This year, it is my turn to host my family's annual Fourth of July cookout, and it will be different. No beef, pork or chicken will sizzle on my grill because my New Year's resolution was to cut meat from my and my kids' diets. That resolution caused me to drop 55 pounds already! So now, I am pleased and motivated to continue my vegetarian lifestyle.
My transition was challenging, but I learned how to create vegetarian dishes that are not only healthy but delicious. People who are unfamiliar with vegetarians think that we have limited food choices, which isn't true at all. When I was planning my July 4 food menu, it took me over an hour to narrow down my selections.
Just how am I going to please a family of extreme carnivores? I am going to grill foods that are fun, creative and yummy. The family will still have grilled hotdogs, burgers, sausages and steaks at the barbecue. However, these succulent dishes will be made from plant-based ingredients. Giving fresh produce equal rights on the grill will add color to the cookout and "wow" the guests.
Here are some creative tips and ideas for vegetarian grilling:
• All produce doesn't belong on the grill. My favorite grilling selections are eggplant, zucchini, portobello mushrooms, tofu, corn on the cob, artichokes, sweet potatoes, pineapples and bananas.
• For "burgers," I normally stick with portobellos. For "steak," I use extra-firm tofu. It tastes best seasoned well and grilled thoroughly. You can place the grilled tofu on a bun, or use a knife and fork to eat it like a steak. It will have the same texture.
• Tofu usually sticks to the grill so have some non-stick cooking spray handy.
• For a burst of flavor, marinate tofu at least 30 minutes before grilling. I place my tofu in Ziploc bags and let it marinate in the fridge overnight.
• Grilled fruit with brie is one of my favorite dishes for potlucks—always a hit.
• My 6-year-old son is a pizza lover, so every once in a while I will grill some flatbreads or cheese/vegetarian pizzas. They are crispy, tasty and fun.
• Grill corn directly in their husks after you have soaked them for about 30 minutes to an hour. They char better this way.
• Experiment with different dips, sauces and marinades. Add your own special touches to make your food taste unique.
Vino for the Vegan
I am a wine connoisseur, and I couldn't mention holiday, family, food and fun without wine. Below is a list of suggested wine pairings with some common vegetarian dishes.
• Tofu—Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc
• Curries and risotto—Zinfandels
• Spicy dishes—German Riesling
• Vegetables—a fruitier red like Pinot Noir
• Pastas—can pair nicely with reds such as Merlot or Shiraz or with whites such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
Grilled Portobello Burgers with Goat Cheese
2 large portobello mushroom caps
1/2 a red onion, sliced into thick rounds
1/3 cup balsamic vinaigrette
2 thick slices of tomato
1/2 of a green bell pepper, sliced into thick rounds
4 teaspoons pesto
1/4 cup goat cheese
2 hamburger buns, toasted
Clean mushroom caps and place in a large Ziploc bag with 1/3 cup of balsamic vinaigrette. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Brush onion and bell pepper rounds lightly with oil. Place the portobellos on the grill along with the onion and bell pepper rounds. Grill for 5 minutes.
Place the mushroom cap on half of the bun, topped with the grilled pepper and onion. Add the tomato and fresh basil. Spread the other half of the bun with pesto and 2 tablespoons goat cheese. Bring the sandwich together and enjoy!
Grilled Tofu Steaks
1 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon miso
1 teaspoon Dashi stock powder
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
10 ounce block firm tofu
3 1/2 ounces soba noodles
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1 large bunch bok choy, chopped
Heat water in saucepan. Bring to boil and stir in sugar and Dashi powder until dissolved. Simmer, then add the miso and stir until dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in soy sauce, mirin, ginger and sesame oil. Let mixture cool slightly. Cut the block of tofu in half, and then cut each piece in half. Marinate the tofu steaks in the mixture, in a Ziploc bag, in the fridge, overnight.
The next day, oil a pot of water and cook the soba noodles for 4 minutes then rinse under cold water and drain. Place the tofu on the grill (keep the marinade for later) for 3-5 minutes on each side. While the tofu is grilling, heat a wok or skillet over high heat, add the canola oil and stir fry the bok choy and carrot for 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the reserved marinade. Cover with a lid and cook for 3 minutes.
Stir in the cornstarch paste (2 teaspoons of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water, mix to a paste) and cook until thick. Add the scallions and soba noodles and stir to mix well and heat through.
Serve with tofu steaks on top. Glaze with a little of the sauce.