The grill is perfect for cooking meat, but the kiss of fire makes magic with plants, too. A little char and smoky aroma can infuse your favorite vegetables with more depth and complexity.
Your grill, whether charcoal or gas, is a versatile tool. With low heat and a closed lid, it can serve as an outdoor oven. This method is ideal for larger pieces of food that need to cook more slowly, like big cuts of meat or whole potatoes.
With these plant-based recipes, you’ll grill over medium to high heat with the lid open, and the grate will sear the bottom of the veggies. This method speeds up the Maillard reaction, which will result in browned food, caramelization, and complex flavors that are hard to achieve using other cooking methods. In fact, cooking on the grill is one way to build umami, the “fifth taste,” which gives a dish a satisfying, meaty quality.
So, start grilling plants! They just might become your new favorite ingredient for a summer cookout.
Korean-Style Tempeh Lettuce Wraps
This dish is inspired by Korean barbecue, a popular form of tabletop charcoal grilling. Here, tempeh stands in for the more traditional beef, with the same tangy, spicy flavors you’ll find in lots of Korean food.
Makes 4 servings | Prep time 10 minutes (plus four hours to marinate) | Cook time 10 minutes
- 16 oz. organic tempeh
- 1 tbs. minced fresh ginger
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbs. Sucanat or brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 tbs. sesame oil
- 2 tbs. avocado oil for the grill
- 1 small head butter lettuce
- 1/2 cup packed kimchi, drained and chopped
- Set up a steamer over simmering water. Cut the tempeh into 1-inch cubes, then steam the cubes for five minutes. Place on a kitchen towel, pat dry, and let cool.
- In a storage container large enough to hold the tempeh, place the ginger, garlic, sweetener, black pepper, cayenne, lemon juice, soy sauce, and sesame oil, then whisk to mix. Place the tempeh in the marinade and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours, or up to three days.
- Preheat the grill to medium. Thread the tempeh onto skewers. When the grill is hot, oil the grate and grill the tempeh until marked on all sides, turning every two to three minutes. Transfer the hot skewers to a platter.
- Serve the tempeh in lettuce leaves and top with kimchi.
You can leave the gills in the mushrooms if you like, but they tend to be gritty and can discolor the dish. Removing them also makes space for more filling.
Makes 4 servings | Prep time 10 minutes (plus one hour to marinate) | Cook time 15 minutes
- 1 cup pinot noir (or other dry red wine)
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tbs. honey or maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
- 4 medium portobello mushrooms, stems removed
- 1 large avocado
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. lemon juice
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tbs. avocado oil for the grill
- 1/2 cup chopped tomato
- Place the wine and thyme in a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil until the liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup, about four minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the olive oil, sweetener, and salt.
- Use a spoon to carefully scrape the gills from the mushroom caps, taking care to support the rims with your fingers. Place the mushroom caps in a storage container and pour the wine mixture over them. Gently turn to coat, then cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight.
- Preheat the grill to medium-high. Mash the avocado in a medium bowl, then stir in the garlic and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- When the grill is hot, oil the grate. Place the mushroom caps on the grate, gill side down. Grill for about two minutes, until the mushrooms are softened. Turn the caps and grill for two to three more minutes.
- Transfer the mushrooms to a plate, then divide the avocado mixture among them, and spread to fill the caps. Sprinkle with chopped tomato and serve.
Grilled Corn and Quinoa Salad
Makes 4 servings | Prep time 15 minutes | Cook time 30 minutes
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 cup dry quinoa, rinsed and drained
- 4 ears sweet corn
- 5 tbs. avocado oil, divided
- 1 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 2 large jalapeños, seeded and minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or pepitas
- Bring the water to a boil in a small pot. Add the quinoa and return to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the grain is tender. Let cool while you prepare the corn.
- Preheat the grill to high. Shuck the corn, brush off the silk, and place the ears in a large bowl. Brush the corn with 1 tablespoon of the avocado oil, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
- When the grill is hot, oil the grate with 2 tablespoons of avocado oil. Grill the corn, turning with tongs every couple of minutes, until the corn is tender and browned in spots on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer back to the bowl and allow to cool.
- Use a knife to cut the kernels off the ears and into the bowl. Add the quinoa and stir to combine.
- In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons of avocado oil with the lime juice, then stir in the jalapeños and garlic. Pour over the corn and quinoa mixture.
- Add the tomato and pine nuts and stir to mix. Add more salt and pepper to taste, then serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to three days.
Charred Romaine With Lemony Goddess Dressing
Romaine becomes heartier and earthier in just a few minutes on the grill. Serve each diner one romaine half on a plate, with a steak knife for carving.
Makes 4 servings | Prep time 10 minutes | Cook time 15 minutes
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
- 1 tsp. dried tarragon
- 2 tbs. lemon juice
- 5 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt, plus one pinch, divided
- 2 romaine hearts
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
- In a food-processor bowl, place the garlic, parsley, and tarragon and process until finely minced. With the machine running, gradually drizzle in the lemon juice and then 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and process until mixed. Pour the dressing into a small bowl.
- Preheat the grill to medium-high. Trim the base of each romaine heart, leaving the stem intact. Slice each romaine heart in half lengthwise. Place the four halves on a plate, cut side up, and brush with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
- When the grill is hot, oil the grate with the remaining olive oil. Place the romaine on the grill, cut side down. Grill for two to three minutes, pressing down lightly with tongs occasionally, until the romaine is marked and softened. Turn the romaine with your tongs and cook for about two minutes longer.
- Transfer to a plate and top with the tomato halves and olives. Drizzle with dressing and serve.
Watermelon and Cucumber Salad
Makes six servings | Prep time 10 minutes | Cook time 20 minutes
- 1 small watermelon (about 5 to 6 lb.)
- 3 tbs. lemon juice
- 3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tbs. honey
- 1 medium cucumber, seeded and chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped red onion
- 1/2 cup julienned fresh basil
- 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
- Preheat the grill to medium-high.
- Cut the melon in half, then cut the halves into 1-inch slices and place on a platter. In a medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, and honey. Brush the melon slices with the dressing. Reserve remaining dressing.
- When the grill is hot, oil the grate. Grill melon slices until marked, about two to three minutes per side. Transfer to the platter.
- When the melon is just cool enough to handle, cut off the rind and cube the flesh.
- In a large bowl, place the watermelon, cucumber, red onions, and basil. Drizzle the remaining lemon dressing over the watermelon mixture, sprinkle with coarse salt, and toss to coat. Serve immediately.
Quick Tip! Seed your cucumber in a snap: Cut it in half lengthwise, then press a spoon into the seed channel in the center and gently scoop out the seeds.
Grilled Peaches With Almond Cream
Makes eight servings | Prep time 10 minutes | Cook time 15 minutes
- 3 1/4 cups water, divided
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 tbs. refined coconut oil
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1 tsp. lemon zest
- 4 large peaches, halved and pitted
- Avocado oil for the grill
- Ground cinnamon to taste
- Fresh mint sprigs, for garnish
- Preheat the gas grill to high, or build an indirect fire in the charcoal grill: Pile the coals on one side so you have a hot side for searing and a cool side where you can cook the delicate peaches.
- In a small pot, bring three cups of water to a boil, then add the almonds. Boil the almonds for five minutes. Drain the almonds in a wire mesh strainer.
- In a high-speed blender, place the drained almonds, remaining ¼ cup water, maple syrup, coconut oil, and salt. Secure the lid and blend, scraping down the sides as needed, until the mixture is creamy. Add the lemon zest and blend to mix. Pour into a small bowl.
- When the grill is hot, oil the grate, then place the peaches, cut side down, on the cooler side of the grate. Turn the peaches every two minutes for about six minutes, finishing with the cut side up.
- When the peach juices are bubbling, spoon a heaping tablespoon of almond cream into each one. Leave the peaches on the grill just long enough to warm the almond cream, about another minute or two.
This article originally appeared as “Plants on the Grill” in the July/August 2022 issue of Experience Life.