Barbecue doesn’t just have to be about meat. In fact, some of the most delicious, varied dishes you can create on the barbecue are vegetarian, or even entirely vegan. Charring vegetables, especially on an open fire, concentrates flavours, unlocking natural sweetness, and adding that distinctive smokiness that comes from cooking outdoors over flames.
Different vegetables barbecue wildly differently, so it’s worth experimenting a little bit: all the vegetables in the recipes below can be thrown on the barbecue and left, but others will need some assistance. Many vegetables – sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes and fennel bulbs, for instance - are best cooked in foil parcels, either to trap a little moisture, or (in the case of the tomatoes) to stop them dissolving into a seedy mess and falling through the grates.
Here are three of my favourite vegan barbecue recipes, all of which follow a basic formula: marinating ahead of cooking, and then barbecuing until beautifully soft and charred. Barbecuing the vegetables below brings out entirely new flavours. I don’t think I ever truly liked asparagus, for instance, until I started eating it barbecued, grilled, or charred; now I can’t get enough of the stuff. The chicory below is an adaptation of a recipe from Grill Smoke BBQ by Ben Tish, elderberry balsamic replacing the pomegranate molasses in his version: there is a recipe for elderberry balsamic here.
All the recipes below are vegan, and serve two as sides alongside a barbecue, or can be cooked all together with a pasta or potato salad.
For more information about barbecuing, I have written another post with advice about types of barbecues, cooking styles, fuels, and more.
Asparagus with Chilli and Garlic
Blanch a large bunch of asparagus spears in a large pan of water (or by pouring a kettle of boiling water over them in a colander over the sink), then allow to cook. I find this softens them enough for the marinating flavours to permeate. Once cool, place in a shallow dish, and add 2 finely sliced garlic cloves, 1 finely chopped red chilli, leaves from a few sprigs of thyme and a pinch of salt. Drizzle over two tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, and turn the asparagus around in the marinate until the ingredients have mixed together and the spears are well coated. Then place in the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
When you are ready to cook, lay the asparagus over the direct heat on a preheated barbecue, making sure the spears sit at right-angles to the grill bars to stop them falling though. (If this sounds like common-sense, just trust me that its easy to forget while you are playing Tetris for space on a busy barbecue, and I have lost more than my fair share of asparagus spears to the coals…) Cook for about 10 minutes, turning regularly, until well charred and softened.
Chicory with Elderberry Balsamic
You can find a recipe for elderberry balsamic here. This recipe takes a number of days, so it something that will need to have been prepared in advance.
Quarter 2 heads of chicory (either white or red), and drizzle with some olive oil and a good sprinkling of salt. Place the eight quarters over the direct heat on a preheated barbecue, and cook for about 12 minutes, turning regularly, until the outer leaves are well-charred and the base of each quarter has begun to soften. Test this with the fork: the base is unlikely to go completely tender before the leaves are inedibly burnt, and can be cut off if it remains too tough for your liking.
Remove the chicory from the barbecue and place on a tray, and finish with a liberal drizzle of elderberry balsamic.
Mushroom Burgers with Sundried Tomato Pesto
In a small bowl, combine 2 tbsp of vegan sundried tomato pesto with 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Add two finely sliced garlic cloves and a small handful of shredded basil leaves, and mix well. Lay 4 large portobello mushrooms on a tray, spoon the pesto mix over them, and spread evenly, top and bottom (this is almost impossible to do without using your hands!) and then place in the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
When you are ready to cook, place the mushrooms over the direct heat on a preheated barbecue, gills facing upwards, for about 5 minutes, then turn over, and continue to cook until they are soft and charred. If they are still releasing a lot of water, move them to indirect heat for a few more minutes.
Serve two mushrooms stacked in toasted buns (ideally brioche-style vegan buns), with your choice of condiments.