Grilled vegetables and couscous for a crowd

Chip at the grill 2This week, ChickDudeFood went to visit friends on Cape Cod–friends who have 5 kids.  We weren’t the only houseguests–there was another parent there with his 3–and they’re vegetarians.  Well, in exchange for a beautiful place to stay on Herring Pond in Eastham, with our choice of kayaks and paddleboards and sailboats, what could we say?  “We’ll cook dinner tomorrow.”  Or, to be more accurate, I said that, and, to his great credit, Chip didn’t flinch.

Not everybody goes to the supermarket on the prettiest day of the summer, but there we were in the early afternoon, checking out the produce section.  Our original plan was to make a white miso marinade for the veggies–a really delicious and reliable recipe–but there was no miso of any kind in the resort market.  So here’s what we left with:

  • A bag of lemons–about 12 lemons
  • A bottle of good olive oil–about 4 cups
  • Fresh thyme
  • Fresh oregano
  • Crumbled goat cheese
  • Crumbled blue cheese
  • Grated romano cheese
  • Israeli large-grain couscous–enough to make a dozen portions
  • Vegetable stock–about 8 cups
  • 3 multigrain baguettes

And vegetables. Lots of them:

  • Onions
  • Eggplant
  • Zucchini
  • Asparagus
  • Yellow bell peppers
  • Red bell peppers
  • Poblano peppers
  • Portobello mushrooms

When we got back to the house, the music went on, and I started slicing while Chip got the marinade started.  (Note to selves:  from now on, when the ChickDudeFood show goes on the road, take good knives–and/or maybe the mandoline, if there’s going to be a crowd.  This was a bit of a slicing nightmare–it took a couple of hours to get everything ready.)

I cut the veggies lengthwise, except for the asparagus, mushrooms, and poblano peppers, which were left whole for easier handling on the grill.

There wasn’t a recipe for the marinade–and it ran out about ¾ of the way through the grilling.  Chip used the same ingredients and made it again…and it was different, of course, but just as good the second time.  Here’s a rough approximation of what he came up with:

Ingredients:

  • Lemon juice
  • Oil
  • Cayenne pepper (which was already on the shelves)
  • Brown sugar (ditto)
  • Garlic (ditto)
  • Fresh thyme
  • Fresh oregano
  • Freshly ground black pepper (we’re thankful that vacation houses are now often stocked with salt and pepper grinders.  It’s better when it’s fresh.)

Generally, a marinade will be 3 parts acid to 1 part oil, where a vinaigrette goes the other way–3 parts oil to 1 part acid.  This one was more on the vinaigrette side of things–but that’s ok, vinaigrettes make fine marinades, especially for vegetables.

Start with some oil, then squeeze a bunch of lemons to make lemon juice.  Add the lemon juice to taste, along with a couple of cloves of chopped or smashed garlic, pepper, thyme, oregano, cayenne (which adds a nice bit of heat) and a little bit of brown sugar (which takes the edge off the acidity.)  Keep tasting until you have something you (and your co-cook, if you have one) want to have more of.

We were short on time, and wanted a “make your own” presentation, so we didn’t really marinate the vegetables–instead, we took each vegetable and shook it up with the marinade and put it on the grill immediately.  As food came off the grill, it went onto its own platter and everything cooled to room temperature.

I made the couscous in advance (cooking it in the vegetable broth to add flavor) and kept it warm in the oven, along with the baguettes.

Presentation was simple:  everything on the table, followed by a free-or-all while everyone chose their favorite vegetables.  The poblanos turned out to be hotter than expected, and the cheese selection added variety.  Some people skipped the couscous and made veggie sandwiches with cheese.  Everybody had seconds.  It was gratifying to see so many vegetables welcomed by so many kids (8!) and nobody complained that there wasn’t any animal protein.

We also put out a green salad with summer tomatoes and cucumbers, with bottled dressing from the cupboard, but that was overkill. The grilled vegetables with couscous and cheese and baguettes–more than enough to go around–served eight kids, five adults, one au pair (who was very relieved she got the night off cooking)–and everyone was full and happy.  Chip and Michelle and I then went out to listen to NRBQ band members in their new incarnation, but that’s a post (with snarky remarks about how some drunken white people dance, or fail to dance) for another day.

Grilled veggies 1

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