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6 Great Ways to Grill Vegetarian

Barbecues aren’t just for meat lovers anymore

spinner image platter of grilled leeks onions mushrooms and grape tomatoes
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​Many people can’t wait for grilling season each year, but if you are a vegetarian you may be left thinking, What can I eat? 

The good news is the days of just burgers and hot dogs are behind us, and plant-based, meatless options are both plentiful and as flavorful as their carnivore-pleasing counterparts. Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, adding in a few more plant-rich meals is good for your health and the environment.  

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​​So, what’s on the menu? Here are some tips for making vegetables shine on the grill this summer.

​1. Grilled vegetable platter

​​Start by visiting a farmers market for inspiration. Most of the vegetables that are in season can be grilled and easily transformed into a great main dish for a group. Serve a grilled vegetable platter with a variety of dips. Put out fixings for a build-your-own sandwich or use them to top flatbread or place atop greens for a hearty salad.  ​​

To get the most out of your grilled vegetables, take a few quick steps before they hit the grill, suggests Lonnie Romero, culinary director at the Spice House in Chicago. First: Be liberal with your salt and fat. ​ 

​“Whether you choose kosher salt or smoked Hawaiian sea salt, olive oil or coconut, just don’t skimp,” Romero says. “Season your vegetables in advance to let the salt begin penetrating your veggies, and have a nice finishing salt on hand if they need a little extra right off the grill.

”​​Next, think about marinating, just like you would with meat. Vegetables are perfect for marinating and require less time (15 to 20 minutes should be all you need). A marinade can be as simple as a blend of olive oil, lemon juice and your favorite spices.​​

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Once the vegetables are ready to cook, quickly sear them on a higher heat to give them grill marks and flavor, but then move them away from the intense heat to finish cooking. You can also use a grill basket to prevent vegetables from slipping through the grill grates. ​​

spinner image two cauliflower steaks cooking on a grill
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Keep in mind that different vegetables require different cooking times. Root vegetables — sweet potatoes, for instance — often take the longest. To speed up the process, parboil vegetables with longer cook times in advance.​

2. Cauliflower steaks​​

It’s not news that cauliflower is an incredibly versatile vegetable — you see it riced and mashed — but have you tried it grilled as a steak? Chef Noah Zamler from the Press Room in Chicago says the best way to prep a cauliflower steak is to start with an entire head and cut it into 2-inch-thick steaks and then brine or marinate. 

​​“I always use a simple 3:2:1 brine, with some additional herbs and spices, that is 3 gallons water, 2 pounds of salt and 1 pound of sugar,” he says. “For cauliflower, I also like to add allspice, ginger and garlic.” ​​

Let your steaks brine for 12 to 24 hours and then do a hard sear on the grill. If you prefer a marinade, Zamler creates one from equal parts miso, soy, water and honey, which should result in a paste-like consistency. He spreads it on the cauliflower and lets it sit for four to six hours. ​​

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Throw it on the grill for three minutes on each side, and you’ll have a delicious vegetable steak with some chew in the center.​

​3. Mushrooms many ways​​

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You often see mushrooms used as a substitute for meat, and for good reason: The hearty texture and earthy flavor give them an almost meat-like taste. And with so many kinds of mushrooms, you can pick and choose your favorites or offer a medley. 

​​Large portobello caps are great for grilling as a burger replacement or grilled and sliced lengthwise to use as the base in tacos. Drew Turnipseed, culinary director at Grilla Grills in Holland, Michigan, serves them in an open-faced sandwich made from grilled country bread and grilled portobellos, topped with a simple parsley pesto and quick pickled shallots.​​

spinner image portabella mushrooms on a grill with red peppers
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Smaller and medium-sized mushrooms work well too. Simply marinate (balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and minced garlic is a good combination), thread them on a skewer and voila — mushroom kebabs.

​4. Plant-based meat alternatives​​

Still craving a hot dog, bacon burger or grilled sausage? Many plant-based alternatives deliver the hearty satisfaction of animal proteins. Impossible Foods, featured in many restaurants, sells its “meat” ground or shaped into patties ready to throw on the grill. Beyond Meat sells three varieties of sausage (spicy and sweet Italian and original bratwurst) made for grilling. Hooray Foods makes plant-based bacon, which is best cooked in a pan but perfect for topping your burger.​​

5. Entire eggplant​​

Eggplant can be a daunting vegetable to work with because it may require a lot of prep work — but not when you follow personal chef Aaron Clayton’s method of grilling. He takes the whole eggplant, puts it on the grill and lets it burn until it turns ash white. Then pull it off the grill, allow it to cool and slice it open. The insides will have turned into a tender, smoky spread that you can scoop into a bowl and mix with a little lemon juice, olive oil and salt and serve on crusty bread.​​

6. Tofu

​​Tofu is terrific on the grill because its dense consistency means it won’t fall apart and its spongy texture makes it a natural for soaking up marinades or sauces. Just make sure to choose firm or extra-firm, non-silken varieties. And when you marinate, be careful not to oversaturate (nobody wants soggy tofu); just lightly coat for a few hours. A jerk marinade, which might feature allspice, onions, garlic, Scotch bonnet peppers, brown sugar and more, works well if you like things spicy, and a blend containing a bit of sugar or honey will lend the tofu some crispness.

Samantha Lande is a contributing writer who covers food, health and human interest stories for several national publications. Her work has appeared in Real Simple and on Allrecipes, the Food Network and more.

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