May is here! Time to get your Morris bells on, dance round a maypole and drink some Pimm’s. Maybe not all at once – you might fall over. It should also be time to dust off the barbecue and hang some bunting in your garden, or gather in the park causing a mild public nuisance, but the Great British bank holiday tradition is currently forecasting a bit of a washout this weekend. Right this second I can see some blue sky, so I’m remaining hopeful and still posting my top BBQ tips.
When I was young, being a vegetarian at a BBQ meant having to make do with a plasticy slice of Kraft cheese with a dollop of ketchup on a white burger bun. If I was lucky I would get a Dalepak cauliflower cheese grill – the ‘90s vegetarian staple before Linda McCartney galvanised the vegetarian sausage market. Thankfully times have changed, and even meat-eaters are looking for more varied and fresh alternatives at their barbies, so below are some ideas to get your summer started.
Remember, if you are cooking for vegetarians, be sure to separate the meaty and veggie sections – ideally having two seperate barbies. If you only have one, how about buying a small disposable one for a couple of quid?
Spicy bean burgers
Despite having wild tofu-based dreams ahead of a friend’s barbecue a couple of weeks ago I was pretty skint – I was drinking Tesco own-brand cider, that’s how low my bank balance was – so had to cobble something together with what I already had in. So I made a version of Jack Monroe’s famous and simple vegan 10p carrot, coriander and cumin burgers, adding a few extra bits and flavours and bulking them out a bit. I used kidney beans, as per the recipe, as I always have tins of these in stock, but you could alternate for any other bean – cannellini works well in burgers. I followed Jack’s recipe then added 1 cup of mashed potato, ½ a cup of frozen peas, about half a small courgette cut into long slices, and some additional flavours: ground coriander, chilli flakes and fresh coriander, plus a wee bit more breadcrumb to help them bind. I lightly pan-fried them ahead of the barbecue so that they didn’t stick on the actual barbeque and were much easier to transport and cook.
Vegetable and halloumi kebabs
Given that I am not eating dairy at the moment (day one and counting), it pains me to even talk about the squeakiest of cheeses but they are a veggie staple at any good BBQ – and often gobbled by meat folk before we can shake our chia seeds at them. Obviously the cheese can be omitted if you do want a vegan alternative. My first tip is to soak the kebab sticks before putting anything on them – ideally for half an hour or more. This is especially important for wooden sticks so they don’t burn or that the food doesn’t stick to them. Then ensure that your bit of veg and cheese are quite chunky – one inch cubes or more – so that they don’t fall apart or split on the stick. Ingredients like cherry tomatoes or buttom mushrooms can be skewered whole. The best thing about veggie kebabs is that you can choose whatever vegetables you prefer. I usually go for cherry tomatoes, mushroom, courgette, red onion and peppers. You can simply shove these on a kebab stick, whack on the BBQ and hey presto! However I like to add flavours – put all veg and cheese in a bowl and then add whatever herbs, spices and sauces you prefer. Here’s some of my favourite combos:
- Chilli, balsamic vinegar and mint
- Lemon juice, mustard and thyme
- Soy, ginger and garlic
- Honey, garlic and basil
Or you could use a marinade that you’re using for other food. Leave for 30 minutes or more to soak in all the flavours and then place on the barbecue, turning regularly until cooked all over. Be careful if using halloumi as it might stick to the grills to do turn it often.
Jacket potatoes – regular or sweet potatoes
When travelling in Shanghai we met a rather peculiar Aberdonian man at a gig. We were having a fairly normal conversation until he randomly asked ‘have you ever tried…to, eh, bake…a potato?’ His tiny brain could not comprehend such a complex cooking process, so I hope he’s not reading this today as this might just blow his mind. If you too are affected by renegade potato cooking, feel free to skip this bit.
For those made of the stronger stuff, this is pretty simple. To speed up the cooking I usually parboil whole potatoes first, for about 10 minutes. I then brush the skins with olive oil, salt and pepper and wrap them individually in kitchen foil. Put these on the barbecue and cook for about 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally so they cook and crisp up all round whilst being soft and fluffy inside. If you want to just cook them on the BBQ give them at least 40 minutes (30 minutes for sweet potatoes). Check they are cooked through with a skewer or knife first.
I hadn’t heard of this until this week but then two separate people told me about in the same day, so it is definitely a thing. I was so amazed I immediately added to my draft post!
Apparently all you need to do is cut a ripe avocado in half, remove the stone, sprinkle with black pepper, paprika or any other spices you like, wrap each half in foil and put them on the barbecue, skin side down for about 5 minutes. It should take on a lovely grilled flavour, and go a bit soft. If you try this out let me know how it goes!
Corn on the cob
These require less prep that a tattie – just whack ‘em straight on the BBQ (out of the sheath if you’ve bought them like that) and grill for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally. I like to season them with a bit of salt, pepper and chilli before cooking but you can do them plain.
To me, salads are an integral part of a BBQ. All the bread, burgers and grilled cheese, topped with lashes of beer, cider, wine and Pimm’s (all at once), can leave you in a food coma so it’s good to have something lighter too. A bag of floppy rocket or ice gem lettuce just won’t suffice, so get a bit creative and add a bit of colour to your barbecue.
Some of my favourite summer salads include oh my veggie’s fennel & red cabbage slaw, which I made for recent BBQ, Thug Kitchen’s herby (mayo-free) potato salad, a simple beetroot and orange salad from Riverford’s or a good old-fashioned Greek salad – just chuck together diced cucumber, black olives, diced feta, halved cherry tomatoes and sliced red onion, with a splash of red wine vinegar, olive oil and lemon juice (can be vegan-ised by omitting the cheese, or serving that on the side). Have a look at three more great salads on my guide to boss salads – the pear, walnut and feta one is brilliant for a barbie – juicy pear on a hot day for the win! And my baked tofu and mango salad is basically sunshine in a bowl.
Aubergines have a delicious, smoky taste when they are chargrilled, making them perfect for a barbecue. Ease is a massive factor here. All you need to do is cut them in half lengthways, brush with some olive oil and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt – the latter is very important to draw the moisture out of the aubergine so please do this even if you don’t usually cook with salt. Squeeze a little lemon juice and grind some black pepper on top.
For a total lush Turkish-inspired flavour, crush up one or two cloves of garlic, make small slices on the fleshy bit (inside) of your aubergine, taking care not to cut all the way through, and then wedge some of the garlic in. When roasted on the barbecue the garlic will melt into the aubergine creating delicious, creamy goodness. Sprinkling chilli flakes or paprika here adds a really nice added kick. Then you just place direct on the grill – skin side down – and cook until soft and chargrilled. You can do this with other vegetables too – like big chunks of peppers or halved courgettes.
This is a brilliant alternative carb option, which particularly goes really well with vegetable kebabs. You can throw in some diced vegetables – raw or grilled – but it is equally tasty with just some herbs and seasoning. I like to slice sundried tomatoes then add them with a tiny glug of the oil they come in, a sprinkle of crushed (or fresh) chillies and some fresh basil. Black olives are a yummy addition. Or if you have more time, grill some diced veg (tomatoes, onions and courgette are my faves) then add to cooked cous cous with some lemon juice and mint for a zesty side dish.
Lots of. I don’t think I need to explain this one really. The best guests are those that bring a bottle of wine and a big bag of crisps. Dips optional, but recommended.