By Kerri Conan
[Kerri launches the grilling season with creative treatments of a few different vegetables. Those of us who don't live in her neighborhood are jealous. - mb]
After working in the garden all day Sunday I had cellulose on the brain. So I emptied out the produce bins in the fridge and headed to the grill. The plan was to serve everything room temperature over softened rice sticks, splashed with a lively nuoc cham-style sauce.
I had grilled tofu, asparagus, and onion before, but the rest of the stuff on the tray was novel territory. So I set up a two-tier fire with lump charcoal: hot one side, nothing on the other. Everything was started on the cool side and cooked covered for a few minutes—to ensure tenderness and smokiness—then seared. Or vice versa. And because there was too much for one grill load, I paused to add coals midway through, which gave me time to make the sauce. Brushed everything with grapeseed oil and sprinkled with a little salt. That’s it. Let’s work around the assortment in the photo clockwise; for more how-to shots of the process, flip through the slide show.
- Red onion halves: don’t turn them too much or they’ll separate into rings.
- Peeled blood oranges: they were too dry to eat raw but became chewy little rubies after grilling.
- Parsnips: I thought it would be easiest to handle them on skewers, but a couple broke off; super yummy though.
- Napa cabbage leaves: each contained a full spectrum of textures ranging from silky to papery; I cut them into wide ribbons for serving.
- Tofu steaks: I cut them a little over ½-inch thick so they were crisp and charred on the outside, with a custardy interior
- Asparagus: as big around as your thumb and grown nearby; I didn’t bother to peel the ends but I arranged them on the grill so the ends were toward the hottest part of the fire.
- Thinly sliced jicama: wrap a delicious layer of carbonic flavor around their usual crunch and that’s what you get.
- Celery heart: the big surprise, smoky and grassy and silky all at the same time.
The sauce was based on spearmint and chives from the garden, a dusting of last year’s ground chiles, some minced garlic, fish sauce, simple syrup, water, and lots of both lemon and lime juice. Fortunately there are lots of leftovers.