Angst-free guide to grilling for vegetarians

vegetarian skewers zi3000/Shutterstock

Have questions about hosting vegetarians? Or maybe you don’t eat meat, but don’t want to stress out your hosts? Whatever your vegiquette situation, we’ve got the answers for you!

Q I have some really strict vegetarians coming over, and I want to make sure the barbecue is properly cleaned. Any suggestions for how to make sure it’s meat-free and whistle-clean?

A This isn’t just good for vegetarians; it’s good barbecue hygiene. It’ll make for fewer flare-ups and will extend your barbecue’s life (not to mention be less appealing for wildlife). Step 1. Burn off anything in the grates and below. 2. Shut down gas or propane, and let barbecue cool. Remove grates and soak in a large bucket of soapy water for 30 minutes. 3. Brush out or vacuum interior of barbecue until clean. 4. Scrub grates clean with soapy water, then rinse and dry. 5. Coat dry grates with vegetable oil. 6. Refill bucket with soapy water, and use a sponge to clean exterior of barbecue until it sparkles. 7. Replace all parts, then heat barbecue to medium. Keep it going for 15 minutes to season oiled grates. You are now vegetarian ready.

Q I’ve figured out what to do for my vegan appetizers and main course, but I’m clueless as to what to make for dessert. Do I really have to make two separate desserts?

A Nope. Without the use of dairy, eggs, or milk chocolate, making your old standbys can be tricky. So go ahead and make your famous Baked Alaska, but compliment it with a fruit salad and some vegan ice cream. Or put vegans in charge of bringing a bonus dessert from their favourite vegan bakery.  

Q My favourite niece is coming to the cottage for the weekend, and she just told me she’s now vegan. Is it rude for me to suggest that she bring her own food to throw on the grill?

A Well, she is your favourite niece, not to mention a guest, so she shouldn’t be made to feel lesser than. This is a good time to hit the internet (or, ahem, cottagelife.com) and learn a few things about how easy it is to prepare vegan delights on the barbecue. Think: a hearty salad like Blackened Tempeh Steak Salad, Buffalo Cauliflower, and pulled pork–inspired jackfruit tacos.  Some—but not all—vegans might be sensitive to foods being cooked in the same pan or grill as meats. But don’t assume. Ask about their comfort level, and if they’re concerned you could dedicate a separate pan for vegetarian food only.  

Q I’m basically being forced to have a vegan barbecue, but I still want meat! Can I make some hamburgers and eat them in front of my vegan friends?

A Just like there are colours in the rainbow, there are varying degrees of vegan activism. Some are bullhorn-toting advocates, while others quietly live a plant-based life. A few years ago, I asked a vegan Toronto chef, “What’s the difference between vegan and plant-based?” His answer? “Politics.” So, whether or not eating meat will make your guests uncomfortable depends on them. If you’re close enough to your friends to invite them to your cottage you should be able to talk to them. Just ask.  

Q I’m a vegetarian, and I’ve been invited to a cottage for a week. I’m the only one who will be there who doesn’t eat meat. Should I be offering to make vegetarian options that I can eat? How can I make things easier for my hosts?

A Eighty per cent of my friends are vegetarians, and we routinely have wonderful barbecues. How? We plan for it. Inform your hosts of your vegetarianism so they can make accommodations. Be honest—if you hate tofu, say so, but also be reasonable. 

They’ll probably ask you for suggestions, which can be as simple as buying a couple of packages of veggie burgers. 

Cottage Life usually advises guests to offer to cover one meal, from prep to clean up. The same applies to you: ask if you can bring a vegetarian meal for everyone to enjoy and expose the gang to a new delicacy. (Making this offer is also a graceful way to let your hosts know your food needs, if they haven’t asked.) You can even bring things to add to other meals that everyone can enjoy, like your famous pesto pasta salad, some hummus and veggies, or a homemade pie. We’re all team players at the lake!

This story was originally published in the June/July 2020 issue of Cottage Life.

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