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posted: 5/30/2012 6:00 AM

Make room for veggies on the grill

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  • Purple cauliflower with poached eggs and truffle oil

    Purple cauliflower with poached eggs and truffle oil
    Associated Press

  • Grilled Gazpacho

    Grilled Gazpacho
    Steve Legato/Running Press

By Deborah Pankey

When it comes to grilling, meat hogs the spotlight.

Spuds get relegated to potato salad, zucchini and tomatoes mingle in pasta salad and corn boils on the stove.

This summer, push vegetables to the center of the grate.

"We, as women, think beyond a big hunk of meat on the grill; not that there's anything wrong with that," says Judith Fertig, who wrote "The Gardener and The Grill" (Running Press, 2012) with her longtime writing partner Karen Adler. "We wanted to explore the under used ingredients ... and we love to garden."

The book features grilled garden produce in recipes across the menu, like Chard-wrapped Goat Cheese appetizers, Grilled Gazpacho and Chargrilled Eggplant with Grilled Marinara Sauce.

Fertig says most vegetables do just fine on the grill. Indirect heat -- with hot coals pushed away from the cooking area -- is the preferred method for most vegetables. Start vegetables over direct heat so they get nice grill marks, then move them to indirect heat to cook through.

"Onions, zucchini, yellow squash; when you do them on the grill, to me personally, they all taste five times better."

Chef and "Pizza on the Grill" author Elizabeth Karmel agrees. "Most people don't realize what a powerful flavor enhancer the heat of the grill is.

"I have always loved asparagus. But the minute I tasted grilled asparagus, it went from a vegetable I liked to one that I was madly in love with," Karmel says. " ... the high heat of the grill causes the natural sugars in the asparagus (as well as many other vegetables) to caramelize, accentuating its nutty, sweet flavors."

When it comes to corn, a summer cookout staple, Lisa Skye recommends cooking it in the husk for mild grilled flavor. In her new book "I Love Corn" (Andrews McMeel), Skye says you should soak corn in its husks in water for 30 minutes before it hits the grill.

"Grill 8 to 15 minutes, or until it's evenly heated," she writes. "Husking the corn before grilling will produce a more intense grilled flavor, and it will only take 5 to 7 minutes to cook."

Preparing other vegetables for the grill takes a bit of common sense.

Dense vegetables, like rutabagas and carrots, are best par-cooked before hitting the grill, Fertig says.

Vegetables also have to be cut in a size that's not going to fall through the grates.

"Don't cut zucchini in coins, but planks," Fertig says. "After it comes off the grill you can chop it to a smaller size."

As for asparagus, pick those with thicker stems, not the pencil-thin stalks that will shrivel up the second they meet the heat.

Another option is to use baskets or woks that are made for the grill.

Fertig is a fan of the grill wok, a metal dish with holes that allow the flames to lick what's inside.

"You chop your vegetables -- patio tomatoes, eggplant -- marinate them and 'stir grill' them for a real tasty side dish." she says.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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