Heat up the flavor of veggies on the grill

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During these waning days of summer, a good way to use the vegetable haul from your garden or farmers’ market is by firing up the grill.

Skewers laden with seasonal produce, lightly charred green beans, a colorful roasted vegetable platter with a creamy feta dip (and for dessert, honey-slicked and toasted peaches) — all have a welcome place on the August table.

You don’t need a fancy grill to cook delicious vegetable dishes outside — we have a small, inexpensive charcoal grill from Lowe’s that does the trick — and the recipes don’t have to be complicated. Keep preparations simple to let the flavors of the current crop of summer produce really stand out.

A garlicky marinade with soy sauce and maple syrup elevates vegetables that have been threaded onto wood or metal skewers. (A simple olive oil and salt rub works fine as well.) Choose your preferred type of protein (tofu, chicken, meat or fish) to alternate with peppers, red onion and cherry tomatoes. Grill the skewers until the vegetables release their juices and take on a lovely smoky flavor. Serve the skewers with lemony quinoa, brown rice or pearl couscous for a complete meal or omit the protein and serve skewers alongside grilled meats.

Charred corn and avocado toasts make for a delicious starter to a barbecue or they can be a light, stand-alone meal served with a hearty green salad. Toast thick slices from your favorite sourdough loaf and top them with corn that has been cooked in its husks until slightly crisp. A lime and sesame dressing pairs perfectly with creamy slices of avocado that are gently tossed with the shelled corn.

Another memorable starter or complement to a summer meal of slow-roasted tomato soup is a beautifully arranged, grilled vegetable platter. You may use whatever vegetables you have on hand — zucchini and summer squash are sure bets, along with tomatoes, asparagus and onions. The real show-stopper is a bowl of smooth, salty feta dip placed in the center of the plate for dipping the vegetables.

If you find yourself with a lot of green beans, a wonderful way to cook them is by soaking them in a gingery sauce and then placing them directly on the grill to cook briefly until tender. Make a warm, lemon-infused bowl of farro — a grain similar to barley, so if you can’t find farro, barley would make a fine substitute — and top with the green beans for a vegetarian main dish. Or you could serve the farro and green beans with grilled fish.

Other options for grilling vegetables include baking sweet potatoes or potatoes in their skins directly on the grill, or if using a charcoal grill, you can tuck them into the leftover coals. Wait until the charcoal is completely covered with ash and no black spots remain.

Shake the grill to knock excess ash off coal, then rake them around and pile them up around the potatoes. Cook in the coals until fork-tender.

Grilled cauliflower, portabello mushrooms or eggplant “steaks” brushed with olive oil and cooked until charred and soft are a popular preparation. This is more of a time commitment — the steaks are cooked on medium-low, indirect heat (for a charcoal grill, bank coals on one side of grill; for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off) for about 45 minutes — but you’ll be rewarded with meltingly soft and luscious vegetables. Lemon wedges to squeeze over are a must.

And try grilling broccoli, kale or even lettuce to make a warm salad. Toss the broccoli or greens in a tablespoon of olive oil and a bit of salt and place on the grill (cook the broccoli for about 5-7 minutes and the green for about 2 minutes, or until very slightly wilted).

In terms of what grill to use for cooking your vegetables, options vary from gas to electric to charcoal. Each imparts a different flavor to your food; what choice you make depends on your personal preference. Make sure your grill is scrubbed clean before cooking, and if using charcoal, leave extra time for the coals to heat up.

Follow a few basic instructions for putting fruit on the grill. Fruit kebabs are a lovely way to use a ripe pineapple; use the same principle as for vegetable skewers but skip the marinade and alternate pineapple chunks with slices of banana, strawberries and melon. No additional sugar is needed as the grill’s heat will bring out and caramelize the fruit’s natural sweetness.

You could also halve peaches, nectarines or plums, remove their pits, and brush them with a light coating of coconut oil and honey. Place on the grill cut side down and cook the fruit until slightly soft and slightly charred. Serve halves with a scoop of vanilla ice cream placed in the center.

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Vegetable skewers are an easy way to add a vegetable component to standard barbecue fare and can feature an assortment of your favorite in season vegetables.

Marinated Vegetable Skewers

Serves 6

— For marinade:

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup lemon or lime juice

¼ cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon maple syrup

2 tablespoons minced garlic

— Dried herbs of choice, 1 teaspoon: thyme, basil, oregano or a combination

½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

— For skewers:

— Wooden or metal skewers

— For veggies:

1 red pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 yellow pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks

10 mushrooms, halved

1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 package of grape or cherry tomatoes

— Broccoli, zucchini or yellow squash (optional)

1 package extra firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch pieces OR

2 small chicken breasts or ½-pound of salmon, cut into 1-inch pieces

In a small bowl, place all of the ingredients for the marinade and whisk well to combine.

Prepare the vegetables and tofu, chicken or salmon. Thread on a skewer in your desired order; for example, one cherry tomato, one piece of yellow pepper, one piece of red onion, one piece of tofu, one mushroom half, one piece of red pepper, one cherry tomato. Place as many pieces of vegetables and protein on skewers until the ingredients run out.

Place the skewers in a baking dish and drizzle the marinade over them until they are coated with the mixture; you can used a spoon or brush to accomplish this or simply swirl the pan around to coat as much of the skewers as you can. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to grill (set to medium heat if using a gas grill) and place skewers on the grill. Grill until vegetables are slightly tender and the meat if using is fully cooked. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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You could also serve these toasts as a salad by tearing up the bread to serve as rustic croutons and incorporating about two cups of baby arugula or spinach leaves when you add in the avocado.

Charred Corn and Avocado Toasts

Serves 4

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 teaspoons maple syrup

— Fine grain sea salt

4 ears of corn, in husk

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

2 green onions, chopped, white and green parts

2 avocados, peeled, pitted and roughly chopped

4-6 large pieces of fresh bread, preferably from a sourdough loaf

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Prepare a grill for medium heat and oil the grate with olive oil. In a medium bowl whisk the lime juice and maple syrup until combined and season with salt. Set aside.

Keep the corn in its husks and place the ears on the grill. Grill, turning occasionally, until corn is charred all over (husks will be blackened and some of the kernels will become deeply browned), about 10–12 minutes. Transfer corn to a platter and let cool slightly before shucking.

Meanwhile, lightly rub the 2 tablespoons of butter over the bread slices and, using tongs, place the bread on the grill. Grill until bread is toasted but watch to make sure it doesn’t get overly browned.

Rub the corn with the sesame oil then cut kernels from cobs into the bowl with the dressing. Add the scallions and avocado and toss to combine. Salt to taste.

Spoon the corn mixture evenly atop the toasted bread or serve individual salad plates with the corn salad with the toasted bread on the side.

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A grilled vegetable platter, artfully arranged, is a colorful way to showcase the flavors of summer produce. A highlight of the dish is the feta dipping sauce made with Greek yogurt and lemon juice.

Grilled Vegetable Platter with Creamy Feta Dip

Serves 8 as a side dish

— For dressing

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons honey

4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 cloves of garlic, minced

— Fine grain sea salt and black pepper to taste

— For vegetables:

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed

3 small carrots, cut in half lengthwise

1 medium yellow summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch slices

2 medium-large zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1 medium red onion, cut into wedges

4 large heirloom tomatoes (or ripe red tomatoes), quartered and then pieces halved

— For dip:

8 ounces feta cheese

3/4 cup (6 ounces) plain whole or low-fat Greek yogurt

1 medium clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

— Fine grain sea salt

— Freshly ground black pepper

To make the dressing: Place all of the first 6 ingredients in a small bowl and whisk well to combine.

To prepare the vegetables: Place the vegetables in a large baking dish. Drizzle the dressing over the vegetables and stir gently to coat well. Let the vegetables sit in the dressing for at least an hour if you can.

Meanwhile, make the dip: In a food processor or blender combine feta, yogurt, lemon juice and garlic, then blend or process until very smooth, scraping down sides as necessary. Add olive oil and blend until incorporated. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.

To cook: Heat the grill. When vegetables and grill are ready, take a large sheet of aluminum foil and dump the vegetables onto it (try to include any dressing and vegetable juice). Cover with another large sheet of foil and seal the edges. Poke some holes in the foil. Supporting it underneath, slide the foil packet on the grill and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove packet from the grill and place on a large plate, then carefully uncover and place on a serving platter. Arrange the vegetables and place a bowl of the dip in the center of the platter for dipping.

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Chewy, nutty farro — a type of ancient wheat — is punched up with parsley and mint while the green beans are marinated in a ginger-garlic dressing before grilling.

Grilled Green Beans and Warm Lemon-Farro Salad

Serves 6

— For the green beans:

2 pounds of green beans, washed and trimmed

¼ cup toasted sesame oil

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

2 cloves of garlic, minced

— For the farro:

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups farro

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

— Freshly ground black pepper

— Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

¼ cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

To make the green beans: In a small bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, cider vinegar, tamari or soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Prepare a grill for high heat. Place green beans in a large baking dish and the sesame mixture over. Toss to coat.

Place the green beans directly on the grill, or in a grilling basket, and grill, turning occasionally, until charred on all sides and crisp-tender, 4–5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

To make the farro: In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the farro and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the stock, 4 cups of water, salt and several grinds of pepper.

Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat and simmer until the farro is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Transfer the farro to a large bowl. Add the lemon zest and juice, the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, parsley and mint and toss to combine. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with salt and serve warm with the green beans arranged alongside.

Nicole Spiridakis is a Sebastopol-based food writer. Reach her at nspiridakis@gmail.com or at cucinanicolina.com.

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