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Make Versatile Veggies the Star of Your Next Cookout

June 25, 2020

Meat usually gets all the attention at a backyard barbecue. That’s okay, because the star of the show can only stay the limelight for so long before the supporting cast—in this case, the side dishes—emerge, catching the attention and kudos of adoring diners. As people continue to social distance and take precautions during the ongoing COVID crisis, backyard get-togethers might be smaller, but you can still get creative with seasonal grilled veggie side dishes that will make your family and friends ask for an encore.

Grilled Asparagus with Garlic and Parmesan

This dish contains two of my favorites—asparagus and garlic. Asparagus contains fiber, folate and vitamins A, C, and K, and is believed to aid in digestion. Garlic is known as an immune system booster and possibly improves cardiovascular health. Act fast if you want local asparagus; it is only in season in the upper Midwest during a short time, from late-May through June.

1 pound of fresh asparagus

2 T. olive oil

3 T. freshly grated parmesan, pecorino romano, or grana padano cheese

3 small garlic cloves, minced

1 T. fresh chopped parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare asparagus by rinsing thoroughly. Pat dry and snap off the tough ends. The general consensus among chefs and cooks is that asparagus stems will naturally break at the point where the tough part ends and the tender, edible stem begins.

Lay the asparagus in a single row in a grill-safe pan or on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Sprinkle with enough salt and pepper to taste and toss with olive oil.

Place the pan on the gill; if using aluminum foil, fold foil ends over and seal to form a leak-proof pouch. (Use a second sheet of foil, if necessary.) Use a fork to pierce a few vent holes into the pouch.  Grill on medium heat for about 5 to 8 minutes or until you can see grill marks, or the asparagus can be pierced with a fork.

Remove from heat, place in a pan or serving dish and toss with minced garlic and grated cheese. Sprinkle with fresh parsley.

Portobellos with Leeks and Spinach

This recipe, which I’ve adapted from one of my favorite go-to Martha Stewart concoctions, could easily be a main dish. This contains seasonal favorites such as leeks and spinach. Several local farmers grow mushrooms indoors year-round, so try to seek out locally grown mushrooms when possible.

4 portobello mushroom caps

3 T. canola or sunflower oil

3 T. balsamic vinegar

2 leeks

Coarse salt and ground pepper

2 cups chopped fresh spinach (about 2 ounces)

1 cup crumbled soft goat cheese

Trim dark-green parts from leeks and discard. Slice edible white ends of leeks crosswise and soak in cold water. Swish leeks to help loosen dirt. Repeat with fresh water until you no longer see any grit at bottom of bowl. Remove leek slices from the water, drain and dry them thoroughly on paper towels.

Remove stems from mushroom caps and place each cap, gill sides up, on a grill-safe pan. Drizzle with oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Grill on medium-high heat until caps are just tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove pan from grill and top each mushroom cap with equal parts leeks, spinach, and cheese. Season again with salt and pepper. Return pan to grill and cook over indirect heat until spinach wilts and cheese starts to melt.

Sheila Julson is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine. 

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