Beyond Burgers: Fun Foods You Can GrillTurn Up the Heat for a Nutritious, Balanced Meal
-- By Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian
An outdoor grill lets you cook up a tasty, healthful meal while creating a great atmosphere for chatting with friends and family on a warm summer evening. But after months of grilling out, you may grow tired of the same old chicken breasts and turkey burgers.
Lucky for you, grilling isn’t just for burgers, steaks and chicken! You can use this fantastic backyard appliance to cook up many other foods that you may not have considered grilling!
With so many exciting grilling options, your microwave and oven are going to gather dust during the warmer months. Below are some favorites sure to please a crowd! Get ready to fire up your propane-fueled friend to put a new spin on some of your favorite foods.
Pizza doesn't have to be baked in an oven. Grilling your next homemade pizza will get you out of the hot kitchen. And when you choose the right toppings, your homemade pie will be both healthful and delicious! Grab a premade whole-wheat crust from your local grocer and start piling away! Use your choice of sauce, such as tomato, pesto, barbeque, or plain olive oil, and top with copious amounts of sliced veggies. To keep fat and calories in check, use a small amount of lean meat (or no meat) and watch your cheese portions. Part-skim mozzarella is an excellent choice. Here are some crowd-tested favorites:
- Olive oil, minced garlic, diced chicken, fresh basil and sun-dried tomatoes
- Barbecue sauce, canned chunk chicken, sliced onions and diced pineapple
- Pesto sauce, canned artichokes, mushrooms and low-fat feta cheese
- Tomato sauce, chopped broccoli, sliced zucchini, banana peppers and sliced tomatoes
Quesadillas can be cooked on the grill, too. Like pizza, the sky's the limit when selecting quesadilla ingredients. Choose cheese, veggies, beans, onions, corn and more. Place one whole-wheat tortilla on the grill, sprinkle with a bit of cheese, add other toppings, then sprinkle with a bit more cheese and top it off with a second tortilla. Grilled both sides, using a spatula to flip the ‘dilla and press down slightly as the cheese melts. Remove from the grill once it’s browned and melty, cut into wedges and enjoy with salsa!
Fresh fruit from the grill is a great summertime treat! The heat of the grill caramelizes the natural sugars found in fruit, leaving you with an amazing dessertlike dish that is full of fiber and vitamins but not calories! Try placing whole bananas (peeled), or sliced peaches directly on the grill. Skewer whole strawberries. Add your favorite fruits to a meat (or tofu) and veggie kabob for additional color and flavor. Apple, pineapple and pear slices are also great on the grill. (Remember that larger is better to prevent burning.) Pair the grilled fruits with your salad, eat them as-is for a sweet side dish, use them to top your protein source, or indulge in an after-dinner treat of frozen yogurt with grilled fruit. Some great combos are grilled apple slices over pork tenderloin cuts, grilled pears with low-fat feta cheese over a bed of salad greens, and grilled pineapple with brown rice, mushroom and grilled chicken breast. The possibilities are endless!
Corn on the cob is generally boiled in water on the stovetop, but it is delicious when prepared on the grill. The trick? Soak the corn in cold water for 10-15 minutes, then transfer them (husks intact) to the hot grill. Cook for 3 minutes on one side, then rotate 180 degrees for 3 more minutes. Then, carefully remove the ears and shuck the corn, removing husks and silk. Place the husked corn on the grill for about 5 minutes, rotating frequently. Your guests will be impressed with the fancy look of the grill marks on the corn, which will have a slightly smoky taste. The corn will be so sweet and moist, you won't need butter or salt!
Zucchini and summer squash are delicious, vitamin-packed additions to any summer meal. Both are easy to grill. Cut them on the diagonal to create strips that won’t fall through the grates of the grill. You can also cut the veggies lengthwise into quarters (to resemble pickle spears) to ease the grilling process. Brush the sides of each strip with olive or canola oil and grill to desired tenderness. For extra flavor, you can sprinkle the veggies with your favorite dried herbs. Or try crushed red pepper for a spicy kick! <pagebreak>
Asparagus hot off the grill is especially good. Lightly coat the washed, trimmed spears with olive or canola oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper (optional). You can lay the spears directly on the grill (crosswise) for about 5 minutes or until they reach your preferred tenderness. If you're nervous about the spears falling into the flames below, you can make foil pockets for your asparagus (see below) or buy an asparagus basket.
Tomatoes and peppers take on a great smoky flavor when grilled. Leave them whole and place them over the hottest part of the grill. When the skin is black and blistered, the vegetables are ready. Allow them to cool, then remove the charred skin and the stem and seeds (only for peppers). Do not rinse the vegetables after grilling or you will lose flavor. Chop them and combine with other vegetables for a salsa with a smoky kick, throw them on salads or place slices of roasted peppers on sandwiches. Roasted tomatoes are especially tasty when smashed on a good piece of bread. Any sweet or hot pepper can be roasted, and Roma or plum tomatoes are sturdy enough to endure grilling.
Foil pockets are a great way to grill a variety of veggies that might be too small to place directly on the grill surface. Veggies that work well in a pocket include white potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, onion slices, zucchini, squash, green beans, asparagus, artichokes, garlic cloves, mushrooms, and all types of peppers—sweet or hot. When preparing your veggies for grilling, cut or slice into pieces of uniform size and thickness so they cook evenly. Root veggies (like potatoes and carrots) may need a splash of water in the pocket to help create some steam.
To make a foil pocket, use heavy-duty aluminum foil. Lay out a large single sheet, spray one side with cooking spray, and fold foil in half. Crimp or fold over two of the open sides, leaving one side open to insert your vegetables. Once you tuck the veggies inside, add seasonings, then crimp the opening so the pocket is completely closed. (Be sure to fold this side loosely to make checking in on your masterpiece a cinch.) Now you’re now ready to hit the grill! Grill the pocket on the top rack of your grill where temperatures are a bit lower. Flip the pocket once halfway through cooking using oven mitts—not tongs or a fork, which might pierce the pocket. Cooking time will vary depending on size, type and amount of veggies you grill, but most veggies will cook in a foil pocket within 25-30 minutes.
With so many dishes to choose, you’ll be itching to fire up your grill nightly to show off your newfound grill skills to your family, friends and neighbors. Don't worry—we won't tell them it's good for them if you don't!
Need more great grilling ideas? Check out our e-book, ''SparkPeople's Ultimate Grilling Guide: 75 Hearty, Healthy Recipes You Can Really Sink Your Teeth Into.'' Get it on Amazon.com and get grilling!