How to Treat Your Vegetables Like Meat

CC BY 2.0. woodleywonderworks

Use these techniques to make veggies so good, even the meat-lovers will be salivating.

Victoria Day long weekend is about to kick off here in Canada, and Memorial Day in the United States is up next. It’s the season of backyard barbecues and the aroma of grilled meat wafting through the neighborhood... but wait! What if you don’t eat meat? Does that mean you’ll miss out on the traditional gastronomic pleasures of the first long weekend of summer?

Not at all! There are many ways in which to elevate vegetables to a position of glory, one so delicious and decadent that the meat-eaters may even look your way and wonder why they didn’t choose the same.

The secret to cooking fabulous vegetables, as we’ve mentioned before on TreeHugger, is to treat them like meat (though committed herbivores will likely argue this is the way veggies are meant to be treated). For centuries, meat has been the primary focus on the table, with vegetables playing second fiddle, but now it’s time to reverse that pattern.

No. 1: Dry-rub with spices.

Vegetables can handle strong, assertive spices. Forget the notion that all you need is a touch of salt and pepper (but it can be lovely, too). Mix up a harissa spice mix, use some za’atar, grab a barbecue powder, and rub it into whole heirloom carrots, cauliflower chunks, slabs of zucchini, and mushrooms.

No. 2: Marinate.

Vegetables absorb flavors beautifully. If marinated ahead of time, you’ll have no work to prepare them for the table post-cooking. I learned about the power of vegetable marinades from Madhur Jaffrey, whose newest cookbook, Vegetarian India, features a spectacular recipe for Punjabi-spiced cauliflower. It undergoes a two-hour marinade in spices, lemon, and coriander, followed by a hot sear in the oven and is, without a doubt, one of the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten.

No. 3: Brine.

Not a technique that one usually associates with vegetables, brining can soften the tough center of vegetables that may ordinarily take too long to cook on the grill, such as radishes, beets, cabbage, and carrots. Bon Appétit recommends “a brine of rice vinegar, sugar, salt, and aromatics infuses veg with character while jump-starting the cooking process. The result? They come off the grill just al dente.”

No. 3: Grill or smoke.

Grill your vegetables indirectly at low heat over charcoal and woodchips for a glorious smoky flavor. Potatoes, celery root, broccoli, fennel, and carrots are especially good for this, although I don’t think you can go wrong with smoke flavor, ever. A halved head of Romaine is particularly delectable on the grill, served as a Caesar salad afterward. If pressed for time, forego the woodchips and grill as usual with plenty of olive oil and salt.

Eat plain, sandwiched between soft bread, or turn into a salad by chopping and drizzling with balsamic and more olive oil. A handful of feta and nuts takes it to the next level.