Burgers, steaks, and chicken are all well and good, but don't let vegetables become an afterthought this Labor Day! Not only will a few carefully chosen vegetable dishes round out and lighten up a spread of heavy meats, having the grill already fired up and ready to go will make producing tasty side dishes a snap, since so many veggies are arguably at their best when cooked over live fire.
To help you ensure your side dishes are just as exciting as the main event, we've rounded up 21 of our favorite grilled-vegetable recipes, including crisp charred broccolini with XO sauce, sweet grilled summer squash with chimichurri, and the hands-down best way to serve grilled corn, ever.
Grilling asparagus is so simple, you barely need a recipe for it: Just toss the trimmed asparagus stalks with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then throw them on the hottest part of your grill for a few minutes. We recommend picking up fatter asparagus spears that won't fall between the grates. Serve your charred asparagus with Two-Minute Aioli flavored with harissa, sumac and mint, or tarragon and lemon.
Want to make sure your grilled asparagus lives up to its full potential? Make your chimney starter do double duty: Place a small wire rack over the starter to use as a mini grill for your vegetables, before you dump the coals out over the grate and start working on the meat. The concentrated heat from a cylinder full of burning coals is just what your crisp green vegetables need to stay crisp as they cook, instead of turning limp. Here, we use the technique to produce bright and snappy charred asparagus spears, which go great with a side of Green Goddess Dressing for dipping.
The same chimney-starter method works wonders for tender-crisp broccolini stalks, lending just the right amount of char. For an excellent foil to the sweetness of broccolini, try salty, savory XO sauce, whether store-bought or homemade.
Snap peas can be a challenge to grill using traditional methods—small and slippery, prone to falling through grates or burning to a crisp while you attempt to flip them with tongs. That alone is reason enough to try our chimney-starter method for these seasonal delicacies, but you'll also get better results: evenly blistered beans that retain plenty of the snap in their name. A creamy buttermilk dressing flavored with fresh dill complements them nicely.
Trying to cook leeks entirely on the grill is a waste of time and coals; instead, try softening them in boiling water before grilling them just until they're charred. Mildly oniony grilled leeks are wonderful paired with romesco, an incredibly versatile Catalonian sauce made with peppers, nuts, and tomatoes.
Speaking of romesco and its many uses, this grilled-vegetable salad, inspired by a Catalonian dish called xató, is dressed with a sauce that's very similar—though, in this case, the tomatoes, chilies, hazelnuts, and almonds also get treated to a little time on the grill before they're puréed. The brightness of sherry vinegar balances out those darker, smoky flavors in the sauce, which is tossed with grilled endive and scallions or spring onions. This is the perfect side dish to make on a day when all you want to do is clack your tongs by the grill.
These glazed carrots are quite a bit more time-consuming than many other grilled dishes, but they're totally worth the wait. After roughly 45 minutes to an hour over medium-high heat, the thick slabs of carrot turn deeply sweet and tender. We glaze them with a mixture of honey and soy sauce for a nice salty-sweet contrast.
Even though mushrooms contain a ton of water, they're prone to drying out on the grill. Basting them with a flavorful liquid (in this case, a combination of butter and soy sauce) throughout the cooking process keeps them perfectly moist. For extra flavor and crunchy texture, we add a nutty dressing of roasted sesame seeds, mirin, and soy sauce.
Potato salad is a standard cookout side—often a little too standard. It's rare to find a potato salad that truly feels novel, but that's exactly what this dish is. After parboiling new potatoes, we smash them up lightly in a bowl, which coats them with a thin film of starch that'll turn especially crispy on the grill. The smoky, charred grilled potatoes are finished with a vinaigrette made with grilled lemons—a touch of fire helps bring out the lemons' sweetness—instead of a mayo-based dressing.
While we're busy updating classic sides, how about replacing coleslaw with grilled cabbage? (Though it is completely possible to make a better coleslaw, too!) Cabbage takes on a sweet, nutty flavor when grilled over roaring coals. Here, we dress it wedge salad–style, with blue cheese dressing, cherry tomatoes, and bacon bits (optional, if you want to keep the dish vegetarian).
While this Midwestern boy is never going to complain about a plain old grilled ear of corn, that doesn't mean there isn't significant room for improvement. This Mexican classic makes perfectly grilled corn even better by slathering it with a creamy sauce made of mayo, crema, Cotija cheese, garlic, cilantro, and powdered chili. Make plenty of the sauce and stock up on extra corn, because this is going to be a hit.
Corn on the cob is fun but notoriously messy to eat. If you want a side dish that's a little more refined, consider using corn as the base for a salad instead. This one pairs grilled corn with ripe local tomatoes, salty feta cheese, and fresh herbs—parsley, mint, and basil. It's a simple dish, which means the quality of your ingredients is of paramount importance. As long as you start with the absolute best corn and tomatoes you can find, the salad needs no dressing beyond a little lemon juice and olive oil. (Before you make this salad, read up on our preferred method for cutting corn kernels off the cob—or, maybe a corn stripper is the right unitasker for you.)
Cauliflower is at its best when cooked over high heat, so that the outside crisps up without the insides turning to mush. That makes it ideal for the grill. For this purpose, cutting the cauliflower into large steaks is safer than cutting it into florets, since the latter are bound to fall through the grates. Here, we flavor the cauliflower with an earthy blend of spices like turmeric, cumin, and coriander.
The grill does double duty in this spin on the Italian-American standby, first cooking the eggplant slices until they're browned and tender, then heating them through once they've been rolled around a cheesy mixture of ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, provolone, and basil. During the final cook, the rollatini are nestled into an easy marinara sauce that's nevertheless way better than anything from a jar.
Personally, I'm all for recipes that involve four different kinds of cheese, but if you prefer a lighter take on an eggplant roll-up, this is the dish for you. This recipe starts off by grilling eggplant slices, just as in the recipe above, but fills them with chopped tomatoes and cucumber and a bright, creamy Greek yogurt spread flavored with refreshing mint and dill.
Though the grilled onions, zucchini, and tomatoes tossed in a red wine vinaigrette are perfectly delicious, the real star here is the halloumi, a salty, squeaky Cypriot cheese that's firm enough to be grill-friendly. Cubes of halloumi turn golden and crisp-edged over the coals, pairing beautifully with the brighter flavors of the vegetables. Try stuffing the contents of these skewers into warm pita with tzatziki sauce for a sandwich.
Plain old grilled-vegetable skewers may sound about as exciting as standard-issue potato salad, but a punchy balsamic vinaigrette is just the thing to liven them up. A medley of vegetables—zucchini, squash, red onion, bell peppers, and grape tomatoes—get tossed with the vinaigrette before they're grilled and dressed with it after, to maximize the impact of the vinaigrette's flavor.
This salad is tailor-made for cookouts, particularly because most of the work—making a quick vinaigrette and adding radishes, scallions, and red peppers—can be done before your guests arrive. All that's left to do after that is quickly char the green beans and incorporate them into the salad. That basic technique works with all sorts of other ingredient combinations, too; try a variation made with grilled broccolini, pickled chili peppers, olive oil, red onion, and lemon juice.
Served raw, radicchio and trevisano are a little too bitter for my tastes, but on the grill they become sweet and succulent. In this simple recipe, we char halved heads of radicchio and serve them with olive oil, gorgonzola, and saba, a sweet syrup made from grape must, though any sort of balsamic vinegar–based condiment will work in its place. Want a vegan variation? Try dressing grilled radicchio or trevisano with a sour-sweet cherry gastrique instead, for a bold mix of flavors that's a great accompaniment to whole grilled fish, grilled chicken, or other simple mains.
If you're grilling up yakitori for your cookout and already have a batch of homemade teriyaki sauce ready, it's the easiest thing in the world to throw on a batch of shishito peppers for a side dish. Double-skewer the peppers to make them easier to flip, grill them for just a couple of minutes until they're browned and crisp, brush with teriyaki sauce, and you're ready to eat.
Chimichurri, the Argentinean herb sauce usually made with parsley, can play multiple roles at a cookout, as it's equally good with grilled meat or vegetables. Here, we dress up humble grilled zucchini and summer squash with a piquant mix of onion, garlic, red wine vinegar, parsley, cilantro, and jalapeños for heat.
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