The server brought out a plate full of sizzling seared vegetables. Blackened on one side, crisp on the other with a side of tortillas. There they were. Brightly contrasting colors of sweet and spicy vegetables as the aroma of sweet and savory peppers and onions filled the air. The presentation was a bit dramatic, which, I admittedly enjoyed…just a little. He placed it down. I saw a lovely medley of fresh vegetables; carrots, cauliflower, zucchini and of course, my beloved peppers and onions. They were imperfectly perfect if you ask me, but…as I picked one up and popped it in my mouth, I noticed… with such disappointment, they were drenched in garlic and rosemary oil. I mean drenched. The pan must have started cold, or maybe that particular restaurant just likes to dump bottles of wrongly seasoned oil all over their vegetables. Perhaps the cook is a meat lover trying to overcompensate for the lack of prevalent protein. I don’t know much about Mexican, or even southwestern cooking, but last I checked…that wasn’t it. Not at all. Talk about a taste tease. It smelled great, it looked great. I awaited the presentation with all its glorious fanfare. The sizzle, the aroma…it was all there. My senses deceived me. That was about ten years ago. I’ll never forget it.
Ever since then, I’m always on the lookout for a similar dish at restaurants. Every time. Vegetable fajitas, grilled vegetable burritos, seared vegetable platter, spicy blackened vegetables, etc.; if you can get it right, I’m happy. Simple enough, but you’d be surprised. The vegetables have to be fresh, seasonal (organic & local is a bonus, but not required) they have to be crisp, but tender and chopped so they’re all cooked perfectly in unison, they have to be seasoned, but not over seasoned and the vegetable blend itself has to be exciting – mostly peppers and a little onion with a little something sweet and a little something spicy, topped with an abundance of salsa, sour cream, guacamole, a touch of fresh lime juice and a little cilantro.
I’ve been messing around with vegetable combinations, doing a little something different each time depending on the season and what was fresh at the market, etc. However, I had to wait until today to give you the perfect rendition. In a perfect world I would make it just like this every time. The vegetables just aren’t the same without the salsa. If you choose not to make the salsa, then add some (2 large cloves) of pre-roasted garlic and 1-2 chile peppers (Serrano or jalapeno) into the vegetable mix. It won’t be the same, of course, but it will be really good, regardless.
Summer is not my favorite season. There’s humidity and bugs and sunburn and bathing suits. Really, who’s a fan of those things? Summer does have some redeeming qualities, though, particularly when it comes to vegetarian cuisine and grilling. This particular dish is a definite highlight of my summer. I sometimes do this on the stove, in small batches, in a very hot pan with a little oil. Other times, when it’s chilly or raining, I’ll use the broiler. It was 93 degrees outside, the gentle breeze cooled me, the kids were entertained by popsicles and splashing in the baby pool, the citronella got rid of the bugs, the outdoor grill kept my house less than broiling and the sun block protected my skin. I think I might be evolving into a fan of summer.
Southwest Style Vegetables
- 3 bell peppers of varying color, chopped
- 1 large, (softball sized) white onion, chopped
- Sweet corn kernels from 2 ears of slightly blackened, grilled, fresh corn
- 1 cup of canned kidney or black beans, rinsed and drained
- 3 ripe, red (baseball sized) tomatoes, diced
- 1 tsp. salt (to taste)
- 1/4 cup lime juice (divided into 3 fairly equal amounts)
- 1 cup cubed, sharp and tangy cheddar cheese of your choice.
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
Combine all produce in a large bowl. Top with beans, salt and one (out of three) portions of lime juice. Cover and leave for 1 hour.
Preheat gas grill to about 500 degrees (medium heat). Place prepared mix onto a slotted grill pan (I used the grill pan part from my broiler pan). Top vegetable (and bean) mixture with cubed, sharp cheese. Place pan on preheated grill. Cover with grill top.
After 3-5 minutes, douse evenly with another portion of lime juice. Close cover. After another 3-5 minutes, repeat with the last portion of lime juice, and then sprinkle fresh cilantro.
Taste. If tender and sweet, yet crunchy…they’re perfect. Add salt to taste if necessary.
If they’re still raw, cook for 3 – 5 minutes more. Taste to be sure they’re to your liking.
- 2 tbsp. canola oil
- 1 tsp. dried chives
- 1/4 tsp. chili powder
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne
- 1/4 tsp. cumin
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt (more to taste, if desired)
- 2 cloves of garlic, roasted and peeled
- 2 pickled Serrano chiles, diced (keep the seeds, in my opinion)
- 1 tbsp. julienned pickled onions.
- 2 large baseball sized tomatoes, deseeded and diced
- 1 green pepper, roasted, peeled, deseeded and diced.
- The juice from half a fresh Meyer lemon (about 2-3 tbsp.)
- Fresh herbs of choice: Suggested -1 tsp. fresh chopped cilantro OR 1 large leaf of fresh basil, finely chopped
In small sauté pan, gently warm together, the oil with the dried spices: chives, chili powder, cayenne, cumin and salt. Add roasted garlic and Serrano chiles to the pan. Blend until smooth.
In medium bowl, combine the pickled onions with tomatoes, green pepper, lemon juice, and fresh herbs. Top with seasoned, blended oil and gently but thoroughly, mix together. Add salt to taste.
Place roasted vegetables in a tortilla and top with summer salsa. Wrap tortilla and grill directly on 400 degree grill (closed cover) until hot and grill marked.
NOTE – Serve alone or with any of the following:
- seasoned rice
- additional cheese
- sour cream
- Pico de Gallo
- Additional beans (refried, etc.)
- crisp lettuce
- grilled marinated, thin sliced steak or chicken