Grilling vegetarian food is awesome. I’m serious!

A few weeks ago we got the unsurprising news that processed meats were bad for you. Look, if you thought eating hot dogs and Spam was going to make you healthier than your crazy paleo/crossfit neighbor, you get a big ol’ “come on, son.” But now another study has come to light that makes a lot of unpleasant claims about grilled meat. Grubstreet sums it up thusly:

The study’s findings fit the WHO’s ruling on red meat, but cancer experts have long argued grilling or barbecuing is, from a health standpoint, sort of akin to subjecting your meat to cigarette smoke. These researchers say so-called “exposure to meat cooking mutagens” is the best explanation for why the rate of kidney cancer is on the rise.

Well that’s not awesome news. But before you give your grill one last hug (what, you don’t hug your grill daily? Weirdo) and set it out at the curb with a “free but don’t blame me” sign, all is not lost. Meat is not the only thing that’s amazing on the grill. All that smoke and heat means flavor. Here are some of my favorite dishes on the grill. Trust me, grilling vegetarian food rocks. 

Don't abandon your grill!
Don’t abandon your grill!

Grilled pizza

I’ve talked about grilled pizza before, and that’s because I think it’s among the most perfect grilled foods. Why? Because it cooks lightning fast, it’s actually more forgiving than you’d think, and you have loads of topping options. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • have a two-zone fire. On a charcoal grill that means all the coals to one side; on a gas grill, shut off half the burners.
  • have a disposable lasagna pan handy to put over the pizza to help melt the cheese and heat the toppings.
  • go light on the toppings. It’s not a deep dish pizza, mass quantities of toppings will result in messes and disappointment.
  • have your assembly line laid out close to the grill ahead of time.
  • making 2-3 batches of dough is no harder than one batch, and the dough freezes beautifully.

grilled-pizza

Last weekend we made a fabulous grilled pizza with caramelized onions, grilled portobellos, and Parmesan. Popped a nice red wine, lit a fire in the firepit, and had a wonderful fall evening. You should totally try it. Here’s my riff on a favorite recipe:

Ingredients

5-6 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed in a garlic press
½ teaspoon dried herbs (see what you have)
teaspoon ground black pepper
1 ¼ cups water
2.5 teaspoons instant yeast
teaspoon white sugar
cups bread flour
¼ cup cornmeal
teaspoons table salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet on low heat. Cook the garlic, herbs, and black pepper together till the garlic is nice and soft. Let it cool.
2. If you use active dry yeast you need to proof it. I hate that step, which is why I use instant yeast. The quantity I use is roughly equal to one packet of active dry yeast. Anyhow,mix the yeast, sugar, cooled flavored oil from step 1, and warm water together and set aside. In the bowl of a food processor add the cornmeal, flour, and salt and pulse it a few times to integrate everything. Then turn the machine on and slowly pour in the yeast/oil mix till a ball forms. Add flour if the dough seems too wet, water if it seems too dry. Leave the dough in the bowl top rest for a few minutes, then come back and process it till the dough is smooth (about 30-40 seconds).
3. Turn the dough out, roll it into a smooth, tight ball, and then pop it in an oiled bowl covered with a damp cloth for 2 hours. It should double in size.
4. Punch the dough down, then divide it into 8 pieces. Roll each of these pieces into a ball, drop them on a floured counter, cover with a damp towel and let them hang out for half an hour.
At this point you can freeze the dough balls for 3-4 hours and then Food Saver them for longer term storage, or roll ’em out and make awesome pizzas.

Grilled chile rellenos

My arteries hardened looking at this. Grill 'em!
My arteries hardened looking at this. Grill ’em instead!

I grew up in New England eating very New Englandy food. When I moved to California a whole new world was revealed to me. Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory? It was like that. Mexican and Southwestern and Tex Mex and all that food is terrific. Traditional chiles rellenos are deep fried. Grilling them is totally worth it, and it’s better for you than fried food. Weber has a great grilled chiles rellenos recipe here

Grilled sweet potatoes

grilled-sweet-potatoes

Baked potatoes are good but they’re nothing compared to grilled sweet potatoes. I’ll get a bed of coals nice and hot and then nestle sweet potatoes right in there. Wrapping them in foil keeps them from getting too charred, but I don’t typically worry about it. Let them cook for about 45 minutes or until soft and creamy on the inside, then bust them open and drizzle with melted butter mixed with ancho chile powder. It’s so simple but so amazing.

Baba ganoush

baba-ganoush

Seeing this (awesome) comic about hummus got me thinking about baba ganoush. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a dip made from smoky, roasted eggplant. It’s amazing with crackers or flatbread – heck, you could use the pizza dough recipe above and grill off a bunch of dough brushed with olive oil and have a great snack!

Alton Brown is the only celebrity chef who will cause me to completely melt down if I ever get to meet him, so I’d suggest his baba ganoush recipe.


This is the best webcomic ever. Seriously.
This is the best webcomic ever. Seriously.

I’m not known for taking great care of myself – I need to eat better, exercise more, and not wait till webMD tells me I have bubonic plague before calling my doctor – so I can’t really say how much these latest revelations will keep me away from grilled meats. No matter what, though, this list shows that you can avoid grilling meat without having to give up the greatest cooking appliance mankind has ever created: the grill.

Got a fav vegetarian grill recipe? Leave it in the comments, or share it on my Facebook page!

Dave Marciniak is a landscape designer and speaker. He lives in Culpeper, Virginia and can be found via his website and on Twitter.

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