Summer grillin’ and baked green polenta

Summer grilling season is upon us! I thought I would share a couple of vegan bbq guidelines so y’all have ideas about what you can throw on the grill this summer. And a baked polenta “pizza” recipe, because there will likely be leftovers and this is a good way to use them.

Grilling vegetables

Veggies take up most of the space on my grill. There are so many options!

Aubergine

Let’s start with the king — the mighty aubergine. While your grill is really hot, you can blacken/burn a whole aubergine (make sure to poke a few wholes in it with a sharp knife before!) and then make an Ottolenghi-style burnt aubergine dip, which is absolutely delicious. Or simply slice the aubergines into thick (~1cm) rounds, drizzle generously with cooking olive oil, add salt and pepper and grill. Make sure they are really nice and brown and soft, nothing worse than a spongy, undercooked aubergine!

Mushrooms

Another grill star is the mushroom, preferably the larger Portobello variety… For these, I like to do a balsamic vinaigrette-style marinade: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a little mustard, a bit of sugar/maple syrup/whatever sweetener, any Italian dried herbs, salt and pepper. Mix well to get an emulsion then coat the mushrooms well and let marinate 15-20 minutes before grilling.

Asparagus

Asparagus gets its own section because for me, it is associated with those first spring days when you can finally enjoy being outdoors for prolonged periods of time, and people throng to the parks or their gardens, dust out the ol’ grill and commence the season. Asparagus is overflowing from the market stands at that time, too, and it’s wonderful simply grilled with a little olive oil, then drizzled wit   h lemon juice and flaky sea salt.

Zucchini, peppers, corn & co

The staples: zucchini, green/red/yellow peppers, corn on the cob. These are all wonderful simply grilled with a little oil and salt.. Or, particularly for zucchini, in a marinade involving looooots of garlic (olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, much garlic, salt, pepper, any fresh or dried herbs/spices you have on hand — dill is great for zucchini!). Peppers can be sliced and also marinated or grilled whole over a very hot grill until the skin is charred, then peeled off after cooling. Corn on the cob: throw it on there, then enjoy hot off the grill with a dab of margarine or refined coconut oil and a sprinkle of salt. A new favourite: grilled beetroot! A touch of smoke complements its sweet earthiness in a particularly pleasing manner… Especially good with a bright zest-y dressing (lots of lemon juice or vinegar, some chili) to freshen it up and make it shine extra bright.

The surprises

Grilled lettuce? Avocado and broccoli? Spring onions? Okra? Why, yes please! As the person over at the Thug Kitchen so, um, eloquently puts it: “Elevate your grilling game with something that simpleminded motherfuckers wouldn’t even consider. Grilling veggies is some classy shit and it only takes a few minutes.” I often make a point of throwing at least one unusual thing on the grill to mix the game up a bit.

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Grilling fruit

Yes, you can grill fruit too! Ripe but firm peaches are amazing on the grill… You can enjoy them for dessert or make a big fat grilled portobello and peach burger. Pineapple is another reliable choice that people particularly appreciate. Then there’s the more experimental grilled melon, for example, where you want to choose a firm, sweet melon, scoop out the seeds and cut thick slices.. Not all melons would work well, I imagine. I’ve heard of grilled waterlemon but that’s out for me — watermelon is best fresh and ice cold, in my book.

BBQ sauce

BBQ sauce is delicious and almost anything marinated in it is sure to be a crowd pleaser. I usually like to do the more protein-y “meat-like” things, such as tofu, tempeh, seitan… These are particularly delicious when marinated for several hours or overnight. The sauce can also be served as a condiment on the table, and slathered on grilled corn-on-the-cob, for example. Mmmh… The recipe is below, but can be freely adapted according to ingredients you have on hand. I wrote up a mini-guide in the introduction to introduce the main flavour ideas you should look for.

Baked green polenta with grilling leftovers

A final note about leftovers: I often get over-excited with grilling things and end up with a bunch of grilled or ungrilled leftovers. These can be used for grilled veggie sandwiches or cooked in an oven or pan or whatever. Last time I made green polenta pizza: a bunch of chopped spring onion, parsley and organic lemon zest is stirred into fast-cooking fine-grain polenta just after it’s cooked, along with some fat (olive oil/margarine/refined coconut oil), nutritional yeast if you have it on hand, salt, pepper… While the polenta is still soft, spread it out on a baking sheet about 0.5-1cm thick and let it cool. Then top with whatever marinated things are hanging around: I had some BBQ tempeh and garlic-y zucchini as well as some old vegan cheese in the fridge. Then into a hot oven (200 degrees Celcius) it goes, for about 15 minutes or until the toppings are cooked.

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BBQ Sauce

BBQ sauce is strong and very flavourful: salty/umami, smoky, sweet, tangy and spicy. It should definitely include either onion or garlic. Bourbon is a great addition but can be omitted. Molasses (dark sugar syrup) lends a depth of sweetness that I think is particularly well suited here, but use brown sugar (a bit less) if that’s all you have. Similar with the chile in adobo sauce — gives a deeper, more satisfying spiciness but can be omitted if not available. The liquid smoke can be replaced by smoked salt (then use less or omit the soy sauce) or smoked paprika.

0.5 cups ketchup
2 tbsp tomato paste
2-4 tbsp apple cider vinegar, to taste
a bit of lemon juice, to taste
2-4 tbsp rapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
2-4 swigs liquid smoke
2 tbsp dark soy sauce or 4 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 cup Bourbon (or water)
2 tbsp pear/apple concentrate (or maple syrup)
2 tbsp molasses
0.5 tsp ground coriander
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, finely chopped. Else use any other chili or cayenne pepper
1 med yellow onion, grated or finely chopped
1 big garlic clove, finely chopped or smached
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)

Melt butter and oil and sauté onion and garlic for a few minutes until soft. Add Bourbon and let cook down for 5 minutes. Add rest of the ingredients and mix well. Let simmer for 10-20mins until desired consistency is reached.

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