Cooking over a fire in the fresh air is liberating and the usual kitchen rules go quickly out the window. Vegetables work really well on a BBQ, and halloumi and corn on the cob are stalwarts for non-meat eaters. But beyond that, what can make your grill spark? “Pretty much any vegetable you can think of can be elevated by a little fire and smoke,” says Genevieve Taylor, chef and author of Charred, A Complete Guide to Vegetarian Grilling and BBQ. “When you cook over a grill or griddle, some sort of magic happens: flavours intensify, surfaces caramelise and edges get irresistibly crisp and charred.”
Little Gem lettuces cut in half and placed cut-side down on the grill are a quick and easy win to gently take you out of your comfort zone. A whole celeriac basted in coriander-infused oil and wrapped in foil can slow-cook on a BBQ as a side dish. If you put smoked wood chips in the BBQ, you can harness that smokey flavour. Add parsnips to a fireproof roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and season, then shut the lid and allow the smokiness to infuse them. A sprinkle of Parmesan works well as a finishing touch. “The high heat of the grill or griddle causes intense caramelisation of sugars and also causes the aroma- and flavour-enhancing Maillard reaction,” says Genevieve. “This chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars is definitely not limited to the cooking of meat. Carrots, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, onions, sweetcorn, broccoli, mushrooms and so many others are capable of the Maillard reaction given the right temperature.”
If you’re not sure how to cook a vegetable and you want to wing it, Genevieve suggests taking each vegetable at its merit and thinking about how you’d cook it inside. For example, you’d par-boil a dense vegetable before roasting, so do the same if you’re BBQ-ing. With butternut squash on a kebab, for example, blanch your cubes before skewering them and grilling them. “Vegetables are much more forgiving than meat in terms of timings, so don’t worry too much,” she says.
Once you’re feeling more adventurous, you can use your instincts and experiment more. Chargrill your herbs and mix them into mayonnaise, smoke vegetables to turn in to flavour-packed dips or consider which fruit would lend itself well to the BBQ treatment too.
Here are three of Genevieve’s recipes to inspire you:
Best Ever Baba Ganoush With Flatbread Chips
Serves about 4 as a dip
- 3 large aubergines, about 350g each
- 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 heaped tbsp tahini
- juice of 1 lemon
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp Aleppo pepper or regular chilli flakes
- a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- Fire up the BBQ for direct and indirect grilling and, once hot, add a few chunks of wood to the fire to get some good smoke going.
- Prick the aubergines all over with a fork and lay them on the grill bars, directly over the fire. Cook for around an hour, rotating a few times until the outsides are darkly charred and the aubergines are very soft. Once cooked, remove and leave to cool.
- Slice the aubergines in half and scoop out the flesh, spooning in to a food processor as you go. Add the garlic, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper and blitz until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl, scatter over Aleppo pepper, parsley and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with flatbread.
Barbecued Carrot, Ricotta and Toasted Pecans
Serves 4-6 as a side dish
- 1 x 500g bunch of carrots, preferably with the tops on
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar
- 1 tsp soft, dark, brown sugar
- 1 tsp dried chilli flakes, ideally chipotle chilli flakes
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 250g ricotta
- ½ bunch spring onions, thinly sliced
- 50g pecans, toasted and chopped
- a small bunch of coriander, chopped
- extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- Trim the tops of the carrots and scrub them. Slice in half lengthways, or in to quarters if they are a little larger – you want them to be finger thickness.
- Fill a pan with boiling water and add a little salt, then set over a high heat and bring back to the boil. Once boiling, add the carrots and blanch for 3 minutes. Drain well and tip into a mixing bowl. While they are still hot, add the olive oil, cumin, brown sugar, chilli flakes and garlic and stir well to mix. Cover and leave to marinate for a couple of hours at room temperature.
- Once you’re ready to cook, fire up your barbecue ready for direct grilling. Lay the carrots on the grill bars and cook for 15-20 minutes, turning regularly until they are caramelised. Use a brush to baste the carrots with an excess marinade from the bowl as you turn them.
- Once soft and caramelised, scatter the carrots over a serving plate and dot with heaped teaspoons of ricotta. Sprinkle over the spring onions, chopped pecans and coriander. Finally, add a generous drizzle of olive oil and finish with a good grind of pepper. Serve while still warm.
- 1 large cauliflower, leaves and stems trimmed off and sliced into bite-sized pieces
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 125g butter, softened
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- a handful of fresh oregano or majoram sprigs, leaves picked and chopped
- 1 heaped tbsp cumin seeds, bruised in a pestle and mortar
- 1-2 tsp chipotle chilli flakes (optional)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fire up the BBQ ready for indirect grilling, While the charcoal is getting to temperature, bring a really large pan of lightly salted boiling water to the boil on the hob.
- Put the cauliflower leaves and stem pieces into a mixing bowl, and toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, then set aside. Cut a thin sliver off the base of the cauliflower so it sits nice and level, then carefully lower it into the boiling water and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain well and place in a sturdy roasting tin. Drizzle a little oil over the cauliflower and season with salt and pepper.
- Once the BBQ is ready for cooking, add a few lumps of smoking wood or a handful of smoking chips. Rest the tin away from the fire and shut the lid. Cook for an hour, checking once or twice, and rotating the tin so it cooks evenly. After an hour, loosely cover with foil to prevent it drying out and cook for a further 45-60 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife.
- To make the spiced butter, mash together the soft butter, garlic, chopped herbs, cumin seeds and chilli, if using, and add a little salt and pepper to taste.
5. Remove the foil from the cauliflower and tip in the chopped stems and leaves, spreading them out in the tun. Use a knife to spread the butter over the surface of the cauliflower and move the tin directly over the fire. Cook for a further 15-20 minutes, until the butter as melted and the stems are tender but still with bite.
6. To serve, lift the cauliflower onto a plate and spoon over the wilted stems and butter.
Charred, A Complete Guide to Vegetarian Grilling and BBQ by Genevieve Taylor is available here.
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