Go ahead, put it on the fire

Tuesday, July 3, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:09 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Local farmers say it’s OK to grill virtually any vegetable as it comes into season — eggplant, mushrooms, okra, tomatoes and even kale.

Rex Roberts of Seasons Farm near Marshall, who specializes in salad greens and tomatoes, grills kale by coating it lightly in oil and heating it on the top shelf of the grill.

“I like the flavor of the vegetable to come through,” Roberts said. Whether it’s kale, squash, sweet peppers, onions or potatoes, he said it’s important to keep a watchful eye on grilling veggies because they often cook much faster than meat.

Jeanette Gieringer of Gieringer Produce in Glasgow, Mo., favors grilling quartered cabbage brushed in olive oil. She said the best way to keep grilled vegetables fresh is to cook them within 24 hours of harvest time and refrain from adding salt until they’re done cooking.

For a robust, smoky flavor, Columbia grower Kenny Duzan likes to grill vegetables over a hot flame and brown them quickly.

An alternative is the Boy Scout-tested method of wrapping chopped veggies in aluminum foil.

Guy Clark of Fertile Crescent Farms has a recipe for grilled garlic he claims is such a hit some people want an entire head to themselves: He takes the whole heads, still in their paper skins, coats them in olive oil, wraps them in foil and then grills them for an hour or so. Once they’re soft to the touch, they’re ready to come off the heat; and the grilled garlic, now a paste, can be squeezed onto bread, crackers and vegetables.

Barbara Nobis, known as “The Pie Lady” at the Columbia Farmers’ Market, likes to slice candy onions and Yukon Gold potatoes, mix them with butter and seasoning, and wrap them in foil. While the foil packet cooks on the top of the grill, she cooks meat below.

Danny Matteson, who became a vegetarian five years ago because he doesn’t want animals killed for food, likes meat alternatives. “There are lots of vegetarian sausage, brats and burger alternatives, so it makes it pretty easy,” Matteson said. “Tofurkey makes a lot of good sausages.”

Alternatives include soy-based varieties like Tofurkey and Boca brand products, seitan or “wheat gluten” products derived from the protein part of wheat, and a fermented soy product called tempeh. These can be cooked and grilled a variety of ways that come close to the realm of meat, adding a protein-rich food source to the grill.

“If you are going to grill with tofu, it’s really important to use the extra-firm kind,” advised Eli Gay, co-owner and chef at Cafe Berlin.

Looking for other options to throw on the flame? “I have thought recently about making pizza on a grill with homemade pita,” Gay said.

And grilling doesn’t need to end with the main course. Gay recommends pears and peaches for dessert. “Fruit is so good grilled.”

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