If you follow a plant-based/vegan life-style, no doubt your omnivorous friends might enjoy gently ribbing you about your choices. However, they love and want to spend time with you — and that may include doing so at everyone’s summertime favorite — a cookout. Do you have to learn how to char a steak perfectly even if you’d never voluntarily consume beef yourself?
Absolutely not! With a bit of cooking mojo and creativity, you can host the perfect vegan cookout everyone will enjoy, even those who usually prefer traditional burgers and brats. Here’s how to plan the perfect vegan summer barbecue your friends will rave about well into October!
1. Think Fresh and Seasonal
Why would you want to serve seasonal foods? Dozens of reasons exist, but the primary ones are that such foods are tastier, fresher and more nutritious than out-of-season goods . Additionally, produce grown on local farms requires less shipping to transport, minimizing your carbon footprint. Part of the reason you went vegan in the first place was to practice greater environmental stewardship, right?
Additionally, local growers can inform you how your produce was raised. There’s no need to worry about dangerous inorganic pesticides, for example, if you buy from a local Amish vendor who uses horse manure to till the fields. They also use natural crop rotation to improve soil and grow higher-quality produce.
2. Hit Up Your Farmers Market
One wonderful way to ensure you’re buying the freshest produce is visiting your farmers market during the months it is open, year-round in some areas. Shopping locally stimulates the economy where you live. Your dollars directly benefit your neighbors, building a stronger sense of community. And, if you’re a savvy shopper, you can score some major bargains.
One tip for a successful farmers market trip? Take your own reusable bags. Many vendors do reuse bags, but there’s no need to contribute to the single-use plastic problem. Because vendors provide their own supply of sacks, they’ll often offer discounts of $.5-$.10 for bringing your own (plus, you’re shopping more sustainably).
Another tip? Plan your trip for the end of the day in the final hour before the market closes. Vendors dislike having to transport fruit and veggies back home, and many will offer substantial discounts in order to avoid doing so. And treat your vendors with kindness and a smile. Get to know them and ask how their days have been. Once you form a tentative friendship, they’re more likely to offer you rock-bottom deals.
3. Prepare a Simple Menu
Next, you need to decide what you want to serve. A host of vegan convenience foods exist, such as vegetable-based patties, but many are high in preservatives, salt and artificial flavors — the kind of things which make non-vegans turn up their noses.
Instead, take a clue from the delicious recipes below for a main course, side dishes and a salad course.
· Grilled portobello mushroom burgers with basil aioli – While this recipe calls for mayo, using vegan mayo makes this “burger” completely plant-based and cruelty-free . This will delight your friends who have dairy sensitivity, too, plus you can make these gluten-free by swapping out the buns. You can top these the same way you would regular burgers, or enjoy them with the vegan aioli alone. The creaminess of the non-dairy mayo provides adequate texture.
· Vegan elote. Elote is Mexican street corn, so give your barbie a south-of-the-border flair with this delicious recipe . While the recipe mentions butter, we recommend a vegan European-style spread for extra creamy goodness when blended with the mayo (so don’t put that jar away yet!). Your friends will feel like they’re strolling the cobbled artisan streets of Tlaquepaque, especially if paired with a margarita.
· Lebanese lemon-parsley bean salad – There’s no need to stay in the New World when you can create a wonderful fusion and give your guests a protein punch with this Middle Eastern salad . The cucumbers give this dish a satisfying crunch, but the hearty kidney beans make this dish practically a meal on its own. You can eat it as is, or pile it on pita chips for finger food.
· Arugula salad with mango, macadamia and avocado – Everyone adores avocados these days for good reason — they’re chock-full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. And they taste amazing, especially blended with tangy mango and mildly nutty macadamias . Using salted macadamia nuts eliminates the need for a shaker later.
4. Look for Almost Meat
If you’ve got some hard-core carnivores coming to your shindig, you can introduce them to veggie burgers. However, have you tried reading the ingredient labels on some store-bought veggie patties? Many of them contain impossible-to-pronounce ingredients like disodium inosinate, an artificial flavor meant to mimic the taste of MSG.
Compare this to the top five ingredients in Beyond Meats “burger” and “sausage” products: water, pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil and rice protein . And when the company claims the burger tastes like the real deal, it does — I recently gave these a try and I found the taste eerily similar to beef! — making these a great, plant-based choice to serve up to the dedicated meat-eater set.
5. Respect Other Dietary Restrictions as Well
Just because you adhere to a vegan lifestyle doesn’t mean your other guests may not follow their own eating regimen. Obviously, if your friends follow an omnivorous diet, you could let them bring their own meat. But if you have friends who eat kosher, gluten-free, dairy-free or nut-free, plan some dishes (besides salty fries) they can dig into as well.
Most of the recipes above can meet such restrictions with a few simple modifications. For friends with celiac disease, disclose how dishes were prepped, and consider letting those guests eat first if cross-contamination is an issue at a buffet-style spread . Nut allergies can prove fatal, so prep anything with nuts in it in individual portions for serving to minimize contamination risks.
6. Consider a Potluck
Just because you’re hosting the bash doesn’t mean you need to do all the prep work by yourself. Encourage your friends to contribute potluck-style! How do you get your guests to go along with bringing a vegan dish without ending up with three bowls of fruit salad and four bags of pretzels? Make it a contest!
Challenge your friends to come up with the ultimate vegan side dish. Of course, you don’t have to decline store-bought goodies like crudité trays from your less culinarily-inclined guests, but with the advent of “Food Network,” many people appreciate the joy of getting in the kitchen and whipping up new recipes. You can even turn your barbecue into a miniature version of “Chopped” — just make sure everyone “wins” with a rave review for their efforts.
7. Remember Dessert (the Best Part!)
No barbecue is complete without dessert, and you can whip up many delicious treats which are vegan as well as gluten-free. Simply use chickpea flour instead of regular flour, and voila! Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans in Spanish, both describe the plant cicer arietinum, a member of the legume family. Therefore, the flour is naturally free of gluten, a protein found in wheat .
Consider these ideas for desserts everyone will love.
· Chickpea flour thin mints. Summertime may not be Girl Scout’s cookie season, but you can enjoy these vegan treats any time of year! The coconut oil adds some healthy fats and the cocoa powder adds antioxidants as well as chocolate-y goodness .
· Peanut butter banana chickpea blondies. While not appropriate for those with peanut allergies, these blondies nevertheless offer a vegan and gluten-free alternative to those who don’t like cocoa flavor to predominate . The light banana flavor makes these taste airy enough for a summertime treat.
8. Keep Snacks and Drinks Flowing
If you don’t want your guests to leave the moment their stomachs start growling, you’ll want to keep the food and drinks flowing all night, or at least until the sun sets. After all, your guests will need to refuel after that backyard volleyball match, right?
Fortunately, vegan dips pair perfectly with tortilla chips, crackers and crisps. Whip up some curried hummus dip or some spinach and artichoke dip to please guests with a yen for snacking. Both also pair wonderfully with crudités for those watching their calorie counts.
Serve up a host of non-alcoholic mocktails to go alongside any alcoholic beverages you might provide. You want to be respectful of anyone who refrains from drinking, and alcohol isn’t generally healthy anyway. For the boozy set though, think sweet tea sangria with fresh peaches and raspberries — the wine and tea blend keep the beverage low on the alcohol count.
For those who like elegance without the intoxicating effects, serve up mojito mocktails for a refreshing summer treat. Garnish with a sprig of real sugar cane for extra elegance.
Throwing a Vegan Cookout Fit for All
You don’t need to give up your commitment to cruelty-free eating if you want to squeeze in another barbecue or two before summer draws to a close. By following the tips above, you can throw a perfect summer cookout without putting meat back on the menu. And your guests will surely love it!
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