11 Unconventional, Healthy Foods to Grill to Level up Your Summer Menu
No matter how avid your inner chef is, summer is the time of year when all of us want to break up with cooking just a little bit. Between the heat and the busy schedule of fun, the last thing any of us want to be doing is slaving over the stove or oven inside. That's where the glory of the grill comes in. These 11 ingredients and quick dishes are probably the last things you ever thought about throwing on your barbecue, but they're the first things to throw over the flames to keep cooking fresh, fun and healthy all summer long.
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Brush lightly with olive oil, then grill until the char marks are prominent. Slice them or scoop them out of their skins and throw them into salads or grain bowls, smash them into guacamole, slather them on a burger or eat them as a side dish. (Bonus: If you have under-ripe avocados, this technique takes them from too-hard-to-eat to hard-to-pass-up.)
Stone fruits are the best part of summer, and they're even better when thrown over the grill for a minute. (And, I do mean a minute -- the natural sugar in fruit means that it cooks quickly over the flame, so don't leave them too long!) These babies also love a little brush of olive oil, ghee or coconut oil before hitting the heat, and they're delicious sliced and served in salads, as a side dish or even a healthy fresh dessert with a drizzle of honey. Make a little extra when you cook dinner then store the leftovers in a container in your fridge -- you have the best topping for granola and yogurt in the morning for breakfast.
The fastest, most unfussy route to perfectly steamed corn is via the grill. Dunk unhusked cobs in a little cold water, peeling just a tiny bit of the husk away to help let some water seep in, then throw the whole cob on a very hot grill. After 10-15 minutes, pull back the husk to find perfectly cooked yellow kernels! Remove the husk and char the corn a bit if you wish, or pull the whole charred cob from the fire and serve on the spot with a bit of butter and herbs. Boom.
Looking for a way to up your dressings, side dishes and pretty much everything on your summer table? Slice a citrus fruit in half and drop it on your grill for a few minutes. Then squeeze, stir and spin the juice any way you choose -- in dressings, cocktails, as a simple spritz over meat or fish dishes, or chop up slices of charred fruit and use them as a component in salads of all kinds. The charred flavor adds an extra taste of summer to everything you cook.
Grilled salad? You bet! Romaine is hearty enough to withstand a quick turn on the grill, but delicate enough to balance the charred after-effects of your split second of work. To make this one happen, drop cleaned, fresh-as-can-be heads of romaine onto a hot grill surface then stand by as you watch the whole head take on next-level char. You'll only need a few minutes to see the core of the lettuce wilt and gain a little bit of color, which is a sign to pull it off, drizzle it with your favorite dressing and serve!
There's nothing as next level as a little charred bread with everything. Whether you use fresh slices brushed lightly with ghee or olive oil, or use the grill to transform day-old bread from meh to magnificent, golden-toasted slices are a perfect side dish for your favorite grilled meats, veggies or spreads. You can even crumble them up to use as a topping for your favorite dishes. Or, maybe you're having a little grilled morning? Nothing is as delightful as grilled toast with jam and nut butter.
These little summer veggies need no introduction or prep when it comes to the grill. The high heat of this cooking method softens their oft-bitter flavors and transforms them into something delightful and delightfully versatile. Whether you toss them with olive oil or throw them into the heat raw, you can use slices to adorn salads, dip into hummus, as a component for grain bowls or use radishes and turnips with green tops still attached as a whimsical accompaniment to any protein you may be grilling.
These roots are going to need a little prep before they reach next-level summer splendor. Steam your carrots, beets or potatoes gently in the oven or a pressure cooker to soften them a bit before you slice them in half, toss with olive oil, and transport to the grill. (Make sure the tip of a knife pierces easily!) Once they're charred to perfection, you can serve them as a side dish, toss them into salads ... anywhere you can use a little extra flavor and nutrition. Try your favorite potato salad recipe with grilled potatoes next time -- I promise, you'll win first prize at the potluck!
That's right! Taco night is next level when you get the grill going. Any of your fridge leftovers can become ingredients for the ultimate taco night especially when you toast your tortillas over an open fire. As you've already guessed, these don't need long to get a nice char so stay close once you toss your tortillas on. Then, top with ingredients to your liking!
It's waaay too hot to make homemade pizza, but flatbreads are fabulous, faster and very impressive whether you're cooking for one or for a crowd. To make perfect flatbreads (Read: personal pizzas,) simply brush one side of a piece of pre-packaged pizza dough with olive oil, then slap it on the grill oiled side down. Brush the top with more olive oil, wait 2-3 minutes for the char to make its mark, then flip the dough. Top the grilled side with your favorite ingredients, then serve with delight. This recipe is a favorite fresh twist for summer!
Any of the recipes you make on the stovetop can be transported to a magical next level on the grill. The only catch: Make sure your cookware is up to the task. Choose to cook in cast-iron if you can, to maximize heat transfer, and use a lid to maintain proper cooking temperatures, and you're good to go. Try boiling water for pasta, steaming mussels, toasting nuts and seeds, even baking a cobbler in your backyard kitchen.
When it comes to quick, easy, healthy cooking this summer, the grill is your new best friend. It's a fast-track to fresh meals, and a surefire way to mix up your recipe repertoire. Be bold and experiment with your favorite ingredients and know that so long as you add a little brush of oil to anything you place on the grill, you'll conduct heat easily and have great success in adding flavor and fun to your meals!
Originally published August 2021, updated September 2022
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