Summer grilling season is officially on, and as non-meat dishes continue to be ever popular with diners, fruits and vegetables (as always) offer a diverse and dizzying array of options to revitalize your offerings.

The benefits are that not only will your menu items be on-trend—providing more essential nutrients and being overall more healthful—but these grilling switch-outs can affect the bottom line too.

Run for the Grill (Techniques)

Slice larger vegetables like zucchinis and eggplants into consistent sizes like rounds and planks. Medium items, such as bell peppers or peaches, can be quartered or halved. And smaller items, like radishes or strawberries, can be kept whole and skewered or put into a grill basket to prevent falling through the grates. Also, due to the lack of fat, it’s essential to dip or brush with a flavorful olive oil to prevent sticking. Lightly salting produce a half hour before grilling helps draw out moisture and intensify flavors.

Fruits and vegetables benefit from direct heat grilling. Placed directly over the heat source of hot coals or gas burners allow them to cook quickly while preserving their natural juices. The sizzling heat caramelizes the natural sugars present in fruits, intensifying their sweetness, while vegetables develop a smoky flavor and a delightful char.

Super-char Specials

As far as superstar fruit and vegetable dishes that highlight the produce in a way usually only reserved for dry-aged steaks and classic pork chops, utilize as much creativity as possible: Grilled avocado halves can be stuffed with grilled summer corn salsa and, if inclined, chilled crab meat. Sweet potatoes make an exceptional main, finished with tahini butter and a shower of sesame seeds and fresh cilantro.

Cabbage—which has made a huge comeback on restaurant menus because of its melty comforting texture, can be accompanied by a creamy, garlicky, gruyère sauce. For those that love salad as a main course, grill romaine hearts until they begin to break down, then pile them on top of each other and dress lightly with a homemade Caesar dressing (Spanish anchovies optional).

Halved eggplants, zucchinis and butternut squash can all be served with a summer spoon bread pudding spiked with—you guessed it—whatever stone fruit you grilled the day before. For dessert, grill slabs of watermelon or pineapple and then garnish with a punchy, light, limey yogurt sauce.

With a few well-executed grilling techniques, and a bit of imagination, you can wow your guests with hot-selling dishes that easily outshine the usual hamburgers and hot dogs they anticipated.

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