By Bianca Alexander
Before giving up meat and dairy, I used to throw barbecues that today, would make me cringe. My old menus betrayed my Southern roots, and were full of meat, gluten and sugary trans fats: hot dogs tucked into white flour buns, chicken breasts slathered in salty MSG barbecue sauce and home-made Lipton onion soup burgers replete with all the fixin’s. I considered myself a classy host, so sides were key – hot buttered corn on the cob; mayo-drenched cole slaw plus chips with onion dip; iceberg lettuce salad with ranch dressing. For dessert, flaky vanilla ice cream cones and endless cans of orange and purple soda in the cooler to wash it all down. Classy indeed.
After going vegan, my cookouts came to an end. I even stopped attending them. Who needs all the hormones, antibiotics, fat and high fructose corn syrup? On top of that, I’m gluten-free, so even if the host is conscientious enough to keep veggie grillers on hand, eating them is awkward. Conventional buns aren’t an option, so I’m forced to eat with my bare hands, which feels barbaric, or with a knife and fork, too formal for picnic food. As if being vegan isn’t awkward enough.
The last barbecue I attended, I politely asked the lady of the house (who just happened to have diabetes) if she had any veggie dogs or burgers. By the pale of her face, you’d have thought I just asked her to strip naked. Thank God she didn’t. Had I asked for gluten free buns, she might have had a stroke. Luckily, she’d grilled some corn on the cob in foil away from the meat. Sprinkled with a little sea salt, it actually tasted pretty good.
If you’re throwing a barbecue this season and are vegan or plan to invite guests who are, I invite you to think outside the lunchbox. Have fun being creative with these meat, gluten and dairy-free alternatives. Your animal friends will thank you, and so will the humans. Now get to cooking!
- Meat-less Grillers. Being vegan doesn’t mean we don’t want something juicy to sink our teeth into at mealtime. For meat-free alternatives to traditional pork and beef franks, try Tofurky’s plain veggie dogs, or for a spicier kick remnant of a half-smoke, throw a pack of their Italian sausages on the grill. When it comes to burgers, many are tasty but few can hold their own on the grill without falling apart into the coals. Try these Black Bean Chipotle burgers from Gardenburger. They’re sturdy enough for the grill and made with natural seasonings like green and red peppers, making them tastier than most. See if your meat-loving friends can tell the difference.
- Gluten Free Buns. These days, with one in 133 people suffering from Celiac disease, you don’t have to look far to find gluten-free options at most restaurants. Though some who are gluten intolerant have to be rushed to the emergency room if they are consume it, others (like me) simply suffer from bloating and cramping, not to mention extra pounds around the middle. Instead, serve your grillers on gluten-free wrappers like these soft vegan and GMO-free hamburger and hot dog buns made with brown rice by Ener-g, or Udi’s, if you or your guests are vegetarian and can eat eggs.
- Condiments. It goes without saying that great food is in the seasonings, and the same holds true for vegan cuisine. Just like preparing meat and fish, the herbs and sauces create the taste. In my book, the saucier the better. Instead of egg-based, high-fat mayo, try non-dairy Veganaise spread on everything from fries to veggies. Despite being low in sodium and freeofcholesterol, preservatives, gluten and trans fats, it’s creamy, savory, high in omega-3 fatty acids and tastes better than mayonnaise. Vegan Man makes a spicy special sauce with Veganaise in his Grilled Cheeze Sando recipe by mixing it with Sriracha, which we use for dipping just about everything.
- Sides. Chips and outdoor picnics go well together, but anyone conscious of trans fats and cholesterol will avoid them like the plague. Opt instead for gluten and GMO free Beanitos made from highly nutritious black, white or pinto beans, which are high in fiber and protein and low in sodium. Or, if you’re raw, try Vegan Man’s Cheezy Kale Chip recipe for a crispy, high-calcium treat. As for cooked sides, there’s nothing worse than gearing up for a hearty helping of savory greens, sweet potatoes or rice and beans and finding out they’re full of butter, milk or ham hocks. What’s the point? The best sides are veggies, so they shouldn’t contain meat. When in doubt, go with dark green leafies and leave the iceberg lettuce at the grocery store unless it’s being used as a food prop (e.g., a base for vegan cottage cheese). It has little nutritional value, and even less taste.
- Dessert. Ever since I was little, getting ice cream always felt like a reward for good behavior. Don’t deprive yourself—or your vegan guests—from enjoying the spoils of a great party. Finish off the meal with a dairy free dessert like So Delicious Ice Cream made with your choice of almond, soy or coconut milk. With dozens of addictively sweet, non-GMO flavors like Chocolate Peanut Butter, Gluten-Free Cookies and Cream, Cherry Amaretto and No Sugar Added Mint Chip, or vanilla ice cream sandwiches and Mocha Almond Fudge popsickle bars you can pull from the ice box on a hot day, they make it easy for vegans to say yes to all the things we love.
Enjoy! Here’s to a happy, safe and healthy holiday barbecue.