Tasty Vegetarian Dishes For Summer Cookout Parties

Conscientious and thoughtful hosts and hostesses like to cater for the variety of gastronomic requirements of our guests.  We don’t shove sugar at diabetics.  We thoughtfully keep the fat content down as our the guest demographic ages.  But I’ve known many party planners to panic at the prospect of catering for vegetarians.  The meat feast that is the American summer barbeque is especially prone to alarums.

People are turning to vegetarianism for many reasons. Some of these are to do with health, as a meat-free diet tends to be lower in fat than the usual carniverous diet. Some are vegetarian on animal welfare grounds.  Still others are turning increasingly to vegetarianism to lower their carbon footprint as meat production is high in CO2 emissions. Some are vegetarian on religious grounds; I know both Jews and Muslims who eat vegetarian as a way of  ‘blending’ in and also observing religious dietary rules whether kosher or halal.

Bean Burger with toppings on whole wheat bun--yummy and good for you!

Here too let me dispel the myth that vegetarians eat fish. They don’t as a rule. Although I know many a vegetarian who bends the rule when eating out to ward off starvation or they relax the rules when travelling in foreign countries out of politeness.

But many vegetarians don’t bend the rules.  So the conscientious party planner needs to ask if any guests are vegetarian.  And if they say ‘”Yes”, then the next question should be, ” Do you eat eggs and milk products?” Those who don’t eat either are vegan.

But to complicate things you may come up with interesting permutations. Vegetarian Hindus generally don’t eat eggs but do eat dairy products for instance.  And there are many people out there who are now sensitive to wheat or dairy products. So if you are making macaroni or potato salad be aware that some folk may not be able to  eat anything with mayonaise in it since egg is a main constituent. My suggested solution would be to make one traditional salad with mayonaise and another one with a vinagrette dressing.  You can ring the changes on rice or macaroni salad if you use some pesto in the vinegar and oil dressing. Or you could make a tabouleh or couscous salad which uses lemon juice in its dressing.  This mid-eastern standby of finely chopped parsley and bulghar wheat (you can throw in tomatoes and scallions too) makes a salad to please everyone.

The other point to note is that vegetarians really don’t appreciate having to eat their corn on the cob grilled on the same one that has been cooking hot dogs and hamburgers.  If you are going to grill corn on the cob or make veggie kebabs put them on a spare grill to cook them if at all possible. Basically, keep animal fats separate from foods for vegetarians.  I know many vegetarians who carefully quiz carry-out shops as to whether they fry their chips (French fries) in vegetable fat since many still use lard based fats for deep-frying.  Most pass if they don’t use 100% vegetable fat.

The good thing about these veggie burgers I’m going to share with you is that that they are quick to make, they need to be fried (so you don’t need an extra grill to cook them), and they can be made in advance and frozen.  When I make a batch I put a dollop into muffin tin sections to freeze them. Works a treat.

Bee’s Veggie Bean Burgers
First you need to make breadcrumbs.  Now depending on the brand bread you use you will have to experiment on how many slices you will use.  Aim to have about 1-1/2 cups bread crumbs whizzed up in the blender or food processor. Put 1 cup of bread crumbs into a medium mixing bowl.

Chop a small onion and a clove of garlic.

In the blender put in one 484g (approx. 15 oz.) tin (can) of red kidney beans (drained). Add 4 sun-dried tomatoes, 3 small and mild pepperdew peppers OR a dash of cayenne pepper. Add the onion and garlic. Pulse briefly, about 30 seconds. You don’t want to liquidise the beans to mush, just get them nicely squashed and the ingredients mixed through.

Add the blended ingredients to the bread crumbs. Grate in a small carrot. Add a 198g tin of sweet corn (drained). Finely chop about a half of a green bell pepper and mix the ingredients up.  What you are aiming for is a nicely colourful medley of vegetables – red, yellow, orange, green. You get the idea.

Then comes the less scientific part.  If you have vegan guests add a tablespoon of  vegetable oil and  gradually add more breadcrumbs so you have a mixture that you can bring together and will hold a burger shape nicely.  If your guests are vegetarian you have the option of using one beaten whole egg plus the extra breadcrumbs to bind your burger mixture.

Add a dash of seasoning.  I use mixed spice but you may want to put in your favourite Tex-Mex or Cajun seasoning.

Now form your burgers.  This batch will make 8-10 if you go by the pre-frozen muffin tin sized burger.

To cook them you need to heat olive oil or other vegetable oil and gently cook over a medium heat, browning and turning. You can cook them slightly in advance and warm them in the oven before serving.  You can even zap a platter for a  minute in the microwave if you are in a flap about getting everything out and served at the same time.  Serve with ketchup, along with or without the tradtional bun, depending on your guests’ preferences.

Couscous Salad with sun-dried tomatoes, olives and basil.

Couscous Salad
Couscous is par-cooked bulghar wheat.  Check the preparation directions on your brand as I have found these to vary.  Measure out 1 cup raw couscous and follow the preparation directions for plain couscous. You’ll dress up the plain couscous after it cools a bit. When cooking, it bulks up and less really is more.  It is so quick to make if you do run out you can make more in 20 minutes!

Using your blender, processor or a sharp knife very finely chop two bunches of parsley (each the size of a fist).  Add this parsley to the cooked couscous.

Optional: add some chopped black olives AND/OR some toasted pine nuts; a bit of minced garlic, chopped tomatoes and scallions; minced garlic, chopped tomatoes, black olives and scallions (or finely chopped onion); chopped black olives and celery; chopped green olives and pine nuts.

Dressing for Couscous Salad
The dressing couldn’t be easier. In a small shaker bottle, squeeze all the juice of a lemon. Add olive oil to a quantity three times the lemon juice volume. Add a finely minced garlic clove and a dash of cayenne pepper or tabasco and 1 tsp salt. Shake well in a jar and toss  the couscous in the dressing making sure it is thoroughly blended throughout.

A final thought…
The thing to remember with meatless diets is that vegetarians need a complement of beans/pulse/egg or dairy to grain for the equivalent protein you get from meat.  This combination of a vegi-bean burgers with the couscous salad offers a complement of grain to bean protein. Even if you are a committed carnivore this combination would bump up the neccessary fibre in your diet as well as giving you a number of your required five -a-day veggies; try it and see how your household responds to a change from conventional meat burgers.


About BeeSmith

I was born in Queens, N.Y, reared in Pennsylvania, did university in Washington, D.C. Then I moved to England for nineteen years. I lived first in London and then in Leeds. After my partner's sister died of cancer in 2000, we decided to take the leap of faith and move to Ireland to be nearer his family. Despite our friends thinking we were mad and feckless, it has worked out. The angels really do look after fools! We have a cottage on an acre and a quarter three miles from where the River Shannon rises. We have a polytunnel to grow vegetables and fruit organically, a small orchard of apple trees and plans to create a sacred space on the land over the rest of our lifetimes. We share our home with two tortoiseshell cats, Zelda and her daughter Zymina, and three dogs, Murphy, Pippin and Cara.