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Six vegan and vegetarian barbecue ideas from around the world

From Mexican-style corn to Middle Eastern baba ganoush, there are plenty of ways to liven up your barbecue for vegetarians and vegans – it just takes a little research and imagination.

By Helen Graves
Published 11 Jul 2020, 08:00 BST
In Japan, sweetcorn skewers are dusted with shichimi togarashi, a spicy seasoning made with citrus peel, ...

In Japan, sweetcorn skewers are dusted with shichimi togarashi, a spicy seasoning made with citrus peel, sesame, seaweed and sansho pepper.

Photograph by Getty Images

It’s barbecue season, which means people all over the country are retrieving grills from spidery corners and wondering what on earth happened to the decent pair of tongs. For some of us, old habits die hard when it comes to al-fresco cooking, with traditional fare like grilled burgers and sausages often taking centre-stage. But with the rise of plant-based cooking, there are all manner of ways to bring diverse flavours to your summer cook-ups.
According to The Vegan Society, around 1.2 million people in the UK have gone meat-free, and the number of vegans quadrupled between 2014 and 2019. So, pass on the mixed-vegetable skewers and take inspiration from global cuisines instead — the tantalising flavours and creative techniques bring out the very best in each ingredient.

1. Grilled leeks with romesco

This dish would usually be made with calcots; resembling small leeks, these are a seasonal treat in Catalonia from November to April. In their absence, however, regular leeks will do. Traditionally, the alliums are grilled whole until blackened, then wrapped in newspaper and served on terracotta roof tiles to keep them warm. The diner peels away the charred outer layer and dips the tender green innards into a piquant sauce, before eating it whole, root first. If you’re using leeks, grill them until seriously charred, then excavate to reveal their sweet, mild centres. They’re irresistible with romesco sauce — a pepper mixture thickened with almonds and seasoned with sherry vinegar.

2. Mushroom shawarma

Shawarma is one of the world’s great kebabs, usually made by stacking meat into a vertical cylinder and cooking on a rotating spit. The home cook can borrow the general idea to make a veggie version using portobello mushrooms marinated in a mixture of garlic, olive oil, cumin, coriander and sumac, packed onto a skewer and grilled until tender. The smoky, spiced mushroom ‘meat’ can be sliced off the stick and wrapped inside a soft flatbread with yoghurt, chilli sauce and plenty of parsley and coriander. 

3. Baba ganoush

It seems logical to chop vegetables before grilling but many benefit from being cooked whole. Aubergines are the perfect example, and one of the best ways to eat them is in baba ganoush — a Levantine dip that also contains tahini, garlic and olive oil. Place the aubergines over direct heat until they’re black and beginning to collapse. Allow to cool before splitting and scooping out the creamy, smoked flesh, adding it to the dip, along with any precious juices. There are few things finer than a mouthful of silky, smoky aubergine scooped up with hot, fluffy pitta. 

4. Elote asado

Elote, or Mexican street corn, has various regional iterations, including asado (grilled), which sees the corn splashed with saltwater and then cooked in coals until the kernels are crunchy and charred. Home cooks can use the barbecue instead. Once it’s ready, brush with mayo and garnish liberally with chilli and grated sharp cheese — traditionally, a local variety called Cotija, but finely crumbled feta or parmesan make good substitutes. Alternatively, lime, salt and chilli powder is another classic topping, as is Tajín, a face-puckeringly sharp and spicy Mexican seasoning (widely available online).

Check out the A to Z of Mexican food

5. Grilled plantain

This versatile relative of the banana is eaten widely in Central and South America, across the Caribbean, in Africa and in parts of Southeast Asia. Used at all stages of ripeness, it can be boiled, mashed, fried, stewed and grilled. Look for fruits that are completely black; they'll be perfectly ripe with soft, perfumed flesh. Slice the unpeeled fruits lengthways, and place cut-side-down on an oiled grill for 15 minutes before turning and glazing with a 50-50 mix of melted butter and sugar. Serve on their own with a squeeze of lime and chilli flakes, alongside jerk chicken or pork (for the meat-eaters), or with vanilla ice cream for pudding. 

6. Kushiyaki

‘Kushiyaki’ is a Japanese term for grilled skewers, which can be made with a variety of vegetables. Try sweetcorn dusted with shichimi togarashi, a spicy seasoning made with citrus peel, sesame, seaweed and sansho pepper. Just as good are spring onions, skewered lengthways, or whole garlic cloves basted with butter. A tip: there’s no finer accompaniment to kushiyaki than ice-cold beer.

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