Summer is undoubtedly cookout season, with grills across America piled high with meat as we celebrate holidays and abundant sunshine.
Your grill can handle so much more than meat, though.
But burgers and hot dogs are such common barbecue foods that it can be hard to break out of that rut. Whether you’re looking to shake things up at your next grill session or you need new ideas to please vegetarian partygoers, consider making veggies the star of your next cookout.
Vegetable-based entree dishes don’t have to be bland or boring, either. (We promise!)
In fact, the best vegetarian grilling can woo even diehard carnivores. From burger swaps to veggie kabobs, there’s a whole world of plant-based options to lighten up your summer soiree without compromising on taste.
Here are seven ideas to get you fired up for grilling season.
#1) Portobello Sandwiches
Cheeseburgers may be the current king of the cookout, but that doesn’t make them the best choice for a healthy diet. Eating a lot of red meat has been linked to various health problems. That includes diabetes, stroke and cancer.
Studies even show that people whose diets are high in red meat may be more prone to early death. Yikes.
When you want the hearty texture of a burger without the inherent health risks, try portobello mushrooms. Their large size makes them just right for filling burger buns. Mushrooms are also a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin D and zinc. And portobellos, in particular, are high in the antioxidant ergothioneine.
As a guide, check out Skinnytaste’s method of grilling portobello caps. The recipe includes a light marinade and suggests a sprinkle of your favorite steak seasoning. That addition lends these “burgers” a familiar flavor. Reduced-fat cheese and fresh produce serve as delicious finishing touches.
#2) Bean Burgers
These days, grocery store shelves are brimming with prepackaged veggie burgers. They’re convenient and can work when you’re pressed for time, but they can also be high in sodium. Making your own bean burgers is a smart alternative, and it’s easier than it sounds.
Beans are high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol. They also provide fiber and folate and have even been linked to lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Still not convinced that beans will satisfy your craving for grilled meat? Give Taste of Home’s vegetarian burger recipe a try.
For convenience, this recipe begins with canned black and pinto beans. Carrots, onions, garlic and a mix of seasonings add to the flavor profile. After grilling, top these burgers with lettuce and salsa for a southwestern flair.
#3) Vegetable Hoagies
Sausages and other processed meats have been linked with an array of health problems, among them cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Instead of grilling brats at your next cookout, opt to fill your hoagie rolls with grilled veggies instead.
Sandwiches with a mix of vegetables provide an assortment of nutrients.
Food & Wine has a recipe for vegetable sandwiches with all three of these nutrient-packed veggies. The produce is coated with a seasoned dressing of oil and vinegar, which provides flavor and keeps the vegetables from sticking to the grill grates.
The recipe also calls for a slather of pesto on the hoagie rolls, but melted provolone would be another option for the non-vegans in your group.
#4) “Shredded” Cabbage Sandwiches
Shredded meat and barbecue sauce just seem to go together. As an alternative, though, give grilled cabbage a try. You can slather it with the same sticky sauce that you’d use on pulled pork.
Purple cabbage is naturally low in calories, making it a great choice for seconds (or thirds) if you’re hungrier than usual. Plus, each serving delivers up a healthy dose of vitamin C. And as a bonus, the anthocyanins that give this veggie its rich purple hue may help protect your heart.
The recipe for Beer-can Cabbage Sandwiches from Epicurious involves grilling an entire head of purple cabbage over a can of your favorite pale lager. After about 45 minutes on the grill, the leaves will be tender, flavorful and ready to chop. Mix in grilled onions and barbecue sauce before piling the filling onto toasted buns. Add jalapenos for a kick if you’re in the mood for a little spice.
#5) Summer Pizza
If you’ve never had grilled pizza, you’re missing out. Cooking the pizza over a grill gives the crust a crisp char. It’s an at-home way to replicate the texture of wood-fired pizzeria pies.
Pizza toppings don’t have to be meaty, either.
In fact, grilled pizza dough provides a fabulous platform for showcasing fresh summer vegetables. Homegrown tomatoes should play a starring role if you have them. Unlike sausage and pepperoni, tomatoes are low in fat, calories and cholesterol. Plus, they contain vitamins A, C and K. If you don’t grow your own tomatoes, you can find fresh options at your local farmers market.
Take a look at Salt Pepper Skillet’s Grilled Heirloom Tomato Pizza recipe. It will walk you through the steps for cooking a pizza outdoors. For a beautiful presentation, select a variety of heirlooms in a range of sizes and colors. Don’t forget the drizzle of olive oil for the finishing touch!
#6) Cauliflower Steaks
Replacing your meat-based entrees with produce can be good for your health and your wallet. Case in point? A stack of ribeyes for a crowd can quickly eat up your summer dinner party budget. Vegetable main dishes are often much cheaper. You can buy a head of cauliflower for just a few dollars. And sliced into “steaks,” one head will easily feed two to four people.
Cauliflower has developed a reputation as a good choice for folks on low-carb diets. More than that, though, this cruciferous veggie is also a valuable source of folate and vitamin C. It’s also low in calories and contains no fat.
This recipe for Grilled Chipotle Lime Cauliflower Steaks from The Kitchn will guide you through the process of slicing cauliflower into planks. The suggested seasonings provide an irresistible smoky flavor. After just 11 minutes of grilling time, you’ll have tender, ready-to-eat cauliflower steaks. (Bonus: your wallet will still be in good shape, too.)
#7) Veggie Kabobs
Most summer shish kabobs involve threading cubes of raw meat and chopped vegetables onto skewers. It can be a messy, time-consuming process. To simplify things and speed up your prep time, forgo the meat portion of this dish. Vegetable-only kabobs can be just as satisfying.
Plus, this can be a kid-friendly dish to prepare. Even picky eaters may enjoy the process of skewering the vegetables, so invite your kiddos to get in on the action (with supervision, of course). They may even surprise you and try the finished product. Fingers crossed.
Veggie skewers are the type of meal you can make again and again throughout the summer, changing up the vegetables and marinades each time. There’s a nearly endless assortment of produce that you could include, so there’s no reason for this meal to become boring.
Common favorites are bell peppers, red onions and cherry tomatoes. Other options include zucchini, yellow squash, button mushrooms and sweet corn. You could even try broccoli or cauliflower. Brussels sprouts are just the right size, too.
FoodieCrush offers a collection of tips and tricks for veggie skewers. The instructions include four marinade options as well as an extensive list of seasoning ideas. One of the top reminders: soak wooden skewers ahead of time so they don’t burn on the grill.