As the plant based revolution continues, the most recent cuisine to be veganised is an eagerly awaited summer highlight that makes for a perfect social event. Whether it’s at a park, on a beach, or even on a college-provided grill, there’s nothing like watching sizzling coals of the barbecue in the warm sunshine (safely, of course). Move over meat eaters, because this summer, vegetarians and vegans have a license to grill.

Meat has long hogged the barbecue, with the slow cooking tradition holding great significance to the African-American community (highlighted in the recent Netflix show “High on the Hog”), and many other countries have their own versions of open fire cooking – think tandoori, Mexican grill, or kebabs. While grilled meat has long been appreciated by people around the globe, the growing popularity of meat replacements is reflected in UK supermarkets. Tesco’s “Wicked” brand recently launched vegan skewers, made with pea protein, as have the expanding “THIS” range, and with vegan halloumi and burger alternatives on offer too, you can be sure that there’ll be no more plates piled high with salad for non-meat eaters. 

That’s not to say that salads, or any vegetables, need be neglected this summer: MOB Kitchen’s Peri Peri Sweet Potato salad is a perfect example of a spruced up, flavourful side dish. With roasted sweet potatoes with a herby kick, fresh celery, peppers, sweetcorn, tomato and coriander, this salad is balanced and will definitely complement a PB-BBQ. A grilled peach salad with crumbly cheese and rocket, or something more citrussy can be a great way to add acidity, sweetness, or some of your 5 a day into a barbecue too. You can even spice up a corn on the cob with Peri Peri seasoning, or make a “Masala Corn” in the style of Indian street food, with butter (or alternative), chilli powder, honey and lemon juice. 

Homemade vegetable skewers are a classic, but can seem bland or boring if they’re not done right. Seasoning your veggies with olive oil, salt and pepper before they hit the coals is imperative – and mix up the flavours too! Try oregano and lemon juice on diced aubergines, courgettes and peppers for a Mediterranean skewer, or slather miso paste on slices of onion for an Ottolenghi-inspired umami sensation. Add cayenne or chilli powder for a bit of spiciness, with an extra squeeze of lemon once they’re cooked to give the spices a facelift.

Marinating might seem like a lot of effort with little reward, but it can actually reduce the amount of work you have to do once the grill or barbeque is on. For vegetarians, this is the trick you need for soft and delicious paneer tikka, and can be replicated with tofu. Marinades are essentially layers of flavour, they need at least 6 hours in the fridge to sink in so that delicate spices aren’t overpowered by smokiness from the grill. 

A popular marinade in North India is Hariyali – literally meaning ‘green’, because of the fresh herbs it includes. Start by cubing 400g of your paneer or tofu, then add 4 tbsp of ginger and garlic paste, followed by 2 tsp of turmeric powder – this is the first marinade. Cover this, and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then add the juice of one lime, and let it sit for another 10 minutes. In this time, use a blender to prepare the third marinade, consisting of 2 handfuls of cashew nuts, 6 tbsp of plain yoghurt (dairy free is fine!), 1 cup each of fresh mint and coriander, 2 tsp of cumin seeds or powder, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tbsp poppy seeds, a few cardamoms and chillies, plus a pinch salt and pepper. Feel free to taste the marinade to check if it needs adjusting – it should be fairly hot.  Finally, add the thoroughly blended bright green mix to your paneer or tofu, before refrigerating it for at least 6 hours. This marinade will be worth the effort when you taste the flavour it imparts!

Lots of the new veggie and vegan options for a barbecue are sure to be popular with meat eaters too, but if you’re someone whose diet has long been ignored at these summer celebrations, this year might just be your chance to hog the best options on the grill.

Published in print on 09/06/2021

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