Know what’s better than grilling food outside over a hot fire? Not much, to be honest!
But instead of focusing on the usual grilling go-to’s—such as burgers, steaks, and chicken—we thought it was time to focus on some lighter, nutrient-packed foods that are near and dear to our hearts: fruits and vegetables.
To help you take your grill game to the next level, we talked with Aramark Chef Jason Lewis (left, above) and McCormick Chef Gary Patterson. Here they offer up some plant-forward grill-spiration, pro tips, and recipes that pair your favorite fresh produce with flavorful herbs and spices. Read on!
1. Green Beans & Mint
“For me, part of the fun of grilling vegetables and fruits is creating unique flavor profiles,” says Chef Jason.
He suggests starting with haricots vert, a.k.a. green beans. When you put the beans over a hot flame or charcoal, it creates brown wisps on the ends along with nice grill marks (called a maillard reaction, for you culi-nerds). Cook the beans hot and fast so they’re al dente, or still crisp.
Chef Jason makes a dressing from plain Greek yogurt, a splash of vinegar, a pinch of salt, ground black pepper, and thinly sliced or chopped mint.
“Add the warm green beans to the dressing and you get a combination of smoky beans, creamy dressing, and fresh mint that is a great summer side dish,” he instructs.
2. Watermelon & Rosemary
Nothing says “summer” quite like fresh, juicy watermelon. But we bet you’ve never had it like this before!
“There’s something about the combination of sweet watermelon, the smokiness from the grill, bright rosemary, and saltiness from the walnuts that creates a winning dish,” Chef Gary says of this recipe.
To create it at home, marinate thick-cut watermelon “steaks” in a mixture of white balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and rosemary, then grill them a few minutes on each side. Top the watermelon with a gremolata made from walnuts, lemon zest, and fresh parsley.
3. Summer Squash & Cumin
Who doesn’t like food on a stick? “I like to grill vegetable kabobs with a cumin-citrus marinade,” shares Chef Jason. “Cumin is a strong flavor, but it screams ‘summer’ and gives you that south-of-the-border flavor profile.”
Start with zucchini and yellow summer squash (or whatever fresh vegetables you have on hand). Cut into similarly sized pieces for even grilling, then pierce them with a skewer, alternating colors for max effect. Then get ready to turn up the flavor.
“For the marinade, I mix fresh orange or lemon juice with a little raw, local honey, a pinch of salt, and some toasted cumin,” Chef Jason tells us. Baste the kabobs with the marinade before and during grill time. He also likes adding spring garlic or green onions as a buffer between the vegetables for even more smoky, zesty goodness.
4. Peaches & Garam Masala
Peaches, nectarines, apricots, and plums are called stone fruits because of the hard pit inside them. Not only are they in season, but they hold up well to the heat of the grill.
“For this Grilled Fruit Tart recipe, we baste fresh peaches and naan (Indian-style flatbread) with honey and garam masala spice mixture,” Chef Gary explains. “Once they’re grilled, you toss the fruit with yogurt and coconut, then sprinkle with chopped pistachios and more of the honey drizzle.”
If grilling desserts isn’t in your repertoire, don’t worry. We break down the recipe instructions at the link above.
5. Peppers & Saffron
Gardens, farm stands, and local farmers’ markets are bursting with peppers this time of year. Shishito peppers are among Chef Jason’s favorites. Small, thin, and slightly wrinkled, the Shishito variety originally comes from East Asia. “I planted some in my garden and they’re coming in left and right now! They’re great grilled or roasted until the flesh just turns soft.”
Chef Jason likes to dip the grilled Shishitos in his own version of a rouille made with diced potatoes, chopped onions, garlic and a bit of saffron.
“Saffron is an expensive spice, but it has such a delicate, distinctive flavor and adds beautiful golden color,” he explains. Once the mixture is cooked and slightly cooled, he purees it in a blender with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, smoked paprika and a little of the potato cooking liquid until it’s just the right consistency for dipping. This sauce also an incredible spread for slices of grilled baguette.
Can’t get enough grilled peppers? The vegetables in a classic chilled gazpacho are usually raw, but you can absolutely grill the peppers, tomatoes, and jalapeños to turn up the heat.
6. Corn & Old Bay
Speaking of jalapeños, Chef Gary likes to grill the fiery peppers with fresh corn on the cob to make McCormick’s Old Bay Grilled Corn Pico de Gallo. Grilling corn gives it a toasty flavor and brings out its natural sweetness.
“Corn and Old Bay seasoning are a classic pairing in New England beach bakes,” Chef Gary tells us. “Here we turn that flavor combination into a fresh salsa with lime juice, cilantro and tomatoes.”
Time to Raise the Bar(BQ)
We hope this round-up gives you enough inspiration to last all summer long!
Note: Since everyone’s health history and nutritional needs are so different, please make sure that you talk with your doctor and a registered dietitian to get advice about the diet and exercise plan that‘s right for you.