Give 'Em a Grilling

We know what you're going to do this summer. You're going to fire up the grill and throw on the same burgers and steaks, chicken and fish that you always do. Maybe some corn cobs and a potato in foil.

But there's more to life than this. You can cook quite a few vegetables on the grill--even fruits.

Vegetables are particularly adapted to grilling, because it concentrates their flavors and particularly their sweetness, as well as adding the well-known pleasures of smoke. Fleshy vegetables such as squashes do well; the eggplant and its cousins the tomato and (especially) the sweet pepper grill nicely too. Members of the onion family become remarkably sweet.

There's a reason these are vegetables that show up over and over as grilled vegetables at hip restaurants: They grill up so tasty they scarcely need butter or oil.

Fruits are more of a challenge. Common fruits like apples and pears--and even berries, which you might never think of grilling--cook up fine (with flavorings such as sugar, butter and cinnamon) thanks to the magic of aluminum foil.

Altogether, the easiest fruits to grill tend to be tropical ones, such as mangoes and bananas. And if you're grilling pork chops, you might toss on a couple of pineapple slices toward the end.

If you need more inspiration, check out the following recipes developed by Times Test Kitchen Director Donna Deane, Test Kitchen cook Mayi Brady and Food section intern Danae Campbell.

GRILLED BANANAS WITH CREMA AND CARAMEL SAUCE

Use only very firm bananas. You will have more Caramel Sauce than you need, but it keeps well in the refrigerator and is delicious over ice cream.

CARAMEL SAUCE

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

BANANAS

2 large bananas, very firm

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup Mexican crema or creme frai^che

CARAMEL SAUCE

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add brown sugar and whipping cream and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and sauce is medium brown, about 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature; sauce will thicken as it cools. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

BANANAS

Peel bananas and slice lengthwise, then in half across. Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over all sides of bananas.

Grill bananas over medium heat until grill marks appear and sugar begins to caramelize, about 3 minutes per side. Top with Caramel Sauce and Mexican crema.

4 servings. Each serving with 2 tablespoons sauce and 2 tablespoons crema:

313 calories; 64 mg sodium; 47 mg cholesterol; 16 grams fat; 43 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.28 gram fiber.

GRILLED RATATOUILLE (LOW-FAT COOKING

Light charring of all the vegetables adds smokiness.

1 large eggplant

1 large red onion

4 tomatoes

4 small zucchini

6 large cloves garlic, peeled

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Salt, pepper

1/2 cup sliced basil

Slice eggplant crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Grill over hot coals until soft and slightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes per side.

Cut onion into 6 wedges, leaving onion connected at root end. Grill, turning often, until soft and slightly charred, about 15 minutes.

Halve tomatoes crosswise. Grill until soft and slightly charred, 3 to 5 minutes.

Cut zucchini lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices. Grill until soft and slightly charred, 10 to 12 minutes.

Grill garlic, turning often, 5 minutes.

Chop eggplant, onion, tomatoes and zucchini into 1/2-inch dice. Mince garlic. Combine in large bowl.

Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste in small bowl. Stir in basil. Add to vegetables and toss.

4 to 6 servings. Each of 6 servings:

63 calories; 60 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 1.06 grams fiber.

GRILLED MIXED SPRING ONIONS

For this dish, you'll need a perforated vegetable grill basket, available from cookware shops and some hardware stores, to keep these tiny onions from falling through the grill into the fire.

1/2 pound cipolline onions

1/4 pound baby brown onions

1/4 pound baby red onions

1/4 pound pearl onions

1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled

8 to 10 small shallots, peeled

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon minced thyme

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt, pepper

Blanch cipolline onions in boiling water in medium saucepan, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and plunge into bowl of ice water to refresh. Add brown, red and pearl onions to boiling water in pan and blanch 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and add to ice water.

Remove onions from ice water and peel (skins should pull off easily). Set onions aside to dry.

Grill cipolline, brown, red and pearl onions, garlic and shallots in grill basket over medium heat, shaking often, until tender and slightly charred, about 20 minutes.

Combine butter, thyme, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste in large bowl. Add grilled onions and garlic to bowl and toss to coat.

6 servings. Each serving:

113 calories; 116 mg sodium; 16 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.83 gram fiber.

GRILLED MANGOES WITH LIME AND CHILI (LOW-FAT COOKING)

This Mexican-inspired dessert couldn't be easier to make or a more refreshing end to a substantial barbecue. Be sure to grease the grill well with oil when cooking mangoes because the sugar in the fruit tends to make them stick to the grill. Choose mangoes that are ripe, yet firm.

2 mangoes

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

Peel mangoes and cut along flat side of seed into 2 pieces. Set aside.

Grill mangoes on greased grill over glowing coals, 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Remove to platter and sprinkle with lime juice, chili powder and salt. Serve at room temperature.

4 servings. Each serving:

73 calories; 605 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 19 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 1.16 grams fiber.

BALSAMIC STRAWBERRY PACKETS

Balsamic vinegar and strawberries are certainly not strangers, but you might not expect to find them together on a grill. Here, wrapped in foil packets with a sprig of rosemary, they're quite at home. And clean-up is virtually nonexistent.

2 pints strawberries

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar

4 sprigs rosemary

1 pint vanilla ice cream

Stem strawberries and cut in half if large. Wash and set aside.

Mix vinegar and sugar in small bowl until sugar dissolves.

Divide strawberries among 4 (12-inch) foil squares. Spoon balsamic sauce over strawberries and top with rosemary sprig. Carefully fold or roll ends of foil together to form secure packet.

Grill over medium heat until strawberries are slightly softened and sauce has come to simmer, about 8 minutes. Serve over ice cream.

4 servings. Each serving:

229 calories; 60 mg sodium; 30 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 38 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.85 gram fiber.

GRILLED LEEKS WITH SHERRY VINAIGRETTE

2 leeks

1/3 cup Sherry vinegar

1 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon capers, chopped

3 anchovy fillets, minced

2 tablespoons orange juice

Pinch sugar

Salt, pepper

1 hard-cooked egg, minced

Cut dark green tops off leeks, then split lengthwise. Rinse well.

Cook leeks on greased grill until tender, about 4 minutes per side. Remove to platter.

Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, mustard, capers, anchovies, orange juice, sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle dressing over leeks. Sprinkle with minced egg.

4 servings. Each serving:

549 calories; 257 mg sodium; 56 mg cholesterol; 56 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.94 gram fiber.

* Cucina Fresca plate in grilled mangos photo and "Sorbetto" pitcher in leeks photo from Sassony, Encino.

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