Make Your Grilling More Thrilling with Veggies
by Tal Ronnen

Next time you fire up your grill for a backyard barbecue, look to your backyard for inspiration. Is that bell peppers and eggplant I see ripening in the vegetable patch? Why not toss ‘em on the grill? Just about anything that sprouts from the ground can be suspended over coals: corn on the cob, zucchini, potatoes, onions, pineapples, mangos, portobello mushrooms, and, if you’re feeling adventurous, tofu, and soy-based mock meats like veggie burgers and “not” dogs.

Not only do grilled veggies burst with flavor (roasting over coals carmelizes their natural sugars), but they are a lot easier on the arteries than those old BBQ standbys, burgers and dogs. Most mock meats contain a fraction of the fat and calories in their meaty counterparts, zero cholesterol, and no pesky bugs like listeria and salmonella, which can clear out a backyard cookout faster than a Bobby Vinton cover band. Some brands to look out for include Lightlife, Gardenburger, Yves Veggie Cuisine, and Boca, which can be found in the frozen section of most grocery stores. Worthington has a large selection of faux meat chunks in cans that are perfect for making kebabs

The key with mock meats is not to overcook them. They are pre-cooked, so you only need to heat them up for a few minutes. For the dogs, I prefer boiling or frying them with a bit of oil pan, since they tend to dry out over an open flame. Try basting veggie burgers with barbecue sauce before grilling to keep them moist and to add some zesty flavor. (Most store-bought brands of barbecue sauce like Bull’s Eye and Kraft are vegetarian.) It's also important to cut the veggies the same size so they cook evenly. Use a wire mesh grilling screen to prevent soft foods, like tofu and tomatoes, from falling into the fire.

Before you throw anything on the grill, be sure to clean it (the grill, that is). Just give it a good scrub with a stiff brush. Don’t use any soapy cleaners—you don’t want your BBQ to taste like it’s been soaking in Palmolive. Then brush the grill with a little oil to help keep the food from sticking. As for the fuel, I’m a fan of your basic kettle o’ ‘coal, but I’ve been known to experiment with different types of wood to add some exotic flavor. Try tossing in some wood chips once the charcoal is very hot, such as hickory, oak, cherry, or mesquite.

Add some spice to your veggies with dry rubs and marinades. A dry rub is just a mixture of dry spices that you can rub onto tofu, portobellos, eggplant, or mock meats. It’s best to use spices that are under a year old, since they lose their flavor over time. Once you’ve rubbed in the spice mixture, cover the food tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit for an hour in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to penetrate.

Marinades are usually made up of oil, some sort of acid like vinegar, wine, or a citrus fruit, and fresh or dried herbs and spices. There are a wide variety of pre-made vegetarian marinades available in stores, but making your own is easy and fun. Try adding spicy dried chilis or chipotle peppers for a smoky flavor, or sweeten things up a bit with maple syrup, brown rice syrup, or agave nectar (available in most health food stores). The possibilities are endless.

Allow food to marinade for at least three hours—up to 24 hours for denser protein foods like mock meats. Using a sealable plastic container or bag will allow you to shake things up as they marinade without making a mess. Marinades can also be basted on the veggies as they grill—no need to worry about contamination with bacteria when you’re marinading veggies!

What would a barbecue be without the traditional side dishes? Baked beans (sans the pork), cole slaw, and potato salad can be healthy additions to your meatless feast. The latter two can be made completely vegan by using a creamy, eggless mayonnaise like Vegenaise or Nayonaise, which have less fat and calories and none of the cholesterol found in the real thing.

Quick and Easy Dry Rub

1/2 cup paprika
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp. garlic powder
3 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. dried coriander
1 Tbsp. black pepper

Orange Bourbon Marinade

1/3 cup orange juice
1/4 cup bourbon 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup scallions, chopped
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Red Wine Marinade

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup dry red wine
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper 2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp. dried thyme

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Creamy Coleslaw

Makes 3 to 4 servings 1 1/2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 medium-sized carrot, grated
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
3/4 cup vegan mayonnaise 1 Tbsp. caraway seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and serve.

Try These Hearty Mock Meats
Most well-stocked supermarkets sell a variety of veggie burgers and “not dogs” that you can pop into the microwave for a two-minute meal or toss on the grill at your next backyard barbecue. Here are a few of Tal’s favorites:
Boca Original (Vegan) veggie burgers
Lightlife Smart Dogs
Gardenburger Meatless Riblets
Gardenburger Flame Grilled burger
Amy’s Texas Burgers
Yves Veggie Cuisine Hot ’n’ Spicy Veggie Chili Dogs

Tal Ronnen is a graduate of New York’s prestigious Natural Gourmet Cookery School and heads up a new vegetarian food service program called the Veg Advantage. Ronnen has hosted a variety of vegetarian food expos where he has met with restaurateurs, caterers, and other food service professionals to introduce them to the array of available mock meats and other vegetarian dishes. By preparing everything from simple fun foods, like soy cheese pizza and veggie meatballs, to more complex entrées, such as his special mock chicken piccatta, Ronnen assists food service professionals in integrating innovative new dishes into their menus.