The Definitive Guide to Meatless Grilling
A backyard barbecue doesn’t need to be a chest-beating, carnivorous affair. With an increased interest in plant-based eating, now’s a great time to expand your grill game to include fresh vegetables, tofu, cheese, and fruit.
Fear not: a meatless cookout doesn’t mean you need to compromise on flavor. That’s the great thing about grilling. The intense heat of the grates creates bold, complex flavors that make all foods (including myriad vegetables) more delectable. Here, we have a quick guide for a satisfying, meatless barbecue. Naturally, this meal begins in the produce aisle (meet you at ALDI, the low-price leader for seasonal, organic produce).
Start with a clean grill (oil, brush, oil again)
Vegetarians and vegans, in particular, don’t want grilled vegetables that taste like last night’s beefy dinner. But that’s not the only reason to clean your grill before each use: clean hot grates help prevent foods from sticking. Use this three-step method:
1. Carefully wipe the hot grates with a paper towel moistened in vegetable oil (this allows the fire you built to burn off a significant portion of debris); the towel will wipe away a significant layer of black, sooty carbon left behind from your last cook.
2. Next, use a grill brush to scrub the grates free of any remaining debris.
3. Then, use another paper towel to oil the grates a second time. Or, take another approach for greasing the grill: spear an onion half with a two-pronged carving fork, dip the cut side into a shallow dish of vegetable oil, then rub the onion back-and-forth over the grates. The fork allows you to rub more firmly than you can with a paper towel, and the oil and steamy juices do a great job coating the grill. (Bonus: the wafting aromas of charred onion smell delicious.)
If you’re worried about the heat, wear gloves or use the speared onion with a long-handled tong that keeps you further from the fire.
A beautiful platter of grilled vegetables can easily star as a main course; just add a creamy dip, a jar of vinaigrette, crumbled cheese, and grilled toasts. Go for a mix of color and textures, and if you’re grilling smaller items (e.g. mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, green beans) use a grill pan to avoid casualties through the grates. Grilled ears of corn and sweet peppers are great, but think outside the box and consider all sorts of veggies and greens, such as carrots or cabbage.
Curate the perfect spread
For great looking platters, choose a mix of colors and textures including dense, “meatier” vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms, as well as smaller, tender options (green onions, green beans, asparagus, or cherry tomatoes) that don’t need more than a spin over the fire.
Toss the vegetables with enough olive oil (or Simply Nature 100% Avocado Oil) to lightly coat, and season with salt and pepper or your favorite spice blend. Then grill over direct, medium-high heat, using tongs to flip and rotate items around the fire as needed for even charring. Remember to stick close to the grill; you’re looking for a balance of char and the vegetable’s inherently vibrant, fresh flavor, which shouldn’t take more than a few minutes on each side (a bit longer for weightier items).
Give smoky salads a whirl
The heat of the grill tempers the peppery bite of sturdy chicories that wilt but retain a satisfying texture. Use the same approach for romaine or small heads of cabbage for a charred, smoky Caesar or wedge salad. To grill greens, brush the cut-side of halved heads with olive oil and grill for a minute or two, until lightly charred, to retain some fresh crunch. Round out the salad with a burst of color (like charred mini peppers) and a creamy dressing that balances the big flavors.
Deploy embers for coal-roasted vegetables
Cooking vegetables like onions, sweet peppers, and spaghetti squash on a bed of glowing coals blisters and blackens their skin and turns their flesh tender and smoky. To coal roast, remove the top cooking grate and use tongs to place the vegetables directly on the coals (they should be glowing red and covered with a fine gray ash). Turn the vegetables as needed for even charring (the skin will blacken), then set aside to cool. Use your hands or a paring knife to remove the blackened exterior, and then use the smoky interior for pureed dips, a vegetable side dish drizzled with olive oil, or a component in another recipe (e.g. coal-roasted onions and tomatoes make killer ratatouille).
Start with a firm or extra-firm slab of tofu, and you have the proverbial blank canvas, ready to absorb any kind of marinade, seasoning, or sauce. Slice tofu into ½-inch rectangles, since thicker slabs are easier to wrangle on the grates. Brush both sides of the tofu with oil (olive or vegetable) and season with salt and pepper or your favorite spice blend. Grill over direct heat for about two minutes, until char marks appear. Use a large spatula to flip, brush with additional seasoned oil and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, until nicely charred and crisp. Serve grilled tofu on noodle salads, rice bowls, or on a platter with spicy peanut sauce and fresh lime.
Looking for other meat alternatives? Try the ALDI-exclusive brand Earth Grown, a line of vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based foods.
Firm cheeses (e.g. halloumi or aged Provolone) that have a low-moisture content and dense texture are perfect for grilling (or pan-frying). As the surface browns, the slices yield and soften slightly but retain their shape. Brush the slices of cheese with olive oil and grill them over hot, clean grates for about 2 minutes per side, until nice grill marks appear. Use a spatula to loosen the cheese from the grates so you retain the flavorful browned crust. Serve the crispy slices with olives and bread, as a fajita filling, or atop a salad of peppery greens.
Grilled dessert? Abso-fruitly
Grilled desserts don’t really require a recipe, just a bit of imagination. The heat of a grill can toast and deepen the flavor of day-old baked goods (think sturdy pound cake or banana bread) and artisan breads, and caramelize natural sugars in fruit. Bread and other baked goods can be lightly toasted over a medium fire (don’t forget to clean the grates a second time).
To grill fruit, slice the fruit as desired for presentation (keeping in mind the density and how it will hold up on the grill). In general, lean towards larger pieces; small chunks are more likely to break down. Stone fruits like juicy plums, peaches, and nectarines soften quickly. Halve them, so they hold together and are easier to remove from the grill. Slice firmer fruits that benefit from a sear on two sides, like pineapple or star fruit, into spears. Brush the cut-side of the fruit (or the sides you plan to grill) with olive oil and grill until the fruit is charred in spots.
Best of all, grilled desserts are a snap to assemble—and fun to prepare—so why not make the most of your lingering fire to create a smoky sweetness to whatever you have on hand? Just follow this simple formula:
1. Start with a base: breads, baked items, or fruit.
2. Add something creamy: ice cream, whipped cream, or toasted marshmallows.
3. Finish with a crunchy topping: granola, crushed cookies (butter cookies, peanut butter sandwich cookies), or toasted nuts or seeds.
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