Between rain drops this week, we’ve been firing up the grill a fair amount. My very favorite place to shop for veggies – the farm stand at Morning Glory Farm – finally opened up for the season. So I saddled up the Honda, headed down to Edgartown, and robbed the place. Not literally of course. But I did come away with a stash of valuable veggies, things that Morning Glory is already harvesting from their own fields and greenhouses. Among other items (like a tee shirt and a strawberry muffin), I nabbed baby bok choy, purple-tipped asparagus, scallions, and tiny mustard greens.
Since we’ve been working in the garden late every day, I’ve been dreaming up simple dinner ideas, too. (For a dozen weeknight ideas, read the blog I wrote for the Huffington Post this week.) I love grilled veggies, but sometimes prepping veggies for the grill, and then standing vigil over them patiently, is just a little more time than even I’m willing to give. So this week I grabbed my grill basket to make life easier. And I wound up improvising a number of different veggie dishes, using both my Morning Glory haul and the contents of my refrigerator veggie bin. (Just two samples–in the basket above, and finished, below.)
Grill baskets are inherently destructible. They won’t last forever, so don’t bother spending a lot of money on one. Just buy one—you won’t be sorry. (Mine is a particularly cheap, lightweight one that I picked up at a housewares store. But this new stainless steel one from Weber looks like a good bet.) Basically, using a grill basket is like stir-frying on the grill. But better. Because you don’t have to pay close attention. Stirring every three or four minutes, as opposed to every 30 seconds, is just fine. As long as you follow a few guidelines, you can cook practically any combination of your favorite veggies in about 10 minutes of mostly hands-off time.
Here are a few tips for cooking veggies in a grill basket:
1. Choose a combination of veggies that are loosely similar in density and moisture content. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, sugar snap peas, young beans, bok choy, broccoli raab are all fine. (Yeah, I’m defining density very loosely here). Don’t use potatoes or roots other than carrots here. It’s also fine to throw in a hearty leafy green like cabbage or radicchio—delicious if you don’t mind a few charred edges. But don’t use delicate greens like spinach here unless you toss the leaves in at the end of cooking.
2. Cut all those veggies into pieces about the same size. Then augment them with at least some peppers, onions or mushrooms—aromatic veggies that give off moisture as they cook. The aromatics not only spread flavor around but they help all the other veggies cook, too.
3. Estimate how many veggies you’ll need by putting the raw veg into the (cool) basket. Mine feels fullish with 3 to 4 cups veggies. You want your basket to be slightly overcrowded. With the grill lid-down (and only occasional stirring), the indirect (oven-like) heat of the grill, along with the moisture the crowded veggies will give off to each other, will help cook the veggies cook through while they brown.
4. Be sure the veggies are thoroughly (but not excessively) coated with oil. You need the oil to draw the heat in and cook the veggies. Season with kosher salt, too.
5. Preheat the grill with the grill basket in it for 5 to 10 minutes. Cook over medium heat (unless your grill is really old and slow—then medium-high.) The veggies are done when they are all limp, tender (some will be crisp-tender), and gently browned in places.
6. When the veggies come off the grill, you can do almost anything with them. We like to toss them with a compound butter (fresh herbs, citrus zest, salt), which is quick and easy to make. Then sometimes we take it a step further and toss the seasoned veg with whole wheat spaghetti or another pasta and call it dinner (or a big part of dinner). If you like the compound butter idea, I’ve included a formula below for making one. You might not use the whole batch on the veggies; use any extra with your eggs in the morning or on a steak tomorrow night.
Compound Herb Butter: In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons well-softened butter with 1/2 tsp. citrus zest, 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tender herbs (chives, mint, parsley, cilantro, basil), and 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup (optional). Mash with a wooden spoon until well-combined. Store tightly covered in the fridge for up to 3 or 4 days.