A full refrigerator gives me peace of mind. Friends tease when they see all the filled storage containers neatly stacked inside. On any given day, the containers hold cooked grains, roasted meat, grilled fish, hard-cooked eggs, crumbled cheese and cooked vegetables. As much as I enjoy cooking, many days, I’d rather assemble a meal from those containers.
A medley of mixed grilled vegetables is one of my go-to fall standards. I take advantage of the perfect eggplant, zucchini and pepper specimens at the market and fill my grill with them. Thickly sliced, and lightly seasoned with olive oil, salt and herbs, the mixture proves extremely versatile. Chopped ripe tomatoes, fresh lemon and fennel fronds added at the last minute keeps it from tasting heavy.
Serve the mixture warm as a side dish to grilled or roasted chicken or pork. For a meatless main, fold chunks of feta cheese and pitted green and Kalamata olives into the warm vegetables.
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For a main-course rice bowl, pile the warm vegetable mixture over hot cooked brown rice and top with a fried egg. Or, stir in 2 or 3 cups of cooked pasta for a warm pasta salad. Stir 1/2 to 1 cup of the vegetables into eggs near the end of their scrambling. Tuck the warm vegetables into warm pita pockets or wrap in hot flour tortillas for a meatless lunch dish; just add hot sauce and/or diced avocado.
If you don’t care for eggplants, substitute more zucchini or yellow squash. Don’t care for fresh fennel? Use an extra onion or bell pepper.
This recipe doubles easily, just be sure to grill everything in a single, uncrowded layer for nice browning. The finished dish will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for several days.
Mixed Grilled Vegetables with Fennel and Lemon
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 medium eggplant, about 1pound, trimmed, cut into 3/4-inch round slices
1 medium-large zucchini, trimmed, 10 ounces, cut into 1/2-inch thick slabs
1 medium-size sweet onion, 8 ounces, cut into 1-inch thick round slices
2 green chiles, such as poblano or Anaheim
1 red or orange bell pepper
1 small fennel bulb, cut into thick slices, optional
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 or 3 large ripe tomatoes, cored, chopped, 1pound
2 tablespoons chopped fresh fennel fronds or 2 teaspoons dried dill weed
Grated rind of 1/2 lemon
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1. Preheat a gas grill to medium heat or prepare a charcoal grill until coals are covered with gray ash. Heat the grill grate for 5 minutes.
2. Put eggplant, zucchini, onion slices, chiles, bell pepper and fennel on a large baking sheet and coat all sides with oil. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and about 1 teaspoon salt.
3. Arrange vegetables on grill in a single uncrowded layer. Cover grill and cook, turning vegetables occasionally, until golden on all sides. Timing is as follows: 8 to 10 minutes for eggplant and zucchini slices and 15 minutes for whole chiles, bell pepper and onion slices. Remove vegetables as they are cooked to the baking sheet.
4. When cool enough to handle, roughly chop vegetables into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Add garlic and chopped tomatoes. Stir in chopped fresh fennel fronds, lemon rind and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.
(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)