The whole barbecue concept is so strongly associated with meat that it is hard to imagine cooking outdoors without sausages and steaks. Many people forget that some vegetables can be so much more than just a side dish or the veggie option on the barbecue. Vegetables are gradually evolving into sumptuous grilled dishes that – if prepared and cooked correctly – can now stand toe-to-toe with meat. Read on to learn about five types of vegetables that can turn into real flavour bombs on the barbecue, as well as tips to ensure they are cooked to perfection using both direct and indirect heat.
Roasting aromas from the barbecue for more intense flavours
Before we turn to the topic of grilling vegetables with specific examples and recommendations, we'll first take a look at the topic of roasting aromas. They are an essential part of the fascination of a steak, providing the desired depth of flavour in conjunction with the otherwise rather subdued intrinsic flavour of the meat. And the same "trick" that works so well for meat can also create an unexpected depth of flavour in certain vegetables. In fact, these aromas are even more important for vegetables, as their high water content gives them a particularly bland taste. Luckily, roasting aromas can not only develop on animal proteins, but also on plant proteins, which are found in almost every vegetable. They amplify and alter the flavour profile in often surprising directions. Anyone who has ever compared a perfectly roasted courgette to a boiled one will immediately understand the value of roasting aromas!
In addition to creating roasting aromas, the barbecue is also suitable for cooking vegetables gently, as this allows the more intense varieties to fully develop their own unique flavours. Root vegetables or asparagus, for example – steamed with a little olive oil in the half-moon insert – are accompaniments that can really steal the steaks' thunder on the barbecue. The combination of roasting aromas and long cooking times is a great way to turn your veggies into new culinary highlights. Indeed, the combination of brief, intense heat and subsequent cooking and steaming over medium heat is a particular strength of the barbecue. So let's take a look at some more highlights from the vegetable box!
We'll stay with the trusty courgette for now – one of the vegetables that is a staple of the barbecue scene, albeit usually in a secondary role as a side dish or antipasti. It is typically only gently cooked on a medium-hot grill that leaves only discreet traces of roasting – however, courgettes really benefit from intense heat. Take care not to char them, but the darker and more numerous the roasting marks, the more flavour is generated inside this otherwise extremely bland vegetable. By the way, this applies equally to courgette slices and whole courgettes, which can be pre-roasted at high temperatures and then indirectly braised until soft.
Can you cook chicory or even radicchio on the barbecue? Of course! Both vegetables are often scorned due to their rather bitter taste, but indirect grilling completely changes their flavour and consistency, resulting in a creamy and juicy texture with only slight bitter notes and subtle caramel tones. To achieve this, it is necessary to cook chicory for a long time at a low temperature. Two hours at 140 degrees Celsius with indirect heat, for example, will produce exactly this surprising result – be sure to keep brushing the chicory with a subtly seasoned oil. The outer leaves will then caramelise as the inside breaks down to form an intense, chicory-flavoured cream. In this case, then, rather than relying on the power of roasting, we advise opting for the gentle "low and slow" cooking that is a hallmark of American BBQ, for example – but only for vegetables.
Fennel is one of those vegetables that have completely different flavour profiles when raw and cooked. While fennel tastes very aniseed-heavy when raw and still has a lingering medicinal flavour when cooked, barbecuing it – for example on a plancha – caramelises the vegetable's abundant sugar molecules. This changes the overall taste to such an extent that even fennel-haters can no longer resist this tuberous delight. Again, brush the fennel generously with oil and season vigorously to help catapult its flavours to new heights. Instead of using the plancha, the half-moon insert also works well as a good heat conductor in combination with a little olive oil.
Although pumpkin is considered a seasonal speciality, it is now available in grocery shops all year round. The best thing about barbecued pumpkin is that it can be cooked in many different ways, as roasting aromas always bring out its best side. If you like it quick and crunchy, roast thin Hokkaido pumpkin slices (with the skin still on) on a very hot griddle plate and then serve them (while still almost raw in the centre) with a rustic salad. If you prefer your pumpkin more on the sweet and crumbly side, roast thick slices and then cook them indirectly at 180 degrees for one hour – for a sweet and creamy treat that goes perfectly with braised meat and polenta. Our tip: pumpkin benefits from lots of spice and sweet marinades based on honey and soy sauce, which contribute additional caramel flavours.
When barbecuing mushrooms, most people stick to the standard white button variety, but the world of mushrooms has so much more to offer! Specially cultivated oyster mushrooms and herb mushrooms are always available and are joined in autumn by porcini, chanterelle and parasol mushrooms – perhaps even gathered yourself! When properly seared on the griddle plate, all species of mushroom truly shine thanks to their intense flavour. They lose some water, develop strong mushroom notes on the outside and are uncannily reminiscent of meat due to their firm and fibrous structure. Their high content of flavour-enhancing glutamic acid, which also provides the mouth-filling "umami" flavour associated with meat, certainly contributes to this effect.