Grilled food seems like such a luxury to me and it’s strange because setting wood on fire is one of the most instinctual, ever-evolving cooking techniques. Grilled vegetables and mushrooms are one of my favourite things to eat when the weather warms up. The smoke flavour imparted when it’s all laid on the grates of a classic Weber is one of the first tastes that signals summertime.
Growing up in Goa, we didn’t have a fancy grill in our backyard. Indian people do everything for show. So my dad got a few bricks laid in the front of the house in the shape of a rectangle and he fit in a metal grate on top. There were vents on the side and 3 seats right next to it for sitting of setting down drinks. Grilling the food required his 6 foot something tall frame to hunch down to turn the skewers for even char. I don’t remember eating any of the meat but I do remember the camaraderie of those evenings. The days were always too hot to consider lighting a fire but the nights were just right. If there’s one huge difference between grilling in India versus here in America, it is that.
The reasons I love grilling so much are many but the one right on top how humbling it is. You could spend years cooking over a stove in the kitchen and still start from scratch with a grill. Mastering a live fire is an art form all in itself. It’s funny to me how BBQ books and websites will sell you all these great products to tame the whole experience when in fact they all just distract you. Every fire is different. Adaptation is the only way to tasty food. But I’m just a woman. What would I know? LOL
A lot and all thanks to my dad who wasn’t the slightest bit concerned about gender roles and was more interested in perfecting his biryani or yogurt marinade for chicken to be cooked in a metal drum tandoor oven. I know how important it is to have a balanced, flavourful marinade for almost any hardy vegetable (or meat) to hit the coals. Piling it all together in a bowl of greens is a surefire way of setting dinner up for success. I also know that a table full of food is less important than the company seated around it. And the best way to eat well involves using your fingers.
Fire up that grill then and invite people over. Pour a few drinks, round up some chairs and talk about life. If this isn’t luxury living, I don’t know what is.
(Want to become a grill champ? Here are some handy (and comprehensive) tips that can help you on your journey.)
Vegetarian mixed grill salad w/ balsamic portobello mushrooms
Eating a portobello mushroom is akin to eating a juicy piece of meat. Of course, neither are replacements for the other and that’s not what I’m advocating here. There’s something about a mushroom the size of your hand that soaks in whatever delicious marinade you dress it with in a matter of minutes. It’s an easy fancy dinner or a side, as a sandwich or folded in roti. Whatever you do with it, you won’t be disappointed in these flavours.
If you’re making this on a charcoal grill, keep watch over the mushrooms and vegetables and move them around if you want less blackening on them. I cook the mushrooms adjacent to the direct heat at first and then move them to the middle for a minute before flipping them and moving them back away form the direct heat. It’s easy to get this recipe right so play with add-ins as much as you prefer once you get the vegetables all grilled.
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 6 basil leaves, minced
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 portobello mushrooms, brushed clean and stemmed
- 4 medium carrots
- 2 red or yellow bell peppers, seeded and sliced in half
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp onion powder
- Salt, to taste
- Spicy salad greens mix
- 1 avocado
- Fresh thyme
- Poppy seeds
- Lime, cut into wedges
Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, garlic, basil, salt and pepper in a small bowl until it’s a smooth mixture. Put the portobello mushrooms in a large bowl and pour the marinade over them. Using your hands, coat them with the marinade, cover the bowl and set it in the refrigerator for an hour. You can do this step on the morning of your grilling adventure.
Place the carrots and bell peppers on a baking sheet and pour the olive oil over them. Rub the paprika, onion powder and salt over them using your fingers and set aside.
Turn on your grill to medium heat (for gas grills) or prepare it for direct heat and let it get to medium (for charcoal grills). All tips here
Remove the mushrooms from the marinade (save the marinade to use for future salad dressings) and place them on the grill along with the carrots and bell peppers. Cook everything for about 5-6 minutes on each side. You will notice the mushrooms getting softer/limp, which is how you’ll know they’re ready. The carrots and bell peppers are done when they can be pierced with a fork and develop beautiful char marks. Move the mushrooms and vegetables to cooler spots on the grill if you feel they are cooking too fast or unevenly.
Take the mushrooms and vegetables off the grill, let them cool before slicing them vertically.
Pile the bottom of a serving bowl with salad greens, and then layer the grilled food on top of them. Slice an avocado vertically and lay it on top of the mushroom/veggies. Sprinkle fresh thyme and poppy seeds over the salad and squeeze lime juice on top. Dress with some of the leftover balsamic marinade and serve warm or at room temperature.
Follow all the above steps until you get to the cooking part.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Spread the marinated mushrooms, seasoned carrots and bell peppers on a baking sheet making sure they are not too close together (this helps them crisp up, trust me). Cook for mushrooms for 20 minutes, flipping them over at the halfway point. They are done when they collapse a little bit. Let them cool and then slice.
Allow the carrot and peppers to keep cooking for 10-15 additional minutes, turning them once during cooking. The skins of both should look charred and the carrots will develop crispy parts. Take them out of the oven and let them cool before slicing them vertically.
Pile the bottom of a serving bowl with salad greens, and then layer the grilled food on top of them. Slice an avocado and lay it on top of the mushroom/veggies. Sprinkle fresh thyme and poppy seeds over the salad and squeeze lime juice on top. Dress with some of the leftover balsamic marinade and serve warm or at room temperature.