Summer is here, which means it’s grilling season!
Many people are gaining the understanding of the importance of plant-based eating as a means of supporting a more sustainable and healthier planet. However, sometimes this proves to be difficult to accomplish with grilling, which is often synonymous with grilled meats such as steaks, hot dogs, burgers, marinated chicken, and others. Occasionally, we may think of grilled vegetables, but these are often limited to just a few such as onions, bell peppers, and corn. However, there’s actually so much more that we can add to our library of grilling recipes, including a wider variety of vegetables and high protein options such as tofu, tempeh and seitan. These not only have a lower carbon footprint, but they are very nutritious and loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber.
When exploring new plant-based grilling recipes, consider looking to various international dishes as inspiration. Many countries commonly use grilling and related techniques to prepare traditional dishes. One place to start is by looking at various spices and spice combinations used in grilled meats but using them on plant-based options instead. Along the same lines, explore various dips and sauces that can accompany any grilling recipe. Making the same effort for vegetables and plant-based proteins that you’d make for meat will have a big impact on the deliciousness of the final product.
As you consider which vegetables to grill, go for more “firm” vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and carrots, among others. These can be cut into thick slices so they don’t fall through your grill grate, or you can use skewers or aluminum foil for smaller pieces of vegetables if you want to incorporate that smoky grill flavor. You can also grill fruits such as peach halves, watermelon, and honeydew, as they make great additions to fresh summer salads. Also, having more plant-based options does not necessarily mean having a meal low in protein or bland in flavor. By incorporating marinated tofu, tempeh, seitan—or even mushrooms!—as meat substitutes, you can boost the amount of protein in your dishes and pack them with rich umami flavor. Just don’t forget to press your tofu—for at least an hour or even overnight—to reduce the water content and make it more firm (this also allows tofu to soak in more marinade).
If you’re not ready to jump right into plant-based eating, there are still many ways to opt for more sustainable animal protein options instead. You can start by omitting red meats like steak and beef patties—beef has been shown to have some of the highest carbon outputs in the food industry—but can still enjoy your favorite marinated chicken recipes. You can also experiment with sustainable seafood, which includes a variety of different fish and shellfish. To learn more about which ones are sustainably caught, check out the recommendations by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
Whatever your grilling preferences are, there are many ways to incorporate more sustainable ingredients in your cookouts this summer.
Check out our handout: Sizzling Sustainable Summer Grilling