Why be cooped up in your kitchen when warmer days and nights are the perfect excuse to grill up a storm? But, for the sake of a more diversified palate—and, as a bonus, improved nutrition—it’s time to think outside the bun and look at your grill as an ultra-versatile cooking medium that’s ready to prepare all sorts of food, from salty cheese to fruit. Once you get bitten by the alt-food grill bug, you’ll start eyeing everything in the supermarket and farmers market in terms of Will it grill?. Here are some foods that will help you get started.
Grilling a slab of tofu is a surefire way to make the plant-based protein taste, well, more meaty. Plus, a handful of studies have linked consumption of soy foods like tofu with lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol numbers, and potentially less risk of developing certain cancers like breast and ovarian. Plant compounds in soy called isoflavones, as well as perhaps something specific about soy protein itself, are believed to be behind many of tofu’s health benefits.
Depending on the coagulant used during production, like magnesium chloride (called nigari) or calcium sulfate, tofu supplies good amounts of these minerals, too. For grilling, you want to use extra-firm tofu so it’ll hold up on the grill grates.
How to Grill Tofu
- Slice a block of drained tofu along its width into two slabs.
- Line a cutting board with a couple of sheets of paper towel. Top with tofu pieces and a couple more sheets of paper towel. Press gently to extract excess liquid.
- Brush both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper. You can also season the slabs with other flavorings including curry powder or za’atar, or marinade tofu like you would meat for several hours before grilling.
- Grill tofu over medium-high heat on greased grill grates until golden and grill marks appear, about four minutes per side. Give the tofu a 90-degree turn halfway through cooking each side to produce a nice cross-hatch pattern.
Also referred to as “grilling cheese,” salty and fun-to-eat halloumi is a traditional dairy in Cyprus and a popular protein in several Middle Eastern countries. Semi-hard halloumi has a high melting point and won’t ooze through the grill grates; instead, the outside becomes flecked with crispy pieces while the inside turns velvety, all the while holding its shape.
Traditionally made with a combo of sheep and goat milk, halloumi provides bone-friendly calcium and six grams of muscle-building, hunger-taming protein in each one-ounce serving, nearly the same amount you get from grilled chicken breast. Just be aware that it does contain a fair amount of saturated fat and salt, so avoid the temptation to polish off an entire block. With its delicious chewy bite, grilled halloumi is an excellent addition to summer salads, tacos, and pasta salads. You can even treat it like you would a burger and stuff it on a bun with your favorite toppings.
Typically, halloumi is the least expensive when purchased from Middle Eastern or Greek grocers.
How to Grill Halloumi
- Upend a block of halloumi and slice lengthwise into two big slabs.
- Brush with oil and grill until browned with grill marks on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
Or, you can cut the halloumi into one-inch chunks and skewer, kebab-style.
Grilling avocado makes its flesh extra creamy with a hint of smoky flavor. Plus, the fruit provides a payload of fiber, monounsaturated fat, vitamin K, and folate to your summer menu: in a randomized trial, a team of researchers from Penn State found that participants who ate an avocado daily had better quality diets during the six-month study period and experienced improvements in cholesterol.
How to Grill Avocado
- Slice your ripe avocado in half, remove the seed, and brush the flesh with some oil and sprinkle on a bit of salt.
- Place flesh-side down on a hot grill for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until you get some nice grill marks.
- Once it’s off the grill, there are many ways to use your avocado. Scoop out the flesh and mash into guacamole, cube it and add to salads, or slice it and stuff into sandwiches, burgers, and tacos. Or, fill the grilled avocado cavity with salsa and crumbled feta or queso fresco.
If you want to step up your summer salad game, look no further than the grill. Like the usual veggie suspects, hearty kale can also benefit from a touch of char.
A recent study in the journal Neurology found people who ate the greatest quantities of leafy greens per day (an average of 1.3 servings daily) had brains that showed reduced signs of aging. Dark greens like kale are extremely rich in a variety of essential micronutrients and carotenoid antioxidants, like lutein, that can help sharpen your mind.
You want to use Tuscan (dinosaur) kale when you’re firing up the grill, as its sturdy flat leaves are less likely to burn than curly kale, whose edges are prone to singeing.
How to Grill Kale
- Trim tough ends from a bunch of Tuscan kale, place in a bowl and toss with oil.
- In batches, place kale on the grill and cook over medium heat, turning once, until slightly crispy and darkened in a few spots, about 2 minutes.
- Chop kale into 2-inch pieces and place in a large bowl along with other veggies and dressing.
You’ll likely be surprised just how easy mussels are to grill since they come without the risk of the heart-breaking sticking that happens with fish like salmon. And when their brininess meets the smoke of the grill, magic happens.
Not only are these shellfish inexpensive and packed with nutrition including protein, vitamin B12, and heart-healthy omega-3 fats, but they’re also considered one of the most sustainable seafood options you can buy.
How to Grill Mussels
- Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to medium-high.
- Dunk mussels in a large bowl of cold water, stir them around a bit, then drain. Discard any open ones that don’t close shut when tapped.
- Place mussels in a grill basket, close lid, and grill until the shells pop open (4 to 6 minutes). Do this in batches if grilling a couple of pounds of mussels or more.
- Remove mussels from grill and place in a large bowl. Discard any that did not open.
- Squeeze on a generous amount of lemon juice and scatter on a bunch of fresh herbs like parsley.
When heated, naturally occurring sugars in fruit take on a fetching golden color and develop a deep, caramel-like flavor. When you grill peaches, the toasty, sweet, caramelized exterior of this sun-kissed stone fruit contrasts with the soft flesh inside, creating a completely new flavor profile that’s simply irresistible.
Eating more of this quintessential summer fruit helps you load up on immune-boosting vitamin C and a cache of body-benefiting antioxidants.
How to Grill Peaches
- Slice peaches in half, remove pits, and lightly coat flesh sides with oil.
- Grill over medium heat, turning once, until tender and a few dark marks appear, about 5 minutes total.
- Once you’ve pulled your peaches off the grill, you can turn them into a healthy snack or dessert. Just top with dollops of Greek yogurt and chopped pistachios. Or, chop grilled peaches and add them to salsas for meats and tacos.
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