For carnivores, grilling is pretty straightforward: Throw meat on the fire, cook it and eat. But the matter isn't so simple for the growing number of vegans, and those who might call themselves "vegan-ish," looking for something more satisfying than the usual grilled vegetables. Oprah Winfrey recently told her studio audience, "Vegan-ish, maybe that's what I'm gonna be, because I'm not ready to commit to the whole thing." This was after she and 378 staffers undertook a week-long vegan challenge that included a visit from author Michael Pollanwho advises eating "mostly plants"and a trip through a slaughterhouse.
Now, more and more talented chefs are creating delicious dishes with no meat, no milk, no animal anything. And they're using their grills to help do it. "Thank God we've moved past the grilled vegetable plate," says Amanda Cohen, a chef who sometimes eats fish but doesn't serve it (or any meat) at her New York City restaurant, Dirt Candy. "Vegetables are delicately flavored, so grilling can mask their taste if you're not careful." The key, she says, is finding a way to balance "that elusive, smoky-charred flavor" by combining ingredients that are grilled with ingredients that aren't, as in her fettuccine with summer squash two ways: sautéed, and pickled and grilled. "It's mostly about layering," adds Sean Baker of Berkeley's Gather restaurant, who stuffs grilled eggplant with cashew "ricotta". "Grilled ingredients in a dish contribute smoky flavors that even people who aren't familiar with vegan food can relate to."
Vegan Recipes: The Vegan Pantry
In Place of Eggs
Crumbled tofu sautéed with turmeric (for color) and other seasonings is a vegan take on scrambled eggs. Yuba (tofu skin) wrapped around a vegetable filling is omelet-like.
In Place of Meat
In Place of Milk
All sorts of nuts, grains and beans can be blended with water, then strained to create non-animal milks.
In Place of Fish
Dried seaweed varieties such as nori, dulse and wakame have a brininess that tastes of the ocean. They are a good substitute for fish and also offer savory umami notes that help add richness to a dish.
In Place of Cheese
Raw cashews, when seasoned and pureed with water, become spreadable and creamy, just like soft cheese; mix in flavorings like nutritional yeast or rejuvelac (the strained liquid from fermented grains) for buttery, funky notes.
An F&W Editor Confesses His Love: "I'm no vegan, but nutritional yeast a tasty food with a truly terrible name is an ingredient I wouldn't want to do without. The savory butter-yellow flakes can help make lighter foods, like salads and popcorn, way more satisfying. Some people say it tastes like Parmesan, but I think the flavor is more like roasted chicken skin. I sprinkle the yeast on my dinners with abandon; I'll even admit to eating it straight." Daniel Gritzer