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Bypass the burgers; fruits, vegetables have a place on the grill, too

Hamburgers, hot dogs and steaks will be sizzling on charcoal and gas grills across the Las Vegas Valley this holiday weekend, but fruits and vegetables tend to be relegated to the status of coleslaw and strawberry shortcake. So we’re offering you something a little less traditional for this Memorial Day: encouragement to break out of the mold and try cooking some of those side dishes on your grill.

Jon Snyder, executive chef at Rare 120 at the Hard Rock Hotel, has grilled corn on his restaurant menu. He prefers yellow corn, partly for the color, but also because he thinks it’s sweeter. He rubs it with grapeseed oil, a little kosher salt and black pepper and grills it until done. Snyder cooks his corn with the husks off — "I like the smoky flavor and the actual grill marks on there; it’s a little more rustic but it’s a lot more flavor" — and then cuts it off the cob and mixes it with garlic, shallots, roasted red peppers, Thai chilies and cilantro.

But Snyder’s also a proud backyard chef — "If I cook at home, I’m pretty much using the grill" — and one thing he likes to grill is peaches. He starts by cutting the peaches in half, removing the pits, adding a little oil and salt and grilling them flesh side down.

"A lot of times I like to flip them back over and put a little blue cheese on the top and kind of let it melt a little on the grill, and take them off and drizzle them with a little balsamic," he said.

Joe Romano, corporate executive chef for Golden Gaming, likes to grill peaches, too. He’ll quarter them, add some olive oil and some chives (or maybe cilantro if he’s also preparing a Mexican-style dish) and then cook them on a sheet of foil on the grill.

"The foil acts as a protectant barrier and it allows that softer fruit to stay whole and intact and still get the grill marks on it," Romano said.

Peaches and corn are some of the more common fruits and vegetables that can be grilled — and recipes for both follow — but feel free to let your imagination run wild.

Asked to name a fruit or vegetable he wouldn’t suggest grilling, Snyder couldn’t think of one offhand.

Agreed Romano: "When it comes to fruits, you can grill anything that is a firm fruit, like pineapple, like apples, pears." In addition to vegetables that he calls "your standard fare — asparagus, zucchini" — Romano said, "fennel is one that people don’t think of too much, but when you grill fennel it becomes really sweet. The natural sugars come out. Grill it really nice and slow. It really tastes like a piece of licorice-y candy."

Romano also likes to make fruit skewers, such as with pineapple, apples, pears and strawberries, and grill them quickly.

Todd Clore, chef/owner of Todd’s Unique Dining in Henderson, said he doesn’t get much time to cook at home, but he likes the results he gets when he cooks fruit on his restaurant grill. He grills pineapple, onions, jalapenos and red bell peppers, dices them and adds fresh lime juice, cilantro and olive oil for a grilled pineapple salsa. Or he’ll grill jicama and mix it with mangoes and many of the same ingredients for a jicama-mango salsa.

The grill, Clore said, "caramelizes the sugars and turns everything a little bit sweeter and gives you a more smoky background. It just kind of adds a little depth that you don’t get unless you grill it."

Edmund Wong, executive chef of Bellagio, said that caramelization is the reason he likes to grill fruits and vegetables with high sugar content.

"Carrots are great," he said. He likes to peel small carrots, toss them with grapeseed oil and a blend of Madras curry powder and unpeeled garlic, then wrap them in foil and put them in a lower area near the back of the grill.

Romano likes to grill carrots, too.

"I love raw carrots; I’m not a big fan of cooked carrots," he said. "I just don’t like the texture. When you grill them, they stay delicious, but they still keep that firm texture that I like."

Snyder and Wong said they don’t use grill baskets even for smaller food items — "sometimes you lose a couple," Snyder said wryly — but Wong said he has come up with a way to keep zucchini from rolling away. He quarters it lengthwise and then cuts away the seeds, so there’s a flat part that gets nice grill marks when placed across the grid.

Wong also likes to grill tomatoes with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and then top with some chopped basil.

"I just think that simplicity is great," he said.

Romano likes to remove the kernels from about five ears of corn, mix with 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of water, 2 tablespoons of honey, salt and pepper and a dusting of cayenne, wrap it all in foil and cook it on the grill.

"It’s incredible," he said.

Snyder said to be sure your grill is both hot and clean, and to rub the grate with a little oil to prevent sticking.

And he likes to cook vegetables fast, at high temperature, to maintain their texture.

"I’ve tried pretty much everything," he said. "In the summertime, especially, I like to grill at home, mostly because it’s so hot."

GRILLED CARROTS

8 medium carrots, each 6 to 8 inches long and about 1 inch wide at the thick end

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter

½ teaspoon red wine vinegar

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon minced fresh Italian parsley leaves

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat (450 to 550 degrees).

Peel the carrots and cook them in boiling water until they are partially cooked but still crisp, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain the carrots and rinse them under cold water for at least 10 seconds to stop the cooking process. Lay the carrots flat on a work surface.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt and blend the remaining ingredients (except parsley) to make the glaze. Brush the carrots with half of the glaze.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the carrots over direct high heat, with the lid open, until lightly charred with spots and stripes, 3 to 5 minutes, turning occasionally and swapping their positions as needed for even cooking. Transfer the carrots to a platter and season them with the remaining glaze. Sprinkle the parsley over the top.

Serve warm.

— Recipe from Weber

MEXICAN-STYLE CHARCOAL-GRILLED CORN

Vegetable oil for cooking grate

¼ cup regular or light mayonnaise

3 tablespoons sour cream

3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves

1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)

¾ teaspoon chili powder (divided use)

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

4 teaspoons juice from 1 lime

1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about ½ cup); see note

4 teaspoons vegetable oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt or ¼ teaspoon table salt

6 large ears corn, husks and silk removed

Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal (6 quarts, about 100 briquettes) and allow to burn until coals are fully ignited and partially covered with thin layer of ash, about 20 minutes. Arrange all coals in an even layer over half of grill, leaving other half empty. Position cooking grate over coals, cover grill and heat grate until hot, about 5 minutes; scrape grate clean with grill brush. Dip wad of paper towels in vegetable oil; holding wad with tongs, wipe cooking grate.

While grill is heating, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, cilantro, garlic, ¼ teaspoon chili powder, black pepper, cayenne (if using), lime juice and cheese in large bowl; set aside. In second large bowl, combine oil, salt and remaining ½ teaspoon chili powder; add corn and toss until coated evenly.

Grill corn over coals, turning occasionally, until lightly charred on all sides, 7 to 12 minutes total. Remove from grill and place in bowl with mayonnaise mixture; toss to coat evenly. Serve immediately.

For gas grill: Follow recipe for charcoal-grilled corn, turning all burners to high and heating grill with lid down until very hot, about 15 minutes. Scrape and oil grate. Proceed with recipe from making the mayonnaise mixture, leaving burners on high and cooking corn with lid down.

Note: If you can find queso fresco or Cotija, use either in place of the Pecorino Romano.

Serves 6.

— Recipe from Cooks Illustrated magazine

SWEET GRILLED PEACHES

4 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 peaches, unpeeled, halved and pitted

1/3 cup white baking chocolate, finely chopped

3 tablespoons pistachios, coarsely chopped, toasted and salted

Vanilla ice cream (optional)

Heat grill to medium high. Whisk together butter, brown sugar and cinnamon until well blended. Add peaches and toss to coat.

Lightly oil grates. Place peaches on grill, cut side down. Grill until slightly charred, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, turn carefully. Divide chocolate among cavities; drizzle with butter mixture remaining in bowl. Grill about 2 minutes.

Sprinkle with pistachios or serve with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 4-8.

— Recipe from The Fresh Market

GRILLED AND CHILLED GAZPACHO

6 large plum tomatoes

3 medium red bell peppers

2 medium red onions

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups reduced-sodium tomato juice, plus as much as 2 cups more for thinning the soup

¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

½ English cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and seeded

½ cup sour cream

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees).

Core each tomato and cut in half lengthwise. Cut the peppers into wide lengthwise strips, discarding the core and seeds. Cut the onions crosswise into ½-inch slices. Set aside and refrigerate 2 strips of bell pepper and 2 slices of onion to be chopped for garnish. Lightly coat the remaining tomatoes, peppers and onions with oil and season with the salt and pepper.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the tomatoes and peppers over direct medium heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until the skins are blistered and the vegetables are tender, 6 to 8 minutes, turning once or twice and swapping their positions as needed for even cooking. At the same time, grill the onions over direct medium heat until lightly charred and crisp-tender, 10 to 12 minutes, turning once or twice. Remove the vegetables from the grill and let cool. If necessary, remove and discard any burnt pieces of the vegetables.

In a blender, working in batches if necessary, puree the vegetables and any accumulated vegetable juices with the tomato juice. Chill for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

When the grilled vegetable puree is thoroughly chilled, check the texture. If it seems too thick, add more tomato juice. Then add the basil, vinegar and Tabasco sauce. If desired, season with additional vinegar, Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper.

Finely dice the reserved onion and bell pepper along with the cucumber. Serve the gazpacho in individual bowls, cold or at room temperature, topped with sour cream and diced vegetables.

Serves 4 to 6.

— Recipe from Weber

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@review journal.com or 702-383-0474.

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