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Friday, June 21

Gapers Block

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What was I thinking? Not only did I invite several vegetarians to a cook-out, but I invited several vegans. Holy crow!

Now, relax. I'm being entirely facetious. I love my vegan and vegetarian friends. And a few years ago I would have been ridiculously worried about what I was going to feed them, but no longer.

You may find yourself selectively choosing the friends you invite over since you know you're likely to be planning a carnivore's dream. If you find yourself saying, "Nope, can't have Amy over. She eschews the meat of animals. And Chris is definitely off the list since he won't even eat a grilled cheese sandwich," then keep reading.

Below are some tips and recipe ideas to make it possible to not only include your vegetarian friends, but maybe also to get your meat-eating friends to understand that grilling has more to offer than brats, burgers and steaks.

The first tip is to understand that if your friends don't eat meat, then they probably don't want their veggie burgers cooked on meat juices and flipped with your meaty spatula. Some people may not care as much. Some might even relish the tender but secretive nugget of hamburger that ends up on their tofu dog. But most won't. So the best bet is to cook their food first and use tools designated for the veggies. Clean off a portion of the grill and make sure that no meat comes within an inch or two of that crispy patty made from black beans. Or, if they show up later, feel free to either clean off a section of the grill, place a piece of foil where their food will cook, or fire up a smaller grill specifically for non-meat items.

Even if you aren't cooking for vegetarians, you'll want to start with a clean grill. That buildup will end up adhering to your burgers and causing them to stick and fall apart. For the price of a package of veggie burgers, you can purchase a grill brush. This will let you scrape off all the cooked-on goo, no matter where it originated.

Once you've scraped it clean, which is actually easier to do when the grill is hot, wad up a paper towel and douse it with vegetable oil. Use a pair of tongs to rub it across the grate. This will not only grease the grate to make it harder for stuff to stick to it, but it will help wipe off anything small that was left behind.

Now that you've got a clean grill, or at least a clean corner of your grill, you need to know what to put on it, don't you. Now before you rush out and purchase packs of pre-made vegetarian burger and wiener substitutions, understand that you have other options. You can make your own veggie-based patties, you can skip the patty/tubesteak-like options and go straight for vegetables, beans, tofu, etc. Many of these you can put on skewers. All of these can be cooked in those little foil pouches that I love so much.

Homemade Veggie Burgers
1 15-ounce can of kidney or black beans, drained
1/2 cup of rolled oats
1/2 cup of chopped button mushrooms
1/2 of a small onion, minced
1 shredded carrot
1/2 of a red bell pepper, chopped
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of ketchup
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of salt

In your food processor or blender, combine the black beans and the rolled oats. Pulse them several times before adding in the vegetables and spices. Pulse several more times. Form into four large or six smaller patties and place in a container. Refrigerate for an hour before cooking. This will permit the flavors to blend through the beans and oats and it will permit the oats to swell and act as a binder. Placing them on the grill when they're still chilled through will also keep them together better. If you like you can freeze them and then defrost them in either the microwave or on the counter before grilling.

To cook on the grill, make sure your grill has been wiped down with oil around the outer edge of the coals. Place the burgers away from the center, but still over direct heat. Let them cook for at least 4-5 minutes before flipping them. These will be soft if cooked on the grill so be careful when turning and turn as few times as possible. If you prefer, you can cook these under a broiler, or you can fry them in a skillet. Both of these methods are more likely to result in crispy exteriors, but the center will still be soft.

If you want a less-flavored patty, you can omit the jalapeño and cumin altogether. Or you can add in some Italian herbs, or even some curry powder, to create burgers with a different flavor. These are very versatile and easy to flavor.

Cooking tofu on the grill is easier than it sounds — as long as your grill is hot, clean and oiled. The heat will cause the tofu to stick for a minute and then once a skin is formed, it will release. Being clean is an obvious nececcsity, since it will stick to whatever is stuck on your grill. And if it is oiled, the release will happen easily. To prep your block of extra-firm tofu, drain any water out of the package. You'll want to cut it fairly thick. About 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick is good. If you're worried about your flipping skills, feel free to just cut it into sticks. These will be easier to turn, especially if you insert a skewer into the tofu.

Grilled Tofu on a Stick
1 package of extra-firm tofu, drained
1/2 cup of lime or lemon juice
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
2 tablespoon of olive oil
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced

Cut the block of tofu into four even slices. Cut those slices in half width-wise. Place the tofu in a glass or plastic bowl and pour the other ingredients on top. Let it sit in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes to 2 hours. Drain the pieces of tofu and insert a skewer almost all the way through each stick. Once your grill is heated, cleaned and oiled, place them over direct heat and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side. Once they are cooked on each side, remove them and serve.

Pouches with Beans and Veggies
The secret to cooking with pouches is to not overstuff them and to not puncture them. This way the pouches take about the same amount of time to cook as a hot dog or hamburger would, which permits you to make several ahead of time and simply toss one on the grill when it is needed. Your guests don't have to wait long and you don't have to spend lots of time opening, poking and checking. A good rule of thumb is that no pouch should have more than two cups of ingredients and two pouches is easier to cook than one.

1 can of pigeon peas, black beans, garbanzo beans or other bean
1 small onion sliced thinly
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
1 roma tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon of oregano (1 tablespoon of fresh)
1 teaspoon of thyme (1 tablespoon of fresh)
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1 pinch of cayenne pepper

In a large bowl combine all of the ingredients. Create two foil pouches and spoon half of the ingredients into each pouch. Fold closed on the top. Place over indirect heat and cook for 10-12 minutes, or place over direct heat and cook for 6-7 minutes. Serves 4-6 as a side dish or 2-3 as a main dish.

Hopefully these few recipes, combined with those from an earlier column, will make it easier for you feel comfortable inviting all of your friends to your next barbecue, and not just those who delight in eating charred meat. If you have vegan or vegetarian friendly foods that are appropriate for the grill, include them in the comments. Together we can remove the ban on vegans and vegetarians from barbecues all over the city.

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amyc / July 9, 2007 6:21 PM

I'm totally going to make those veggie burgers! And the veggie pouches, too.

I wish I had the recipe for Earwax Cafe's black bean/quinoa burgers. Those and Kopi's tempeh burger are my favorites in Chicago.

jen / July 11, 2007 3:09 PM

amyc - probably subbing quinoa (cooked, right?) for the oats in that recipe could work, right? you could probably tinker with it and come pretty close.

Rx Prices / August 29, 2007 1:27 PM


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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