We all have recollections of exceptional dining experiences that set a benchmark for flavor. It’s funny how a memorable meal lingers in the mind.
Perhaps a home cook or a restaurant somewhere served you a dish that took you completely by surprise. It was a small epiphany, a window to possibilities. There was a certain feeling of exhilaration, a sense of satisfaction.
Some years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, a dear friend, a very talented cook, invited me to lunch at her beach house. On this day, she was very excited. “We’re having grilled vegetables!” she said in a way that made them sound as luxurious as lobster.
Her outdoor table had a small, rusty hibachi at one end, filled with glowing coals. A large tray of sliced vegetables was artfully arranged. We sat and grilled our lunch.
The vegetables were not painted with oil before grilling. Instead, guests were instructed to grill them dry and anoint them with extra-virgin olive oil only when they were on our plates.
The meal was revelatory. Each vegetable was vibrant, the flavors incredibly bright and clear. This had much to do with their provenance, a local farm, and their freshness. But the grilling seemed to intensify the flavor, and all were sweet in their own way, without the need for seasoning.
In this verion of my host’s mixed grill, quarter- inch slabs of zucchini, summer squash, eggplant and onions are daubed with a little olive oil and light seasoning. Ripe tomatoes and peppers get the same treatment before hitting the fire.
Keep the coals medium-hot, brisk enough to cook the vegetables without scorching, although a bit of char is nice. Remove them when they are just done and still a little firm. Too much cooking leaves them looking withered and wilted. You’re trying to accentuate their fresh juiciness.
Tahini dressing makes a bright accompaniment, and couldn’t be easier to prepare: Just mix sesame paste with lemon juice, a bit of garlic and olive oil, and good plain yogurt.
Take great care, and this, too, could be a meal that transcends past notions of grilled vegetables, creating a memory worthy of reminiscence.
GRILLED VEGETABLES WITH TAHINI DRESSING
By David Tanis
- 2 medium red onions, peeled
- Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 2 ripe red bell peppers or other peppers
- 2 pounds zucchini, yellow summer squash, pattypans or a combination
- 2 medium eggplants (or 4 small Japanese eggplants)
- 4 small tomatoes
- Paprika or pimenton, for garnish (optional)
- Chopped mint, dill, parsley and cilantro, for garnish
- Lemon wedges, for serving
- >> Tahini dressing:
- 1/4 cup tahini, at room temperature and well stirred
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- Pinch ground cayenne
- 2 garlic cloves, grated or pounded to a paste
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup plain yogurt (not Greek-style)
- Kosher salt, to taste
>> Make the tahini dressing: Put tahini, lemon juice, cayenne and garlic in a small bowl; whisk until smooth. Whisk in olive oil, yogurt and a good pinch of salt.
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill or a stovetop grill pan. Heat should be medium-high. Make sure grill racks are clean.
Prepare vegetables, placing all of them on a baking sheet or roasting pan as they are ready:
Cut onions crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Brush lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Cut bell peppers in half lengthwise. Remove stems and seeds; discard. Cut each half in 2 pieces, making 8 pieces. Brush lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Cut zucchini and eggplant lengthwise or at an angle into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Brush slices with olive oil on both sides, and season with salt and pepper.
Cut tomatoes in half crosswise. Brush lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Grill onions and peppers: Set onion slices carefully on grill so they don’t fall apart. Start peppers skin-side up. Peppers and onions should take 4 to 5 minutes per side. As they are done, remove to a serving platter.
Grill zucchini and eggplant for about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Grill tomatoes on one side only, until heated through, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add to serving platter.
Arrange vegetables in rows on platter. Serve warm or at room temperature. Just before serving, drizzle tahini dressing over vegetables. Sprinkle with paprika, if using, and shower with green herbs. Serve lemon wedges on the side. Serves 6.
Nutritional information unavailable.