It’s never a bad time to start eating more plants. And that includes now.

Whether you’re nervous about a meat shortage or just want to get back on track after a bout of pandemic-spawned stress eating, fruit and veggies are your friend, always. They’ll give you energy and make you feel better.

And they’re perfect for the grill. If you’re firing up yours this holiday weekend, we’ve got a few plant-based recipes that make it easy to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. All are designed to be entrées rather than side dishes, letting veggies become the star of your next cookout.

Plus, we chatted with executive chef Andrew Henshaw of Laser Wolf, the newest restaurant from James Beard Award winners Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook, where a charcoal grill is responsible for cooking up more than 75% of the menu.

Amid the pandemic, Henshaw is firing up dishes like grilled asparagus with spring peas and whole grilled baby eggplant for Laser Wolf’s rotating Saturday to-go menu.

He shares his best general advice for cooking grilled veggies to perfection — plus a simple idea for dessert.

How to grill veggies better

For starters, treat veggies as if you were grilling a piece of meat.

“I’m not a vegetarian or anything, but the more that we think about vegetables as entrées, the better we’ll all be — they’re better for your health, the environment, your wallet,” Henshaw says. “When you stop treating them as just an afterthought, they become incredibly delicious.”

Zucchini, corn, onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms (see recipe below) top Henshaw’s list of favorite ingredients to grill. For all of them, seasoning is crucial. Just as you wouldn’t throw a chicken breast on the grate without a proper marinade, a zucchini needs more attention than a quick drizzle of oil. Ideally, you’d start the seasoning process the night before.

Four to six hours is the minimum for marinating — you really want the marinade to penetrate the vegetable,” says Henshaw. “If you just rub it on the outside right before, it’ll fall off and can create flare-ups, so then the food will not only be flavorless but it’ll get singed.”

For vegetables with a higher moisture content, like eggplant, mushrooms, and zucchini, apply salt first to eliminate excess water. Sprinkle Kosher salt on top of cut veggies, and let them hang out in a strainer for a few hours before marinating. (For eggplant, salting overnight is ideal.) This will enhance the sear or caramelization process when they finally hit the grill.

Henshaw’s go-to marinade recipe is simple and encourages you to play the classic pandemic substitution game where you utilize the ingredients you have on hand. In a blender, process one onion (roughly chopped), a few cloves of garlic, and either a half of a bunch of herbs (cilantro/chives/parsley) or a tablespoon of your favorite spice (like cumin or coriander). You can also use a combination of herbs and spices. Add salt, to taste, and as it’s blending, slowly stream in one cup of vegetable oil. It’s a recipe that’ll work well for most veggies, says Henshaw.

“Play around with whatever you have lying around in your fridge — but don’t forget the lemon,” says Henshaw. “After you’re done marinating and you move to the cooking, you’ll want to add a squeeze of lemon just before everything comes off the grill.”

To gear up your grill station, Henshaw recommends getting a long pair of tongs, metal skewers, and a grill basket.

“It’s easy for vegetables to fall through the grates when flipping, so a vegetable basket will make your life a lot easier,” says Henshaw. “You can just shake it and toss everything at once.”

Don’t be afraid to get creative. One of Henshaw’s secret weapons is flash-grilled cilantro stems (30 seconds, grilled as is), which he mixes into soups, stocks, and salsas. And for dessert, grilled fruit is as easy as it gets.

“Pineapple is awesome — just cut it into one-inch-thick slices, and grill five minutes per side on medium to low heat,” says Henshaw.

Eat it straight off the grill or serve it with vanilla ice cream. Henshaw also recommends skewered strawberries and peaches, a perfect topper for angel food cake. Brush the fruit with honey, and grill the skewers for one to two minutes on each side over high heat.

Cheat sheet: Grilling veggies

Treat vegetables with the same care you treat meat. Seasoning is crucial. If you prepare them properly, they can make a satisfying main.

Salt veggies with higher moisture content to eliminate excess water. Sprinkle salt over cut veggies and let sit in a strainer. Drain well before proceeding.

Allow time for marinating. Four to six hours is a good start, but overnight is ideal to let the flavors penetrate the vegetables.

Hit veggies with a squeeze of lemon just before they come off the grill.

A veggie basket will make your life easier. This simple tool lets you toss and flip without fear of anything slipping through the grate.

Think outside the box. From cilantro stems to strawberries, there's plenty that the grill can make delicious.

When grilling, Andrew Henshaw, executive chef of Laser Wolf, loves to utilize shiitake mushrooms, an ingredient he considers to be both hearty and juicy when thrown over the fire.
Courtesy Michael Persico
When grilling, Andrew Henshaw, executive chef of Laser Wolf, loves to utilize shiitake mushrooms, an ingredient he considers to be both hearty and juicy when thrown over the fire.

RECIPES

Shiitake Mushroom Skewers

(Serves 4)

These hearty skewers were among the first entrées on Laser Wolf’s menu. If time allows, let the mushrooms marinate overnight, and serve them with a side of glazed onions (recipe below). “Salty, savory mushrooms with sweet and sour onion hits all the flavor centers,” says Henshaw.

Ingredients
  • 2 pounds shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons plus two teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, roughly chopped (or whatever herb you have in the house; can also swap for 2 tablespoons of dried parsley)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper (if not available, double up on black pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
Directions

Remove stems from the mushrooms and toss the caps with 2 tablespoons of salt. Place in a strainer and allow some of the liquid to drain while you prepare the marinade.

Peel garlic and smash with the broad side of a knife. Add onion, garlic, herbs, pepper, coriander, and 1 teaspoon salt to a food processor or blender. Begin pureeing on low speed. Once everything is liquefied, turn to high speed and slowly stream in the oil.

Transfer to a container. Marinade may be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Starting with about ½ cup, toss the mushrooms in the marinade, adding more if needed until mushrooms are evenly coated. Let marinate overnight or for at least six hours.

Thread mushrooms onto skewers and grill over medium-high heat for about four minutes per side. When mushrooms are softened all the way through and charred on the outside, remove from the grill. Serve immediately, with glazed onions (see below).

Recipe courtesy Andrew Henshaw, executive chef of Laser Wolf

Glazed Onions

Ingredients
  • 8 ounces pearl onions
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup pomegranate molasses (if needed, substitute honey, any fruit molasses, or 1:1 water-to-sugar simple syrup)
Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the onions in the vinegar, salt, and vegetable oil. Place in an 8-x-8-inch dish.

Bake for 20 minutes. Onions can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for up to five days, covered tightly. When ready to grill, toss them with the molasses and grill (preferably in a grill basket, or carefully directly on grates) for four to five minutes, tossing to cook evenly all around.

Recipe courtesy Andrew Henshaw, executive chef of Laser Wolf

Cauliflower Steaks with Beer-Raisin Glaze
Courtesy Gentl and Hyers
Cauliflower Steaks with Beer-Raisin Glaze

Cauliflower Steaks with Beer-Raisin Glaze

(Serves 4)

Grilling helps to improve and intensify the flavor of cauliflower. Turned into “steak,” it’s paired with a beer-raisin glaze that, while simple to make, adds a rich complexity of flavor. For the beer, opt for a malty variety, like a porter, stout, or Belgian ale. Hoppy, bitter beers often taste even more bitter when reduced.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 3 mulato or ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 (12 oz.) cans dark beer
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 2 large heads cauliflower
  • Oil, for coating
  • Pepper, for seasoning
Directions

Wipe grill grates with oil to prevent sticking. Build a two-zone fire. Your high-heat zone should have embers 1 to 2 inches from the cooking surface, with occasional flames licking it. To create your medium-heat zone, nudge the embers 2 to 3 inches lower than that.

To make the glaze, combine raisins, chiles, beer, butter, and salt in a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Move the pan to medium heat and simmer until the liquid has thickened and is syrupy, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and discard the chiles. Set aside.

Meanwhile, trim the leaves and stem from a cauliflower and place it stem side up on a cutting board. Starting where the florets attach to the core, slice vertically at 1-inch intervals; you should end up with two or three “steaks” and loose florets from either end (reserve these for another purpose, such as adding to a salad or grilling as a side dish for another meal). Repeat with the other cauliflower.

Rub the cauliflower steaks with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place directly on the grates over high heat and cook until well-charred in spots, about 4 minutes, then flip and repeat on the other side. Move to medium heat and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, turning often. Cauliflower is done when a fork pierces it easily. Serve with a drizzle of the glaze, making sure each serving gets a few raisins.

Reprinted with permission from The Outdoor Kitchen by Eric Werner, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.

Grilled Zucchini Steak with Green Olives, Cilantro, and Tomato [ONLY FOR STORY SLUG CVGRILL]
Courtesy Michael Spain-Smith
Grilled Zucchini Steak with Green Olives, Cilantro, and Tomato [ONLY FOR STORY SLUG CVGRILL]

Grilled Zucchini Steak with Green Olives, Cilantro, and Tomato

(Serves 4)

Zucchini on the grill is one of chef Rich Landau’s (Vedge and V Street) favorite summer dishes. For this rendition, be sure to cut the zucchini thick enough so that it doesn’t collapse on the grill and avoid overcooking. The end result should be a little crunchy and bright.

Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 zucchini, each sliced lengthwise into 3 equal-sized planks (about 2 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ¾ cup diced tomatoes
  • ¼ cup drained, sliced pimiento-stuffed green olives (or any olive you have available)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Directions

Make the marinade by whisking 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl with the soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of the pepper, and the balsamic vinegar. Brush the zucchini planks on all sides with the marinade.

Set your grill on high and char each side until you see clearly defined grill marks, 3 to 4 minutes total. Arrange the grilled zucchini on a serving dish.

To make the sauce, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. When the oil begins to ripple, add the garlic and brown for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olives, salt, and remaining 1 teaspoon pepper. Continue to cook for 3 minutes, then add the stock and cook until it reduces by one quarter, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cilantro, then pour the dressing over the grilled zucchini and serve.

Recipe from Vedge: 100 Plates Large and Small That Redefine Vegetable Cooking, copyright © Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, 2013. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment.

Grilled Eggplant with Spicy Chimichurri

(Serves 2)

Charred and smoky, these eggplant slices develop a crusty exterior with an extra creamy inside. They’re topped with a bright and pungent chimichurri, and can be served either warm or at room temp.

Ingredients

For chimichurri:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 serrano pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ¹⁄₃ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
  • Kosher salt, to taste

For eggplant:

  • 1 large eggplant, cut into ¾-inch slices
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ancho chili
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup grapeseed oil, plus more for grill
Directions

To make chimichurri: In a food processor or mortar, combine all ingredients except olive oil and salt. Pulse (or grind with pestle) until finely minced. Scrape sides of bowl. Continue to pulse (or grind), and add just enough olive oil in a thin stream to create a thick but pourable dressing. Add salt, to taste. Set aside.

To cook eggplant: Prepare outdoor grill for medium-high direct heat (400—450˚F).

Combine spices in small dish. Brush one side of eggplant slices with grapeseed oil, then season with spice mixture. Flip eggplant slices and repeat.

Brush grill grates lightly with grapeseed oil. Place eggplant on grill. Cook about 5 minutes, or until grill marks form. Flip and cook until eggplant is tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to serving platter.

Drizzle with chimichurri. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Courtesy Angela Davis for Wine Enthusiast