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So what’s your favourite oxymoron? Militiary intelligence? Adult male…?

July 4, 2010


I love barbecues.

 When I say that out loud, people usually laugh. Either that or they look a bit like their brain just flicked up an “unrecognised command” message.

 To most people a barbecue is the carnivores meal. Barbecue, by definition, means piles upon piles of burgers and sausages, accompanied by various sauces, and a mountain of bread rolls.

 In fact, I’ve been to a fair few barbecues where I’ve forgotten to take my own food with me, and spent the night eating mustard sandwiches. Then ended up ridiculously drunk from drinking cheap stubbies on an empty stomach. We live and learn.

 This isn’t really a criticism of omnivorous barbecue hosts – because it does seem to be one of the few areas of British food culture where veggie-awareness has made  very little impact. Most people these days don’t express too much horror when I tell them I don’t eat meat, most people have at least one or two dishes in their repertoire that are suitable, and almost all restaurants (even Nando’s) now do a vegetarian option – and increasingly, I’m finding that it is actually something vaguely imaginative (there was a period of time when I thought if I ever had to face another goats’ cheese tart, I would actually scream).

 But barbecues are still seen as very much a meat-eater’s domain. You might get some quorn, or other “fake meat” burgers, but no, real, veggie-tailored food.

 This really does strike me as quite odd. As I might have mentioned before, I grew up in a predominantly veggie household, and haven’t touched meat since my early teens. Yet barbecues play a huge part in my childhood memory – my Mum used to serve up amazing barbecue fare –  sweet, juicy stuffed tomatoes, singed and buttered corn on the cob, smoky barbecued garlicky dressings, the taste of just-the-right-side-of-burning-your-mouth haloumi cheese with little charred black flakes falling off, baked potatoes cooked slowly in the dying embers – those are the flavours that say “barbecue summer” to me. Sure, you might add a few burgers or chicken thighs, but the vegetables were the main point of the whole affair. Perhaps because those vegetable dishes seemed more barbecue specific – after all, you can have a burger anytime – but when else do you get a barbecued kebab?

 For those of you who fancy barbecuing the vegetarian way I urge you to get started whilst the weather holds out. Virtually everything you normally cook under the grill will cook ten times better on the barbeque, but if you want some ideas for starters, here are my personal favorites:

  • Kebabs. Everytime I’ve taken these to a barbeque veggies and meat-eaters alike have gobbled them up. There’s no strict method: just buy some kebab sticks, poke stuff onto them and marinate. I always put cubes of haloumi on mine, but tofu, or even quorn would also work fine. Then pick your veg. Mini veg like cherry tomatoes and button mushrooms are a good start because you don’t have to chop anything, just impale them on the stick and off you go. Courgettes and peppers are also awesome barbecues, even if you don’t normally like them.  Make your marinade by mixing some olive oil with some balsamic vinegar (or salad dressing!) in a bowl and adding whatever herbs and spices you fancy (paprika is particularly good).
  • Smoked peppers – these take a while, but start them early and you’ve got a nice tasty accompaniment ready for when everyone starts eating. You put your peppers on the top shelf of your barbecue (known as “the smoker grill” apparently – if you don’t have one you can improvise by propping the tray from your grill up on some bricks over a small or disposable bbq) early on in the evening when you’ve just lit the coals. Leave them there til they pretty much go black. Then take them off, tie them up in a plastic bag or put in some Tupperware to cool – after they’re cool enough to handle, you should be able to peel off the black skin to reveal lovely soft and super-sweet pepper underneath.
  • Haloumi. Did I mention how much I love haloumi? It’s amazing, it chars but doesn’t melt so is ideal for barbecuing a thousand different ways. Experiment!
  • Mozarella on aubergine, courgette, or anything else you can think of. Works a bit like cheese on toast – except this is an Atkins-dieters dream. Slice your aubergines lengthways, and salt them, barbecue on one side, turn over, add slices of mozzarella and cook again. Great with hamburger relish or chilli sauce.
  • Stuffed tomatoes – there are several ways of doing this, but the principle is the same. You get a big beefsteak tomato, you scoop out the flesh from the middle, you mix the flesh with some other ingredients and then spoon it back in to the tomatoes (obviously you end up with more filling than space in the tomatoes, but you can eat the extra ion it’s own as a nice pre-barbecue snack before the guests arrive). Here’s one very simple idea to get you started
  • Bananas and chocolate – what can I really say about this other than OH MY GOD – seriously this is proper orgasm food. Pretty simple – find the basic idea for what to do here
  • Veggie burgers – homemade of course – if they’re a bit crumbly or very wheat based I suggest using a baking sheet rather than placing them direct on the grill, otherwise you’ll lose half your burger to the flames.
  • If you can get hold of one of those fancy barbecue-woks (basically a metal bowl with tiny holes in it – you can sometimes get them in pound shops) – try doing a stir fry on your barbecue. All the usual – beansprouts, carrots, peppers etc – with plenty of chilli – the chargrilled taste really adds something extra.
  • Salads and sauces. OK – so ideas for salads is potentially a different blog entry altogether. There are whole books written on this subject – but as well as your standard green-leaf-and-tomato fare, make sure you at least add a summery new potato salad, and perhaps a pasta or rice salad. Until such time I get around to writing my “sexy salads” blog entry the BBC food website once again comes up trumps with a good selection of salady recipes.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. The Bystander permalink
    July 4, 2010 20:23

    How soon can you get here?
    Let me know when you’re on the way and I’ll light the charcoal.
    As a long-term veggie (with pescetarian tendencies) I’d long since come to think of bbqs as something that “other people” do. I got heartily sick of eating the token charred quorn burger and declining invitations to bbqs has become a reflex action.
    But you have shown me that perhaps there is another way… Mmmm, mustard sandwiches…

    • July 7, 2010 19:48

      that’s great news! Thanks. Ironically, I often find barbecues are one of the best ways to convince skeptical meat-eaters that vegetarian food can be really delicious. There’s something about the sensory experience of a barbecue – the smell and the special-ness of eating outside, that means any food tastes a little bit better anyway, so it’s a great time to get someone to try a veggie kebab and show them how juicy and tasty they can be.

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