In Spain they call it, a la plancha. Italians refer to it as, a la piastra. In Greece, on a staz. No matter what you call it, it’s a centuries old Mediterranean technique for grilling vegetables, fish and meats. In Spain they use a round metal plate, but in Greece they use a piece of sheet metal placed directly on the grill. From Italy, a stone or a metal plate creates a hot flat surface over an open flame. Essentially, it is a flat metal or stone griddle, set over a grill grate over an open flame. Mediterranean cooks know how to grill their vegetables because these grilled vegetables never tasted so good.
This technique does not produce fancy crisscross grill marks on your grilled vegetables, but what you do get are tender vegetables that retain some bite and have a good sear from the stone or griddle. Ultimately, the more surface area that touches the vegetables, means more flavor on your grilled vegetables from the sear. Another bonus is, no more vegetables falling through the grates and flare ups. Mediterranean style grilled vegetables are sweet, lightly flavored from the fire’s smoke, and seared to perfection.
A New Way with Grilled Vegetables
It all started yesterday on an impulse after coming upon the phrase, “… a la piastra,” in one of my cookbooks. It was an “Ah ha” moment for me with the realization of a refrigerator full of vegetables and an old cast iron griddle begging for use. With my fingers crossed and plans for dinner and a blog post on the horizon, I decided to give “A la piastra” grilling technique a try. It was just meant to be.
I do love the flavor of grilled vegetables, but when I grill chicken or meats, I don’t always grill vegetables for a side dish. Mainly, I do not want my whole dinner tasting all the same. Also, depending on how many people we are cooking for, there is just no room on my 22-inch charcoal grill.
Because this was somewhat impulsive, and I was “recipe testing”, I did not cook the vegetables in an organized manner, but fit the different vegetables here and there along with our dinner of stuffed rainbow trout. I was not sure how long the grill would stay hot, so I cooked things together instead of one at a time. Regardless of my cooking organization, I don’t mind a hodgepodge of grilled vegetables because my job was to use up a bunch of vegetables and test out this grilling technique. I call this mission a delicious success, hodgepodge or not. Now, I have a beautiful mess of tasty grilled vegetables ready whenever I want them.
Grilled Vegetables a la Piastra
What I discovered is if you have a cast iron pan or griddle, they create a hot surface to make delicious grilled vegetables, fish and meets. I have yet to test other types of food, but I can’t imagine there is an issue using this technique for shellfish, chicken or steak. Grilling a la piastra or plancha, works particularly well with thin vegetables or sliced vegetables that would normally fall through the spaces on a grill grate. I loved using this technique with thinly sliced zucchini, asparagus, sliced onions, and garlic scapes. Some additional vegetables I want to try are fennel, eggplant and mushrooms.
It is my opinion that grilling bell peppers works better over the open grill grate. They just took longer to get blistered and charred when on the hot surface vs the grill grates. Also corn works better over the open fire and by better, I mean it does not take as long to cook.
Fruit like lemons and oranges grill nicely on a hot plate, but my mind is not made up for peaches. My peach halves stuck to both the grill grate and the cast iron griddle, but this was also the first time I grilled peaches.
How to Grill Vegetables a la Piastra
First, this technique is best using a charcoal grill, but I believe will work with a gas grill, but you won’t get the smoky flavor. Using either grill you must make a hot fire that will last for a while depending on how much food you are grilling. Get the charcoal good and hot, then place the griddle pan or stone on your grate. Heat up your griddle surface for 15 minutes until the surface gets really hot. Close the lid if you are using a gas grill, keep the lid off if you are using a charcoal grill.
Once the grill is hot, oil the grill grate. Do not oil the hot griddle. It is possible that the oil soaked paper towel could burst into flames from the heat of the pan. Instead, generously coat the vegetables and fish in canola oil or other oil with a high smoke point. Arrange the vegetables on the surface of your “griddle” and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the vegetable.
Depending on the surface area of your plate, you will need to cook the vegetables in shifts. Just to be organized, cook the same vegetables all at the same time. Once done, remove the vegetables off the grill and place them spaced out on a tray or plate. If you pile them up, the vegetables will steam and get soggy.
Once done, let the grill plate cool completely before handling. If possible, use tongs and a scrubby to scrape off any stuck on bits while the surface is still hot. It is easier to clean off the charred bits when the plate is still hot, but not at the expense of getting burned.
Equipment for Grilling Vegetables
- You need a grill, preferably a charcoal grill but a gas one will work fine.
- Good quality charcoal without lighter fluid and a charcoal chimney to start the coals.
- BBQ quality oven mitt or glove.
- A cast iron pan or griddle, pizza stone, baking steel or food grade metal or stone surface that can tolerate temperature up to 700°F (371°C). Some pizza stones can only withstand temperatures up to 500°F (260°C) or lower.
- Long metal BBQ tongs without plastic tips.
- A good BBQ spatula.
- Several trays for putting the grilled vegetables on.
- A timer is helpful
What to do with all these grilled vegetables?
Serve grilled vegetables with grilled fish, grilled tofu, grilled chicken or steak, or roast chicken.
Assemble a platter of grilled vegetables, olives, cured meats, cheeses and crusty bread. Dine al fresco for a light dinner or a cocktail party.
Make a light pesto dressing with muddled basil leaves, smashed garlic, olive oil and vinegar and dress the grilled vegetables.
Grilled vegetable sandwiches with crusty bread, basil mayo or sriracha mayo, with Gouda or mozzarella cheese (smoked or plain) and grilled vegetables.
Frittata with grilled vegetables.
Where to buy a La Plancha griddle pan?
The Big Green Egg has a la plancha griddle for the Big Green Egg. It could work on other round grills depending on the size of the pan and your grill. (Not an add)
Lodge makes a round carbon steel griddle pan. They also make griddle pans in different sizes, shapes and materials. (Not an add)
Hodgepodge of Grilled Vegetables Mediterranean Style
- red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1 red onion sliced into rings about ¼-inch .5 cm thick
- 1-2 leeks sliced in half lengthwise, cleaned and root and dark green parts trimmed off
- 4-6 garlic cloves peel on
- 2 zucchini sliced lengthwise into ¼- inch .5 cm thick slices
- 1 yellow squash sliced lengthwise into ¼-inch .5 cm thick slices
- 12 or more asparagus spears ends trimmed
- 8 garlic scapes optional
- 2 lemons cut in half across the width.
- 1 peach cut in half across the equator optional
- 2 ears of corn husk and silk threads removed optional
- 1 fennel bulb stalks removed and sliced in 1/4 -inch (.5 cm) slices (optional)
- 2-3 TB Canola oil or other oil with a high smoke point
- Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 loaf French bread sliced on a diagonal optional
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 TB Red wine vinegar
- 1 large bunch of basil leaves cleaned and stems removed
Prepare your grill. If using a gas grill, heat to 450°F (230°C). For a charcoal grill, fill a charcoal chimney to the top with charcoal. Rest the chimney on the charcoal grate. Light the chimney according to manufacture instructions. Heat the charcoal until all the coals are very hot. They will look mostly grey with streaks of black throughout each lump or briquette. Put on an BBQ mitt and carefully empty the hot charcoal onto the grate. Add an additional half chimney’s worth of charcoal and spread out over the hot charcoal. Arrange the charcoal over the bottom of the whole grate, but with one side having more charcoal than the other. Place the top grilling grate on the grill and the grill pan over the side with the most charcoal. Heat until the grill pan and grate are good and hot, about 15 minutes. Close lid if using a gas grill. The grill pan is hot when you flick water on the grill pan and it bubbles up and dances on the surface.
While the grill is heating up, add the zucchini slices, asparagus and scapes in a large bowl and drizzle about 1 TB (15 ml) of oil over the prepared vegetables. Use the remaining oil to baste the remaining vegetables. Arrange the onion slices and leek halves on a sheet pan and baste with oil on both sides. Baste some oil over the cut surface of the cut lemons. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of Kosher salt over the vegetables, except the bell peppers.
When the grill is hot, arrange the bell peppers on the side of the grill without the grill pan. Every few minutes, use long tongs to turn the bell peppers over so the whole pepper gets a good char and is blistered, about 15 minutes. Once the bell peppers get black all over, place them in a medium bowl and tightly cover with foil and plastic wrap. Set aside to allow the peppers to steam in the bowl for at least 15 minutes.
If using corn on the cob, place them on the grill grate with the bell peppers. Start the corn when you start the peppers. Cook the corn turning them periodically to get an even char on all sides, about 8-10 minutes total.
Meanwhile, arrange the onion slices, garlic cloves and leeks on the grill pan. Cook for 2 minutes then turn over on the other side. You want the onions and leeks to get soft with a nice sear on both sides. Once done, remove from the grill and place on a tray. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. The garlic is done, when you see some brown spots on the peel and they are soft in the middle.
Place the lemon halves cut side down on the grill or grill pan and cook until a good sear develops on the cut side, about 3-4 minutes.
When there is room on the grill pan, arrange the zucchini and yellow squash slices on the grate and cook about 2-3 minutes per side. You want browned surface on both sides and tender slices of squash with a slight crispness. Place the squash on a tray when done. Lightly sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to evenly coat.
Cook the asparagus and garlic scapes on the grill plate. Turning each asparagus spear and garlic scape over around 3 minutes per side. You want the asparagus and scapes to get soft but still have some bite. When done, place the vegetables on a tray. Lightly sprinkle with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat.
If you are grilling the fennel add the fennel slices when there is room on the grill pan and cook 3 minutes per side, or until soft but still firm. Place on a tray when done. Sprinkle on Kosher salt and black pepper and toss to coat.
Add the sliced French bread, if using, on the grill and toast until the bread is golden brown. How long it will take will depend on how hot your fire is at this time.
When all the vegetables are cooked, remove the skins off the bell peppers by rubbing your hands over the charred skin and pulling off the skin until it is all clear. Do not run the bell pepper under water, or you will wash away all that delicious flavor you worked so hard to make. Clean hands and remove the core from each pepper and slice into slices.
Remove the garlic peels off each clove. Take 1-2 grilled garlic cloves and rub it over the toasted French bread. Add any remaining cloves to the vegetable platter.
Arrange all the vegetables on a platter in piles. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar, and torn basil. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Grilled garlic scapes taste great minced and placed on top of ricotta cheese toasts. Or, mince and add to the olive oil and fresh basil, then sprinkle over the grilled vegetables.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
At least twice a week, we enjoy eating fish for dinner with the usual choices being, salmon, char or plaice. These fish varieties are easily available, heart healthy and sustainable choices. However, I do appreciate having some variety and like to switch up my routine. On those occasions I enjoy fish like Mahi Mahi, especially grilled Mahi Mahi.
Once I got over the confusion from its name, dolphinfish, I lost any queasiness about eating it. Rest assured, Mahi Mahi is a fish and not related to Dolphins the mammal. They are fast swimming migratory fish found around the world’s tropical, temperate, and subtropical oceans.
Salsa for Grilled Mahi Mahi
Like many fish dinners, Mahi Mahi is easy to prepare, and does not take a lot of extra work to flavor it up. Because this recipe is paired with a fruit salsa, I kept the seasoning on the fish on the light side. Fruit salsa compliments the flavor of Mahi Mahi well and makes a light meal to enjoy during these hot summer evenings.
Pineapple is a reliable fruit choice for salsa, yet strawberries add a nice contrast with its bright berry flavor and vivid color. Unfortunately, fruit salsas should not be made in advance, but give yourself an outside work space near the grill and make it while you heat up the grill and cook the fish.
Surprisingly, even local farm fresh strawberries benefit from some extra sweetness and pineapple compliments the strawberries with the extra sweet kiss they need. So does adding some heat in the form of fresh chili pepper like jalapeño. Any fresh green chili pepper will work in the salsa, even poblano chilies if you want the salsa on the mild side.
One ingredient I think works well in the salsa is pickled red onion. The salsa needs a pop of acid and pickled vegetables supplies that perky note without the acid breaking down the strawberries and turning them to mush. You don’t need much, just a tablespoon of chopped pickled vegetable like pickled red onion or pepperoncini.
Switch it Up
This recipe is for grilled Mahi Mahi, but can easily adapt for stove top grilling, or baked in the oven.
If you cannot find Mahi Mahi, substitute it with grouper, trout, halibut, striped bass, or arctic char.
Use Grilled Mahi Mahi for Fish Tacos.
Originally, I wanted to make a strawberry avocado salsa, but my fresh local strawberries turned the avocado and the minced fruit into one big red mushy mess. However, if you still want avocado in the salsa, add it right before serving the grilled Mahi Mahi, or in slices on the side. You will be surprised how well avocado tastes with strawberries and it adds a nice creamy texture as well.
Grilled Mahi Mahi with Strawberry Salsa
Mahi Mahi is a delicious fish and perfect for cooking on the grill. Topped with fruit salsa made with pineapple and strawberries adds just the right amount of sweetness and spice for bright and flavorful meal. Feel free to adjust the ingredients in the salsa to suit your flavor preferences. If you do not want a spicy salsa, use poblano pepper instead of the jalapeño.
I like adding pickled onion to give the fruit some punch. Click on the link for my pickled onion recipe. Or, add just a small splash of red vinegar, or pickled jalapeño, or other pickled pepper.
The salsa recipe makes just over 2 cups (500 ml) and will supply more than what you need for 2-3 servings of grilled Mahi Mahi.
Makes 3- 5 oz (148 g) servings of grilled Mahi Mahi.
- 1 lb Mahi Mahi filet
- Kosher Salt
- Herbs de Provence
- Sweet paprika
- 1/2 TB Canola oil
- 6 oz /175 g Pineapple about 1 cup chopped
- 5 -6 oz / 190 g strawberries about 11 medium strawberries
- ½ Kirby cucumber (about 2 ¾ oz / 80 g)
- ½ -1 jalapeño pepper 38 g / 1 oz
- 2 green onions minced (white and light parts only)
- 1 TB pickled onions, finely chopped optional
- Small pinch of Kosher salt less than a 1/4 teaspoon
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 3 g basil leaves about 4-6 leaves depending on size
- 6 small mint leaves
- Squeeze of lemon juice from a quarter of a lemon optional
- ½ avocado optional
Prepare the grill
Prepare your grill according to manufactures directions.
While the coals are getting hot, sprinkle Kosher salt over both sides of the fish filet. Sprinkle the herbs de Provence and sweet paprika over the top of the filet in a light but even layer. Lightly coat the filet with canola oil and set in the refrigerator.
When the coals and the grate in the grill are hot, oil the grill. Set the filet top side down on the grate. Cook for 5 minutes, then turn over and cook the other side for an additional 5 minutes. The fish is done when you touch the filet it springs back and with little resistance. Remove from the grill and add fresh black pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Garnish with the strawberry salsa.
Make the salsa while the grill is heating up and when the fish is grilling. Cut up the pineapple into small bite size pieces less than an ½ inch (1 cm) in size. Add to a small bowl.
Remove the stems and slice the strawberries in half and remove the core. Slice each half in thirds or quarters depending on size of strawberry. Add to the bowl with the pineapple.
Cut the Kirby cucumber in half. Slice one half lengthwise in half and remove the seeds. Chop the cucumber into pieces similar in size to the pineapple and strawberries. Add to the bowl with the fruit.
Depending on how much heat you want in your salsa, use a half of jalapeño pepper or a whole one. Slice the jalapeño in half and remove the stem, seeds and white pith. Leave some of the pith if you want it spicier. Mince the jalapeño and add to the fruit.
Chop up the pickled onion, if using, and add to the bowl with the fruit. Add the minced green onions.
Sprinkle the small pinch, less than a ¼ tsp, of Kosher salt over the prepared fruit and give a few grinds of black pepper over the fruit. Chiffonade the basil and cut up the mint leaves then add to the fruit. Mix everything together. Set aside.
If you want to add avocado chop it into bite size pieces and add to the salsa just before serving.
Add a squeeze of lemon juice just before serving. Best eaten immediately.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Part two of my quest to figure out what to feed the groomsmen, I decided to make grilled skirt steak in addition to the grilled chicken. As I mentioned earlier this week, at Evan’s request I am not making a lot of different foods like dips, salsas or desserts, so the sandwiches need to be the star of the meal. After all, they are the only food offered besides chips and beer.
Because the grilled chicken is marinated in a classic garlic and herb marinade, I decided to use Mojo de Ajo to flavor the grilled skirt steak. This way both the grilled selections have a similar garlic flavor, but in their own unique way. The grilled chicken has a garlic herb profile with an Italian American flavor and the grilled skirt steak has a Mexican cuisine flavor profile from the simmered garlic, chilies and Mexican oregano. Both grilled foods are different, but they complement each other because they share similar ingredients and the same cooking method.
My hope is the grilled skirt steak sandwich with mojo de ajo will give the groomsmen a taste of something unexpected as well as delicious. Mojo de Ajo has a prominent garlic flavor but it is not strong and lingering. I feel like I contradicted myself by saying it is prominent but not strong, yet it is true. By not strong I mean the garlic behaves and like a polite guest knows when it is time to home. This is not the type of garlic that you taste all night long when your want to go to sleep. Roasted garlic is the most significant flavor, but because of the orange juice, tomatoes and arbol chilies it comes across sweeter with a kick. Grilled skirt steak in mojo de ajo is both has a familiar taste yet, it is new at the same time.
Grilled Skirt Steak
Skirt steak takes no time to grill, either on an outdoor grill or on the stove in a grill pan. My skirt steak finished cooking in 4-5 minutes on a grill pan for medium rare. However, they were thin pieces of meat. Depending on the thickness of your skirt steak and how much you want your steak to cook, it could take a minute less or a couple of minutes longer. If you have never cooked skirt steak before, start with the recommended time in the recipe and test it to see how done it is. Skirt steak tastes better when it is rare to medium rare and because my pieces were very thin, probably should cook them for less time. Additionally, it is important to rest the steaks for 10 minutes before you slice them. This way the juices will soak into your steak and not flow all over your cutting board.
Mix it up
Now, I am using grilled skirt steak to make sandwiches, but this steak makes an easy weeknight dinner as well. Last night we ate it for dinner with a green salad and devoured it. We liked it so much, we could not stop picking at it. Both of us repeatedly commented, “I’ll just have one more sliver please.” Eventually, we had to remove the grilled skirt steak from the table before we ate the whole thing.
Grilled skirt steak with mojo de ajo makes the perfect steak taco. Actually this is how I first became acquainted with the garlic sauce in the cookbook Taco.
Make fajitas with grilled skirt steak with mojo de ajo and poblano rajas, which is sautéed strips of poblano chilies and white onions. Get the recipe from my poblano chili cream sauce. This creamy poblano sauce will also taste great with grilled skirt steak.
Make a grilled skirt steak salad with arugula, avocado, oranges and baby radishes. Drizzle some of the mojo de ajo on the steak and dress with a citrus vinaigrette. My favorite is a combination of orange juice and lemon juice with a little honey, a touch of Dijon mustard, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and finished with fresh herbs like mint or basil..
Grilled Skirt Steak with Mojo de Ajo
Add some mojo de ajo in the mayonnaise for your sandwiches for extra flavor.
- 1 ½ lb skirt steak
- Kosher Salt
- 1/3 cup oil from Mojo de Ajo get recipe from the link in the summary
- Garnish with the garlic and minced tomato from the Mojo de Ajo
Place the skirt steak in a baking dish just large enough to hold the skirt steak in an even layer. Sprinkle the skirt steak with Kosher Salt on both sides, about ½ teaspoon total, possibly a pinch more.
Separate the oil from the solids of the Mojo de Ajo and pour about 1/3 cup over the skirt steak. Turn the steaks over and rub them with the oil to get and even coating. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the skirt steaks rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Prepare your grill. Oil the grill once the coals are in place.
Place the skirts steaks on a 45° angle over the grill and sear for 2 minutes. Rotate the steaks towards the opposite 45° angle and grill for one minute. Turn the skirt steaks over and repeat on the other side. If you have a thicker piece of skirt steak try 4 minutes side. The steaks could be done anywhere from 5-8 minutes depending on how thick they are.
Remove the skirt steaks from the grill and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.
Slice across the grain in thin slices and serve garnished with the minced garlic and tomatoes from the Mojo de Ajo.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.