Fruit, salad and more: 6 surprising things you can grill this spring, with recipes

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

Even with the soggy and blustery late winter weather, you can almost smell it coming: grilling season.

It's hard to put a finger on what makes cooking outside such a pleasurable thing. Maybe it's because grilling is somewhat roughing-it adjacent. It's one part managing outdoor cooking logistics, one part socializing around a fire, and one part reveling in having a bathroom and cold drinks just steps away.

While there's something inherently primal about gathering over a spread of sputtering meat, not everything that goes on the grill needs to be for carnivores. Grilling has the power to deepen the flavor of carrots, sweeten peaches and even add the perfect char to lettuce. 

Soups:Plant your seeds and make some soup

Grilled Caesar salad with chimichurri shrimp

How to grill lettuce

Grilling lends flavor to sturdier varieties of lettuce such as romaine hearts or iceberg. Half or quarter each head of lettuce through the root end, keeping the leaves attached, and toss with a bit of oil, salt and pepper. Grill lettuce quickly over high heat until slightly charred, but don't overdo it. It should stay crisp. Grilled lettuce goes well with creamy dressings, including Caesar and blue cheese.

Try the method:This grilled Caesar salad with chimichurri shrimp will be your new favorite party platter

How to grill tomatoes

The natural sugars in tomatoes caramelize beautifully on a hot grill. Add a hint of grill smoke, and you're in umami heaven. Medium-sized tomatoes like romas, sliced in half, hold together best. Toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and char them over a well-oiled, medium grill. Use a metal spatula to turn them gently. Arrange grilled tomatoes on a platter and sprinkle them with fresh herbs, feta and a bit of balsamic. Or whir them in a food processor with roasted garlic, chipotle, cilantro and lime juice for a delicious salsa.

How to grill peaches

Summer peaches already taste incredible over a bowl of vanilla ice cream, but grilling them takes their sweetness to another level. A bit of sea salt and cracked pink peppercorns help make peaches sing, but it's not necessary. Simply slice peaches in half, remove the pit and rub them with a little olive oil. Then grill the halves over medium-low heat until they begin to collapse and slump. Try them with ice cream and well-aged balsamic.

How to grill carrots

Carrots deserve so much more than a lunch box and a crudité tray. Grilling carrots brings their earthy sweetness to the forefront, a flavor that plays well with warming spices and heat. Try rubbing carrots with oil and seasoning them with salt and pepper before grilling over medium-high heat. I like to finish my grilled carrots with a little brown butter seasoned with a good curry spice blend, harissa paste or gochujang.

How to grill oysters

Hot grill? Early spring? It's time for an oyster roast. This is probably the best use under the sun for big, juicy, overgrown Gulf oysters. Roasted oysters are delicious and help you skip the worst part about eating them: shucking them.

First, scrub oysters well to remove any grit. Place whole, unshucked oysters, deeper side down, over the grate of a medium-high grill. Cover the grill and then check again in about 5 minutes. Your oysters should be open. If any remain stubbornly shut after a couple more minutes, toss them. Whether you cook your oysters all the way through is up to you. I eat mine as soon as they open with a squeeze of lemon or a bit of hot sauce.

How to grill pineapple

Grilling pineapple brings out a deeply caramelized flavor that's hard to forget, and its inherent acidity makes it a perfect pairing for grilled meat and seafood. Try this grilled pineapple salsa with fish tacos.

Grilled Pineapple Salsa

Ingredients

1 ripe pineapple, peeled, cored, and sliced into ½-inch-thick slabs

1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

1/2 red onion, finely diced

1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Juice of 2 limes

2 tablespoons honey

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Heat a grill to medium-high. Place the pineapple directly on an oiled grates and cook until grill marks have formed, 3 to 5 minutes. Use a metal spatula to flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer the pineapple to a baking sheet and let cool.

Slice the cooled pineapple into 1/2-inch cubes and place inside a large mixing bowl. Stir in the bell pepper, onion, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice and honey. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

How to grill eggplant 

Using the grill adds a smoky char to the eggplant that can change your mind about this oft-maligned nightshade. Eggplant is phenomenal when it's cooked nestled in coals. Once the skin turns black and the flesh has slumped, remove the eggplant, wash it, remove the skin and what seeds you can and blend it with garlic, lemon juice, salt, tahini and perhaps a pinch of cumin. Now you have baba ghanoush. 

Grilled Eggplant and Summer Fig Salad

Or, try this recipe for eggplant salad, which calls for slicing the eggplant before grilling, and then combining it with prosciutto, figs and creamy ricotta for a rich and satisfying dish.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

Eggplant

1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salad

4 cups baby arugula

12 ripe Black Mission or Brown Turkey figs, halved

1 cup yellow grape tomatoes, halved

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 thin slices prosciutto or aged country ham, torn into large pieces

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

Instructions

To make the eggplant: Heat a grill to medium-high. Toss the eggplant with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the eggplant on both sides until softened. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate until cool.

To make the salad: In a large bowl, combine the arugula, figs and tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, then season lightly with salt and pepper.

Lay two to three slices of grilled eggplant on each of four serving plates. Divide the tossed salad on top of the eggplant on each plate. Scatter small spoonfuls of ricotta over each salad, then top with the prosciutto. Serve immediately.

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

Sign up for my newsletter here.

Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com