My love for grilled flavor in frozen and canned vegetables grew from a love of freshly grilled garden goodies. Long before the technique became essential for frozen eggplant puree and jars of pasta sauce and tomatillo salsa, we were grilling vegetables and immediately stuffing them into our mouths.
Although the grilled food I encountered as a kid was mainly meat, one summer treat at the family home consisted of sticks of shish kebabs. Unlike the traditional Middle Eastern meat sticks, these were mainly veg. Perhaps it was just a ploy to get little girls to eat vegetables: let them choose food to thread on sticks and spin on the grill grate until charred. I’m pretty sure my early choices were black olives, potato, and pineapple, but I eventually developed a taste for anything cooked over coals. I still rely on a version of my mom’s marinade—and grill an extra bell pepper for the next day’s munchies.
Shish Kebabs with Garlic–Soy Marinade
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons grilled tomato, pureed
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
Cut the larger vegetables into 1-inch cubes or pieces; leave small mushrooms and cherry tomatoes whole. Combine all the vegetables in a large bowl. For the marinade, combine all remaining ingredients. Whisk thoroughly by hand to blend the oil into the marinade, and then pour it immediately over the vegetables. Let sit for at least 1 hour.
Thread the medley of vegetables onto skewers, leaving plenty of room at each end for turning; strain the remaining marinade and set aside. Place the skewers on a hot grill and cook about 5 minutes, until lightly charred on that side, before turning and cooking another 5 minutes; work in batches if necessary. Layer the grilled skewers in a large dish and serve immediately. Offer the reserved marinade as a dipping sauce or to pour over any accompanying grains or greens. Serves 4–6.
Tips & Tricks
- I generally plan 3/4–1 pound of vegetables per person if serving shish kebabs as the main course with just some rice, couscous, or quinoa; they’re also great on salad greens. As a side, this recipe can feed 8–10.
- I often make kebabs as one of many options for a gathering and simply add whatever’s ready in the garden until I fill a bowl. I like to have a couple of ears of corn and extra sweet pepper on hand to throw on the grill as soon as it’s hot. These can be tossed into a quick salsa (see below) to serve while everyone’s loading their skewers—and keep them from just eating the marinated kebab veggies raw.
- Most vegetables can go onto the skewers raw because they cook quickly. Potatoes are an exception. Parboil them to ensure they cook through: Cut the scrubbed potatoes into 1-inch pieces, put them in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil over high heat, and boil for about 5 minutes, until they can just be pricked with a fork. Drain well before adding to the marinade.
- You can certainly add meat to this dish; shrimp will go off quickly and can be mixed in with the vegetables, but thick cuts of chicken or red meat may need to be skewered and grilled separately to ensure they are cooked through. If you’re adding meat to the marinade, pour it into a small pan and boil it for 2 minutes before using as a sauce.
- We have a couple of sets of reusable metal skewers that work beautifully. If you’re using bamboo ones, soak them in water for a few minutes before you load on the vegetables to keep them from becoming black and brittle.
Twice as Tasty
No matter how we stagger planting or varieties, our corn all comes ripe in a few short weeks. This is great for freezing; we’ll pick a dozen ears, grill them in one go, and then strip off the kernels and fill freezer bags. But who can resist fresh corn? A couple of ears always end up slathered in lime butter at that night’s dinner, and some are often set aside for fresh salsa.
The classic corn, sweet pepper, and black bean combination works beautifully when the veggies are grilled. Keep the grilling light so that the peppers hold their shape in the salsa; you’re looking to add just a bit of char to the crunch, rather than soften and peel them as you would for Romesco Sauce. We love the Gypsy variety, which is sweet with just a hint of heat and shaped more like a poblano than a bell. It holds that shape beautifully when grilled, also making it perfect for skewering or stuffing.
Corn, Bean, and Pepper Salsa
2 ears of corn, still in their husks
2 tablespoons fresh or grilled red onion, finely diced
2 cloves fresh or 4 cloves roasted garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
1/2 cup cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Grill the pepper and corn, leaving the pepper on for just 2 minutes per side and turning and grilling the corn about 12 minutes total. Let both sit until just cool enough to handle. Peel any sections of deeply blackened skin from the pepper before dicing. Stand an ear of corn on the cob’s flat end in a wide, shallow bowl. Slice cooled corn kernels off each cob, running a sharp knife down the side of the ear and rotating the cob after each pass.
Combine the pepper pieces and corn kernels, with the onion, garlic, cilantro, and black beans, tossing to mix. In a small glass measuring cup, blend the vinegar, lime juice, and spices. Pour the vinaigrette over the corn mixture and stir until coated. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Serve warm or chilled with tortilla chips or over grilled seafood. Makes about 2 cups.
Tips & Tricks
- You only need half a pepper for a single batch, so you can slice the rest into chunks for Shish Kebabs. But if you’re feeding a crowd, plan to double the recipe; it goes fast.
- I often just add raw red onion to this salsa, since it gives a nice bite. Instead, you could lay a couple of rings of red or sweet yellow onion directly on the grill for a minute or two each side and then dice them for the salsa.
- Fresh garlic works well in this recipe, but the mellower flavor of garlic that has been roasted on the grill or in an oven is also lovely. I always add a bit of extra garlic when using roasted; it’s too delicious to resist.
- I always cook more dried black beans than I need so I can mix a few into dishes such as this. But store-canned ones work just as well in a pinch. I look for the can with no additional flavorings and the least amount of salt—which surprisingly, isn’t always the organic version.
- This salsa is best fresh, but it can be made in winter with ingredients that have been grilled and frozen. Be sure to drain them completely after defrosting. You can even toss them into a dry frying pan and heat them briefly, stirring constantly, to crispen them up a bit.