Some things in life come easily. Others, you have to wait for. After all, you can grill up a steak just about anytime you want, but when it comes to things like baby squash and farm fresh eggplant, there’s a decidedly limited window.
Grilling adds wonderful depth of flavour and nuance to vegetables, and has the added bonus of drying them out, concentrating both flavour and sugars. I can honestly say that there’s no season during which I don’t love vegetables.
Grilled veggies are also remarkably wine-friendly, and for those days when you still feel like a carnivore, they can round out a meaty meal in relatively healthy fashion. I tend to gravitate towards three familiar vegetables for grilling — eggplant, mushrooms and squash — and I’ve included a pair of recipes for each here to spark creativity on how to add diversity to the produce-deprived grilling repertoire.
Here’s one way to use grilled vegetables that’s often overlooked: add them to all your other recipes. Consider using grilled onions or peppers next time you’re making paella, a batch of tomato sauce, or a stew to really punch up the flavours and add a new twist to a familiar dish. Don’t even get me started on how great grilled veggies like jalapenos and tomatillos can be when making salsas and sauces. And, of course, adding grilled veggies to sandwiches, salads and appetizer platters is a terrific way to give a summery accent to your menu.
Southeast Asian Grilled Eggplant Salad
Let’s kick things off with savoury, spicy take on simple grilled eggplant. I like grilling eggplant because it creates a finished dish with a lovely blend of textures, creamy on the inside, crisp on the outside. The sweet, earthy flavour of eggplant seems ideally suited to be blended with the smoky influence of the grill, and layering on all the seasonings used in this recipe really create a flavour explosion. This is a dish that works well as the main course or a side dish, and in either case, you’re going to need a rather bold wine. I like the idea of pairing this dish with a rich, slightly creamy and spicy wine, like a white Rhône blend.
Grilled Eggplant with Olive, Orange and Anchovy Vinaigrette
Here’s another take on grilled eggplant with a decidedly Mediterranean kick. The complexity here is fabulous, blending salty olives and anchovies with the flavours, but not the sweetness of oranges. This looks like it would be a brilliant side dish for some grilled fish, but it also sounds delicious on its own, though some assertive flavours could make wine pairing a bit tricky. This should be paired with a high acid, bracing and palate-cleansing wine, red or white. If you go for white, make sure it offers a blend of richness, minerality and verve that would work perfectly with this dish, adding in an additional layer of tropical fruit flavours.
Grilled Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Grilled mushrooms come as close to being meaty as any vegetable you can grill, but in this case we’re taking a bit of an unexpected turn towards faux carbs. These stuffed mushrooms are more like gluten-free pizzas than steaks, and make for delicious snacks, appetizers or side dishes (and if you feel like it, you can slap one on a bun and make a hand pizza out of it!). This recipe can be paired with any wines you’d pair with pizza, and without the yeasty crust, it’s even easier to make a great match. I’m thinking a fruity, bright red wine would be just the ticket here and it might as well be Barbera, one of the best bets for any pizza-style dish. Look for one that’s crisp and light, with refreshing acidity but not so much depth that it might overpower the relatively mild flavours of the grilled mushroom.
Grilled Oyster Mushrooms
Yes, this is a very simple recipe for a side dish, but these grilled mushrooms can be so much more. They’re awesome as part of an appetizer platter and make for a super sandwich: the grilled oyster mushroom po’boy! Given its clear, distinct flavours, you want to be careful when pairing this dish. For best results, make sure to select a wine that has the same blend of subtlety and complexity as the mushrooms. You really can go either way here, with a white or a red wine, but there is one wine that would be absolutely terrific, so let’s stick with that, and it’s a rosé, especially one with a blend of earthiness and fruit.
Indian-Spiced Grilled Baby Squash
Here’s another great grilled recipe that makes for nice hors d’oeuvres or a toss-in for a salad. The clean, delicate sweetness of baby squash is nicely accented by the assertive spices used in this dish, and everything is knit together with a touch of mint and set off by the sweet flavours of the grilled onion. For such a simple recipe, there’s actually a lot going on here, and for pairing purposes, this calls for something equally minty and spicy, yet fresh and precise like the flavours of the squash. It’s touchy to find a wine like that, but a very fine dry Gewürztraminer would be great here. Look for one with the crispness of cool climate wines.
Grilled Garlic-Marinated Baby Zucchini
This is simplicity itself. Take baby vegetables and just grill them with a touch of garlic and spices. I would also experiment a bit by tossing the grilled vegetables with some freshly snipped herbs to add another layer of flavour here, one that simply complements the rather subtle flavours of the baby vegetables rather than masking them. I love having grilled baby vegetables in the fridge, they’re great for a quick pasta dish or adding a splash of colour and burst of flavour to salads.
When pairing baby vegetables with wine, you really want a wine that’s also rather simple and fresh (not that wine experts are ever supposed to be promoting the idea that a simple wine can sometimes be the best wine for a pairing). Try a white wine that’s slightly sparkling, very dry, with high acidity and low alcohol, similar to Txacoli (or Txakoli, or Txakolina) from the Basque region of Northern Spain.