However inventive we are when barbecuing, much of what ends up on the grill is essentially meat-based – sausages, burgers, steaks, chicken – but the likelihood is that at least some proportion of your barbecue guests will be vegetarian. So how can you cater for them, without making them feel like they’re an afterthought? Sure, they can fill up on all the accompaniments – salads, pasta, bread and so on – but a good host will want to make sure all their guests feel they have been considered.
First and foremost, think about your cooking arrangements. While some vegetarians may not be too bothered, those who are vegetarian for religious or moral reasons will not want to eat food that has been cooked on the same grill as the pork sausages, so it’s best to think ahead.
If you have a large barbecue, you can probably designate a whole grill for veggie options. If not, you’ll either have to have an extra barbecue (or even a disposable one) to hand. You could choose to cook all the veggie options first, and ensure that your grill has been thoroughly cleaned before you start, but unless you’re only catering for a few people this could turn out to be a bit of a logistical nightmare. What do you do if a veggie guest comes late and you’ve run out of suitable food, and started cooking meat on the grill?
Okay, so you’ve sorted out your vegetarian-only grill, whatever it may be. Next – what to cook? Sure, you can go for pre-prepared vegetarian sausages and burgers. But do read the cooking instructions first – many are not suitable for grilling, and because of their lower fat content tend to burn and stick on a grill. You may find it easier to put a frying pan on the fire and cook them this way – this also solves your issue about using a meat-tainted grill! Whatever veggie food you are cooking, remember to brush the grill with oil first to avoid sticking. Also bear in mind that a lot of vegetarians don’t actually like the taste of meat, so may not be too thrilled being presented with a meat substitute.
But let’s get a bit more adventurous with your vegetarian barbecuing options. Some of our favourite ingredients (which may well be scoffed by your meat-eating guests, so make sure you do plenty) are:
Portobello mushrooms – simply brush them with oil and cook on the grill. They can be served in a bun like a burger, with cheese and burger relishes.
Corn on the cob – wrap in foil first or it will just get singed rather than cooked. We find it best to have these precooked and then brushed with butter and finished off on the barbecue to get that lovely smoky flavour.
Halloumi cheese – this works so well on the barbecue, as it holds together rather than melting into an uncontrollable mess, and has a lovely chewy texture. Make halloumi and vegetable kebabs, and drizzle with olive oil before grilling.
Grilled vegetables – asparagus, sliced aubergines or sweet potatoes cook well on a barbecue. Brush with olive oil and grill for about five minutes. If you find they get singed without cooking properly, wrap in foil first, cook and then unwrap them and finish off on the grill for that authentic barbecue flavour.
Aubergine wraps – those grilled aubergine slices can be rolled around a number of tasty fillings. Try goat’s cheese and herbs, for instance. Wrap an aubergine slice around a chunk of cheese, secure with a cocktail stick and pop back onto the grill for a couple of minutes.
Tofu – make sure you use extra-firm tofu to avoid it falling apart and make sure you dry it using a clean tea towel or paper towels, which will compress it more and help it to stay together during the cooking process. Tofu is notoriously bland, so marinade it in a flavourful marinade before cutting it into cubes and making up a kebab. Add some tasty vegetables such as tiny onions, peppers and mushrooms.
Quorn – can be treated in the same way as tofu. Again, it benefits from a good strong marinade such as tandoori or balti (try mixing a tandoori paste with olive oil, lemon juice, plain yogurt and herbs). You can use the same marinade for any chicken you’re cooking, but obviously make sure you keep the two batches of marinade separate.
Marinades – look at the marinades you are using on your meat dishes and think about using them on veggie dishes. Sweetcorn for instance, will be delicious basted with a sweet honey or maple sauce dressing, or a lemon or lime and butter coating that you may be using on some fish. Again, just make sure that you keep the dressing you use for meet or fish separate from that you use to brush on any vegetarian barbecue dishes.
Finally, ensure you have enough utensils so that you can designate a pair of tongs, spatula, knives and forks as meat-free.
So, there’s nothing too tough about catering for vegetarians at your barbecue. Just plan ahead so that you have a suitable grill for preparing your vegetarian dishes, think about the ingredients of side dishes so that everyone can enjoy them – and have fun.