Vegetarian Memorial Day: How To Grill Vegetables

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Summer is here, and that means grilling season. And what summer picnic, poolside party or background barbecue would be complete without some sort of grilled vegetable?

Packed with natural sugars, veggies like zucchini, asparagus, peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, and onion get incredibly sweet and smokey when cooked on the grill -- and a bit of char gives them a good crunch. Our favorite: Grilled corn on the cob, a seasonal summer treat anyone can appreciate.

To help you grill up your favorites this Memorial Day weekend, here are five easy steps for grilling any type of vegetable -- even potatoes and beets!

1. Prep Your Veggies

First, wash and dry the vegetables you want to grill. While some vegetables -- like asparagus and corn -- can be grilled whole, others like zucchini and peppers cook better sliced. Be sure to cut each piece no smaller than 1/4-inch thick, or they will fall apart when cooking.

2. Oil Them Up

Unlike meat, vegetables have no fat (duh, you know this) so they need a bit of olive oil to help them cook. While providing those lovely grill marks -- a good way to gauge how quickly your food is cooking -- the olive oil also helps to keep the veggies from sticking to your grill.

3. Add Some Flavor

Although simple salt and pepper can help bring out the natural flavor of the vegetable, for extra flavor a simple marinade will make this side dish sing. A basic, all-purpose vegetable grilling marinade can be made by blending a quarter-cup lemon juice, olive oil and herbs like salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, basil and rosemary. Add a clove of minced garlic for an extra kick. Pour the marinade over your veggies, and let them steep in a plastic bag for at least one hour. Before grilling, be sure to wipe off any excess marinade to reduce the chance of flames when you place them on the grill.

4. Heat the Grill

For gas grilling pre-heat on medium for 10 minutes. If you are cooking over charcoal, be sure the charcoal has a nice ash. Before putting the vegetables on to cook, clean the grates with a wire brush and wipe them down with a coat of olive oil. This will help to keep the vegetables from sticking to the grates.

5. Cook Your Vegetables

If they are large or whole, vegetables can be placed directly on the grill and will generally cook in about 10 to 20 minutes -- depending on how thick it is, and how well you like your vegetables cooked. Smaller cuts or slices like eggplant and zucchini need a grill basket to make sure they stay in place. If you're grilling a variety of vegetables, start with those veggies that take the longest to cook, including eggplant and onions. Asparagus, mushrooms, peppers and zucchini generally take less time, and need to be flipped frequently to prevent over-charring.

*If you don't have a grill basket you can also use bamboo skewers, which need to be soaked in water about 30 minutes before use to keep them from burning or charring on the grill.

6. Grilling Potatoes, Carrots and Beets

Grilling potatoes, carrots, and beets will include a few extra steps. To prevent an uncooked center and burning the outside, first boil them in water until slightly tender to the prod of a fork. Then pat dry, and follow steps 2 through 5. (Another trick: Cut these vegetables into bite-sized pieces, cover with olive oil or butter and herbs and seasonings, wrap in aluminum foil pouch and place on the grill for 15-20 minutes or until tender).

*Grilling corn is even more simple. You can put them directly on the grill for a super-charred ear. If you want a more flavorful cob, wrap in aluminum foil with a dab of butter and your favorite seasoning. To grill in-husk, soak corn in husk in water for 30 minutes to allow the corn kernels to steam while the husk chars. All corn should be grilled for about 15 to 30 minutes.

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