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To get rave reviews for serving vegetables at the next meal, just try adding vegetables cooked on the grill.

Grilling vegetables is a good way to meet the health goal of eating more vegetables. Why? The smoky smell and taste of vegetables cooked on the grill make them appealing to even the pickiest eater.

Common sense may lead us to think cooking decreases nutrients in vegetables. Interesting studies conducted at Cornell University Department of Food Science determined cooking actually releases nutrients from the softened cell walls of many different vegetables. The release of these nutrients leads to better absorption and thereby contributes to better health. For example, studies on human health suggest regular consumption of high levels of lycopene provides protection from certain cancers and may lower the risk of heart disease. When quartered tomatoes are cooked by simmering/roasting/grilling at 190-200 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, the lycopene becomes up to 30 percent more concentrated and is more readily absorbed. Research also indicates the availability of the antioxidants and phenolic acid in asparagus increases when asparagus spears are cooked.

Ready to give grilled vegetables a try? Here’s how:

* Take your favorite vegetable(s) and clean, trim, then cut into bite-sized pieces, or leave whole. Prepare sturdy salad greens (such as romaine, kale, baby bok choy or small head lettuces like butter lettuce) by cutting in half or quarters.

* Oil the grill rack or grill basket by using a paper towel dipped in olive or vegetable oil that is wiped over the surfaces where the food will touch. Do not use cooking sprays.

* Next, toss the prepared vegetables in olive oil, or your favorite flavor-infused oil.

* Grill salad greens with the cut side down until smoky and wilted. Grill other vegetables by first considering the density of each. Potatoes, for instance, will require a longer grilling time than asparagus or tomatoes. If you choose a mixture of vegetables, start by grilling the more dense choices until almost tender, then add the rest of the vegetables until desired tenderness is reached, turning as needed for even cooking and browning.

* Using skewers or a grill basket is another option for perfectly grilled vegetables.

Grilled Asparagus Salad with Citrus Dressing

2 pounds asparagus (about 2 bunches), washed and trimmed

1 pint red grape tomatoes

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

¾ teaspoon salt, divided

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon honey

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½ tsp Dijon mustard

2 bunches watercress, tough stems removed (about 4 cups lightly packed)

2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill

1. Turn on electric grill for direct cooking over medium heat. If using a charcoal grill, start grill and let coals burn down (about 15-20 minutes) to a light white ash; spread coals evenly.

2. On a baking sheet or in large shallow dish with sides, toss together asparagus and tomatoes with olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Arrange asparagus directly on the rack cross-wise, then place tomatoes on double thickness of foil, folding edges to create sides. May also use previously oiled grill basket.

3. Grill asparagus and tomatoes, turning asparagus after five to seven minutes or as needed to prevent burning. Gently stir tomatoes as needed with long-handled grill utensil, being careful not to tear the foil. Continue grilling until desired tenderness is reached, approximately 16-18 minutes total time. Remove from heat and set aside until ready to assemble salad.

4. Whisk together lemon juice, orange juice, honey, mustard and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium-sized bowl. Reserve half of this mixture in a small bowl. Stir in fresh dill.

5. Add watercress to the medium-sized bowl; toss to coat. Spread watercress on large serving platter.

6. Arrange the grilled asparagus on the watercress and top with the grilled tomatoes. Drizzle the remaining dill mixture over the asparagus and tomatoes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nutrient Value (1/6 recipe) Calories 69; Carbohydrate 9 g (added sugars 3 g); Cholesterol 0 mg; Fat 3 g; Protein 3 g; Fiber: 2 g; Sodium 319 mg; Potassium 371 mg

Jennifer Dunavan MS, RD, LMNT is a registered dietitian with Fremont’s Hy-Vee Food Store. The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.

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