Fourth of July Riot Grrrrrill: How to Veganize Your Barbeque
Vegetarians are sometimes at a loss for what to put on the grill. I know this is a crazy thought but how about – vegetables? Grilling brings out so much flavor in vegetables that you don’t even need to dress them up too much. A little olive oil and you’re good to go, or if you’re feeling especially inspired some garlic and lemon juice never hurts. I know that doesn’t sound like much of a recipe per se, but knowing how to grill vegetables and coax the most flavor out of them is a skill that will last you a life time. And you don’t have to limit your grilling skills to the outdoors – a cast iron grill works wonders on the stove top as well.
First let’s start with our tools.
Metal tongs – Tongs are like an extension of my arm in summer months. Don’t bother trying to turn things with a spatula; tongs are the tool of choice for flipping your veggies with precision.
Spatula – So you don’t need a spatula for turning vegetables, but don’t worry, it doesn’t have to join the unemployment line just yet. Spatulas are great for flattening things out on the grill to insure even cooking.
Pastry brushes – They sell pastry brushes in kitchen supply stores but those are just a little too dainty and precious for me, not to mention more expensive. I use the kind of fat round nylon brush that you can find in a hardware store. I usually keep two at my side – one for brushing the grill with oil and one for brushing the veggies with oil or marinade while they are cooking.
Metal skewers – For some reason kebabs make vegetables 76% more fun to eat. You can also use wooden skewers, but to insure that they don’t burn soak the wooden skewers in water for at least an hour.
Lidded plastic containers – They make for easy transport of your veggies, and you can shake them to coat your veggies in oil or marinade with no worries.
Large, sealable, plastic bags – For some vegetables, like asparagus, it’s difficult to find the right sized container.
Aluminum foil – You always need it for something. It’s almost a mystery how aluminum foil saves many a grilling day.
Here are some general guidelines for grilling your favorite veggies. You can serve the vegetables as a main or side dish, stuff them into buns for sandwiches, accompanied by a little vegan mayonnaise or tahini sauce, or cut them into chunks and place them on skewers for kebabs.
Asparagus is hands down my favorite vegetable to grill. It’s at once chewy and crispy, savory and sweet. I grill it with minced garlic and coarse sea salt – but just a touch.
Remove the rough ends from the asparagus. Place asparagus in a plastic bag. Add enough olive oil to coat it and a few cloves of finely minced garlic. Shake the bag and use your hands to make sure the asparagus is coated. Let sit for 10 minutes or a few hours – whenever you are ready to grill. When the asparagus is on the grill, sprinkle them with a little bit of coarse sea salt. Turn every few minutes and brush with olive oil if it looks like it’s getting dry. It’s ready when the tips to turn slightly charred – but before they turn shriveled – about 5 to 7 minutes.
All right, when I said that asparagus was my favorite vegetable to grill I lied. It’s got to be peppers. Green peppers are simply not quite ripe bell peppers, so they are a little bitter. My pepper of choice for the grill is the red pepper for their sweetness and meatiness, but you can go with orange, yellow or even purple if you can find it. To get the most out of your pepper it’s best to blanch it before hand. “Blanching” is simply a fancy-pants way of saying boil for a minute or two. In the case of the pepper that will get it softened up and ready to soak up the oil – plus it will make it cook faster on the grill without burning.
To prep your pepper for the grill, boil a pot of water. Carve the stem out with a paring knife. Remove the stem and seeds and peel out as much of the white stuff on the inside of the skin as you can. Place the peppers in the boiling water for just a minute or two. Remove the peppers with your trusty tongs, drain the insides and set aside to cool. Cut each pepper in half. When you are ready to grill brush each side with olive oil and place skin side down on the grill and flatten with a spatula as much as you can. Let them cook until the skin is very charred – depending on the heat of your grill this can take anywhere from 5 to ten minutes. Once then skin is good and charred, flip the pepper over for just a few more minutes.
I don’t think I need to make a case for corn on the cob, everyone loves it. I do a little prep with my corn to get it grill ready but once it’s on the grill it is completely self sufficient – it doesn’t even need oil. It’s just like “Okay, I’m corn, let’s do this!”
To prep corn pull back the husk as little as you can without ripping it off or damaging it. Pull the stringy silk away from the corn and then close the husks back up. Soak the corn in a big pot of water for at least half an hour. The water softens the kernels up as well as provides moisture that steams the corn and helps it to cook faster.
I know I said it doesn’t need oil but at this point you can brush a little on as well as sprinkle with a little salt if you choose to.
Place the whole ears on the grill and turn often for about 15 minutes. The corn is ready when the kernels are soft and release moisture if pressed.
Who needs burgers? Portobellos are natures own burger, big juicy mushrooms that just beg to be grilled and placed between a bun.
To prep your portobellos, gently twist off the stem. Now, this is sort of an art, many a portobello has been ruined by untrained hands that either rip or pull too hard or crush the delicate cap, so forgive me if I go into too much detail about how to remove a stem from a mushroom but if you had seen all the carnage that I have you would understand my precautions. Place the Portobello stem side up on a flat surface. Place your fingers gently on the underside just outside the stem to secure it. Using your free hand (which should be your writing hand) place your fingers at the base of the stem and gently turn the cap inward. This may take a few turns until you feel it giving; it’s sort of like gently jiggling your key in a lock. When the stem gives you should be home free and can just gently turn until the stem comes off. You don’t have to do this every time– once you get a feel for the Portobello you will be able to just pull it off in the blink of an eye, but for the novice I feel this advice is helpful. Next, wipe the mushroom clean with a damp towel.
Now, you could marinate the mushroom in balsamic vinegar and herbs, but this is just about the basics and I find that just a little olive oil and salt lets the mushroom’s flavor shine through. Brush each mushroom generously with olive oil and place gill side down on the grill. Sprinkle with a little coarse sea salt. Let cook for about 5 minutes then flip over and cook for another five, brushing with olive oil if it looks dry. Depending on the heat of your grill and the size of your mushrooms, you may need to cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, flipping every so often. Mushrooms are ready when they are soft and dark. if you press down on one with a spatula it should release moisture.
Onions are excellent additions to your Portobello burger or grilled veggie sandwich. I use large Vidalia onions but any big, preferably yellow, onion will do. Just slice off the tops, remove the skins and cut into thick slices – a little under 1/2 an inch should do. Keeping each slice intact, brush with olive oil and grill for 5 to 7 minutes, until onions are soft and slightly charred. Flip them often, using the tongs to keep the rings together.
Zucchini or summer squash
Grilled zucchini is especially wonderful because it really takes to the grill and rewards you with those perfect grill lines you see in magazines. Slice the zucchini on a bias into just under 1/2 inch slices. The reason for cutting on an angle (bias) is so that you get nice big slices that won’t fall into the grill but it also has the added benefit of being a nicer presentation. Brush with olive oil and cook one side for about 3-4 minutes. Check the bottom to see if your grill marks appear. When they have, brush with olive oil, flip over and cook a few minutes more,
So now that you have the basics down, it’s time to serve these babies up. If you are going the sandwich route it’s a good idea to grill the bread as well – why not? Fire is free. If I’m not using hamburger buns, I like to use chewy peasant bread. Simply brush with oil and lightly grill each side until faint grill marks start to appear. You can also opt for garlic bread by brushing with garlicky oil instead. It’s simple – just puree two cloves of garlic with 1/2 a cup of olive oil. Spread each slice with pesto or drizzle with tahini dressing (recipes below).
You can also serve the veggies on top of a cold pasta or rice salad; I love the combination of hot and cold foods.
If I’m doing kebabs, they generally consist of peppers, whole mushrooms, onions and zucchini. Prep the peppers by blanching them, then cut them into inch slices. Chop the zucchini and onions into 1/2 inch slices and leave the mushroom whole. Sometimes I add chunks of seitan or pressed tofu for heartier fare. Place it all into a plastic bag or container, coat with olive oil and a few pinches of coarse sea salt, and squeeze a lemon over it. Let them sit for about 15 minutes then place alternating vegetable on skewers. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, turning every few minutes and brushing with oil. Drizzle with tahini dressing for optimal yumminess.
You now have the skills and the knowledge to take you forward in life – guard them with your life. Or share them. Whichever. But I would be remiss if I did not add a few recipes for the dressings and spreads that I’ve mentioned.
from Vegan with a Vengeance
Drizzle everything with this creamy dressing and it will turn it from good to sublime.
- 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Fresh black pepper (a couple of dashes)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 cup lightly packed fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup cold water
Heat garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small sauté pan over low heat for 2 minutes, just until it’s fragrant.
Add garlic and all ingredients except parsley to the food processor and blend until smooth. Add the parsley and pulse until parsley is very finely chopped but not blended in.
Refrigerate at least an hour in an airtight container.
Basil Mint Pesto
Nutritional yeast makes this pesto creamy. I use walnuts, but any combination of walnuts, pine nuts, almonds or even pistachios will be delicious. This is great for grilled veggie sandwiches or a Portobello burger. You can also use cilantro, tarragon or flat leaf parsley instead of the mint– you can even sneak some spinach in. This is a very versatile recipe.
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1/2 cup walnut halves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Toast the walnuts in a toaster oven for 5 minutes, or on a baking sheet in a conventional oven for 10 minutes, turning once.
Combine the basil mint and oil in a blender until smooth. Add the toasted walnuts and garlic and blend until pureed. Add the lemon juice, nutritional yeast and salt and blend once more. It’s now ready to be used or stored in the fridge in an air tight container.
Because pesto is too thick for drizzling, I give you basil dressing.
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped shallot
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise (I recommend Veganaise)
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Puree everything together in a blender until smooth. Refrigerate for at least an hour so all the flavors blend together.