Grilling once was a mostly meaty pursuit, pursued in suburban backyards by men toting large sacks of charcoal briquettes and freely squirting lighter fluid.
Back then, the only time a vegetable saw the grill was in the sturdy company of steak and a kebab skewer. Perhaps the stereotype is a tiny bit exaggerated, but the rise of grilling in fine restaurants in the 1980s - a.k.a. the mesquite years - and the increasing sophistication of gas grills have broadened what might be called grill cuisine.
Thus, vegetarians, who also like smoky flavors and the pleasures of an outdoor meal, need no longer resign themselves to a plate of potato salad at the cookout. But they also don't have to stick to inexpertly charred zucchini.
Outdoor cooks are increasingly seeing the grill as an adjunct stove and adjusting their cooking methods accordingly.
Take roasting, for example. While veggies often get the low and slow treatment in a winter oven, grillmeisters are finding summer vegetables also take well to such treatment.
“It has a tendency to bring out the natural sweetness of the vegetable, rather than a charred (flavor),” says Jon Pell, owner and chef of Sunflower Restaurant in Boulder, Colo.
Onions take particularly well to the method. Pell likes to take a yellow onion and hollow it out about halfway down. He fills it with garlic cloves and fresh thyme or rosemary, coats it in extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Pell wraps the onion tightly with foil and puts it on the grill, turning it every 15 minutes for about an hour. When it's done, he sprinkles it with a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
“It's very sweet and really nice,” he says.
Entree-wise, Pell says you can't beat grilled tempeh. He marinates it, cooking it in vegetable stock, Dijon mustard and herbs, lets the tempeh cool and dry, and cuts it in fingers.
“I make an orange-maple barbecue sauce and grill them,” he says. “People like those whether they're vegetarian or not.”
Then there's the chewy, smoky, cheesy goodness of pizza cooked on the grill. Pell makes a grilled pizza with marinated sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, pine nuts and fresh goat cheese.
“When you put it on the grill, the crust gets kind of bubbly, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside,” he says.
Pell generally puts cornmeal-dusted dough, rolled out fairly thin on a well-oiled grill, cooks one side, flips it and puts the toppings on the grilled side; they melt as the other side crisps up. Alternatively, he moves the pizza to a lower heat part of the grill and puts the lid down, allowing it to bake as if it were in an oven.
Rob Linhart, owner of A Fresh Tart in Denver and an instructor at Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder, also likes the flavor of pizza on the grill.
As an added advantage, he says, you can grill the vegetable topping and add it to the pizza.
A particular favorite of his is a pizza with grilled onions, and fresh peas or fava beans, tossed with olive oil and fresh mint.
“That's really a fresh spring kind of thing,” he says. “You get the green of new peas and the background smokiness of the grilled onions. It's a beautiful combination, that one.”
Linhart's all-time favorite is to grill pizza dough, flip it and brush a bit of truffle oil on top.
“It adds a terrific flavor,” he says. If that's too elemental and you feel the need for topping, he suggests continuing the mushroom theme and adding saut