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