Vegetarians needn’t fear Fourth of July barbecues

Published on Thu, Jul 3, 2008 by Tara Nelson

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Vegetarians needn’t fear Fourth of July barbecues

By Tara Nelson

For many, the days leading up to Fourth of July will likely be filled with charcoal-infused dreams of backyard barbecues with icy-cold beverages and meat charred to a delicious crispness on the grill.

That is, unless you’re a vegetarian.

Which brings to question how the barbecue host should handle those guests who have adopted a vegan or vegetarian-based diet or, conversely, how vegetarian hosts should cater to their carnivorous friends.

Fortunately, there are some vegetarian grilling recipes that are delicious enough to keep such friends from being damned to the social sidelines of the American sacrament of the backyard barbecue, some even satisfying enough to entice the most vehement steak-eater, never mind what the U.S. Beef Council might tell you.

And it just so happens grilling is a healthy way to capitalize on the fresh flavors and nutrition of summer produce in its peak of freshness, whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, raw foodist, extreme bioregionalist or opportunivore.

This is because heat from the grill intensifies the vegetable’s sweetness by caramelizing the naturally occurring sugars without destroying the vitamin content or overcooking.

One ingredient, however, deserves more than its weight in press as a healthy meat-substitute: The portabella mushroom.

This giant fungus is a strain of the cute but flavorless white button mushroom and has a meaty flesh and hearty, earthy flavor that makes it a delicious alternative to ground beef or steak (or, in some cases, a great addition to). It absorbs flavors well when marinated and can stand up well to the heat of the grill, not to mention it is virtually fat-free and contains no cholesterol.

The mushroom was a featured ingredient in a recent vegetarian cooking class hosted by the Birch Bay Sawan Kirpal Meditation Center, a non-denominational community center co-founded by the president of Nature’s Path.

Sandy Culman and her husband Ron took over as caretakers of the center in 2006 and have since been organizing a series of vegetarian cooking classes as well as other community service oriented events at their center tucked away into the forest near Birch Bay.

There, an open pasture on the lower section of the property offers a 180-degree view of Puget Sound and the San Juan islands and the 10 acres of surrounding forest boasts an extensive trail network for leisurely walks.

A large garden also provides fresh fruit and vegetables for visitors to the center to cook in the community kitchen.

“A consistent thing I hear from people is they would eat vegetarian if they knew how to cook vegetarian,” said Culman. “But it’s not as hard as people think.”

The property was acquired in 1986 by the New Delhi, India-based non-denominational Science of Spirituality organization under the encouragement of Arran Stephens, founder of Nature’s Path organic foods, and late Blaine mayor Dieter Schugt, both of whom were members.

On June 21, a group of about 15 participants – some vegetarian, some not – attended the workshop, expressing their concerns and sharing tips on various topics ranging from finding ways to please the entire family when one or more member is vegetarian to ingredients listed on labels.
After a discussion of convenient supermarket products typically made with textured vegetable protein, participants broke into small groups to tackle such culinary delights as a grilled, marinated portabella sandwiches with toasted ciabatta bread, pesto mayonnaise, fresh basil leaves, tomato and provolone cheese; and a grilled asparagus salad with vine-ripened tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, a type of fresh, whole milk cheese that has a soft texture and delicious subtle flavor (recipes follow).

The emphasis was on utilizing the flavor of the unbelievably fresh produce, and precautions were made to not overcook them.

Of course, Sandy and her husband had saved us the hassle of measuring and chopping ingredients by organizing them into small dishes for the rest of us to assemble with ease. This saved a considerable amount of time and allowed us to get right to the most important task – eating.

More information
The Birch Bay Meditation Center provides a variety of community events including organic gardening workshops and a weekly meditation class from 7:30 to 9 a.m. each Saturday for all skill levels as well as a women’s meditation. They are located at 5560 Bayvue Road.
For more information about their events visit www.sos.org (select “Birch Bay Center” under the center’s menu) or call 371-5560. Their next vegetarian cooking class series is scheduled to begin in September.

Recipes

Grilled, marinated
portabella pesto sandwiches
Large portabella mushrooms
(see tamari marinade recipe)
Ciabatta sandwich rolls
Pesto mixed with equal parts
mayonnaise or vegan mayo
Provolone cheese, sliced
Sliced tomatoes
Basil leaves and/ or lettuce

1. Marinade portabellas in resealable bag for 1 to 4 hours.
2. Barbecue or broil three to four minutes on each side.
3. Assemble on toasted rolls.

Tamari marinade
1 cup olive oil
¼ cup water
¼ cup toasted sesame oil
¼ cup brown rice vinegar
1 cup tamari or to taste
2 cloves garlic minced
¼ cup chopped basil or to taste

Grilled asparagus salad
with buffalo mozzarella

1 lb plump asparagus, trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black
pepper
1 (8 oz) ball buffalo (fresh) mozzarella
2 juicy oranges, peeled and
sliced
8 small vine-ripened tomatoes,
thickly sliced
Good crusty bread for serving

1. Put asparagus in flat dish. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss gently to coat spears with oil
2. Cook asparagus on hot barbecue grill rack for a few minutes on each side until lightly-charred, turning with tongs. (The asparagus should remain crunchy.)
3. Pat mozzarella dry with paper towels. Slice it thinly.
4. Arrange sliced oranges and tomatoes on serving planter or on individual plates.
5. Grind more pepper over all and drizzle with olive oil.
6. Serve with bread.