Whiplash-inducing turnaround, as per usual, on this blog. Last time moaning about the unseasonably cold April, and this time telling you to fire up the barbecue. Because SUMMER IS HERE, folks. We’ve had a couple of weekends where it’s been warm enough to cook and eat outside. I’ve planted out my beans. The remaining seedlings have moved out of the house and into the greenhouse. I’ve blown the dust off my flip flops and converted to summer dungarees. There’s no going back now. Summer is here. Mentally, spiritually, if not entirely physically.
And with it comes the annual ritual of eating a burnt sausage in a crappy bun with far too much ketchup on top because it all splooged out in a big blob at one end. (Every. Fucking. Time.)
That’s right, it’s barbecue season. And should you want some barbecue inspiration that isn’t the usual sausage-fest (ahem), look no further. Not that there’s anything wrong with a nicely cooked, smoky burger or hot dog eaten in the sunshine with a cold beer. It’s just that, like any cooking, barbecuing can easily get a bit samey, you know? Consider these ideas to work into your regular rotation of barbecue favourites. Ideas to prevent, if you’ll excuse the pun, barbecue burnout. And, as a bonus, they’re perfect for Awkward Vegetarians and Vegans.
The main dish(es)
A versatile marinade
First up, my trusty barbecue marinade recipe, which you can use to coat anything from meat to tofu to mushrooms. We used to use it for pork ribs back in the day. It’s based off an old Delia Smith pork chop recipe that I have tinkered and tinkered with over the years.
The recipe yields a lot, but it’s easily halved. (Or do what I do and use the surplus as a dipping sauce.) And, yes, there are a lot of ingredients, but just leave out anything you don’t have or sub in alternatives. You can use fresh garlic in place of the garlic powder, use tabasco in place of sriracha… It’s a forgiving mixture, so just keep tasting and adjusting as you like.
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 4 tbsp maple syrup
- 4 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 tsp sriracha (more if you want it spicy)
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 5 tsp English mustard powder
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
Just combine all the ingredients together and give it a good stir.
Za’atar tofu skewers
If you enjoy (or, like me, used to enjoy) pork souvlaki on your Greek hols, I urge you to try these skewers (pictured above). Za’atar is worth seeking out for its sexy, smoky, earthy, herbal flavour. You can probably find it in most British supermarkets these days, but here in Bulgaria, we buy ours from the Middle Eastern stores around the Women’s Market in Sofia.
It’s one of those ‘not really a recipe’ recipes:
Press some tofu for about 30 minutes until it’s nice and firm and dry. (I prefer smoked tofu for literally everything, but you do you. Just make sure it’s the firm or extra firm kind.) Then break or chop the tofu into chunks, and marinate in a mixture of:
- 2 heaped tablespoons za’atar
- A few BIG glugs of olive oil
- Smooshed up or grated garlic (I do two big cloves)
- Some chilli flakes (amount depending on your tastes)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- A good grinding of black pepper
Leave for an hour or so (longer is fine), then thread the chunks onto skewers (we soak our wooden skewers first to prevent burning) and cook on the barbecue until they’re about as done as you want them.
Whole burnt aubergine with tahini and chilli dressing
In this divine Honey & Co recipe, the aubergines are cooked whole on the barbecue until they’re on the verge of collapse. Then you split them open, douse the flesh with a dressing of lemon, chilli and garlic, then top with some whipped tahini. The recipe also calls for an egg yolk, which you scorch with a hot coal from the barbecue, but we skip that step.
The recipe is in their book, Chasing Smoke, and somewhere in the depths of their Instagram account (which is where I first saw them make this). But I’ve also found it online for you.
Butternut squash seekh kebabs
Okay, so this one I haven’t tried yet but it’s on my list of ‘things I want to sling on the barbecue asap’. It’s basically squash, chickpeas, garlic and spices all mashed together and squished around a skewer – like a squash lollipop! It’s a Meera Sodha recipe from her book Fresh India, but I’ve found it online if you don’t have the book.
The barbecue tip to end all barbecue tips
This is a tip I got from a Nigel Slater book. Slice a lemon or two in half and cook them, cut side down, on the barbecue. Then serve up the smoky lemons for everyone to spritz over their food before eating. Total game-changer.
I’m a big fan of barbecuing a variety of veg alongside whatever is the main event. Here are a few suggestions:
- Sweetcorn, obviously (I’ve seen a lot of recipes combining sweetcorn with miso butter, like this one, so we’ll probably be doing that this year)
- Spring onions, kept whole
- Whole chillies are excellent, if you like a bit of heat
- We even barbecue carrots, sliced fairly thinly into ovals and cooked in one of those frying-pan thingies that are designed to go on barbecues. The sweetness is somehow intensified. Highly recommend, even if barbecuing carrots sound like a big vegan joke. (I promise it’s not.)
To make your barbecued veg sing, make up a little jar of flavoured oil to brush over them as they cook. A simple mixture of oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper will do, but if you’re feeling fancy, also add some onion power, garlic powder and herbs (dried oregano is always good). Or there’s the miso butter idea above. Or, if I’ve made the za’atar tofu skewers, we’ll use the oily za’atar dregs in the bottom of the bowl, topped up with a bit more oil and lemon juice, to brush over the veg.
May I quickly put in a word for charring bread on the barbecue? Perhaps some chunky slices of sourdough to mop up juices or a nice wrap to encase skewered goodies.
A few ideas for the non-barbecued dishes. The salads and sides. The ‘things in bowls that you bung out on the table’ because, deep down, you’re always worried there won’t be enough food.
Mashed potato salad
Bear with me here, because I appreciate a salad of mashed potato and mayonnaise might sound a bit weird to some. (I, on the other hand, heard about this on a podcast and was onboard immediately). As well as the mashed potato and mayo, this salad uses spring onions, mustard, hot sauce and pickle juice to make an addictively creamy, tangy side dish. Last year, this was hands-down my favourite barbecue side.
The recipe is from the book Black Smoke by Adrian Miller, but you can also find it online. For my vegan friends, just choose your mayo accordingly.
My new favourite side – for anything, not just barbecues – is Olia Hercules’ cabbage slaw with toasted sunflower seeds, from her book Mamushka. I can’t find the exact recipe online (it’s worth buying her book), but here’s a quick approximation:
Mix some unrefined sunflower oil*, vinegar, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add some thinly sliced onion and let it sit in the dressing for a few minutes. Then add shredded white cabbage and carrot (to be honest, I’ve made this using jarred sauerkraut and pickled red cabbage, and it was still great). Top with toasted sunflower seeds and a healthy scattering of dill.
*If you can’t find unrefined sunflower oil, try a mixture of normal sunflower oil and sesame oil.
Turkish-inspired wilted greens and yoghurt
I really like this alongside the tofu skewers, because the creaminess offsets the intense smoky-savouriness. It’s your basic Turkish-ish shindig with wilted greens on a bed of yoghurt, topped with some chilli oil/butter. (And, often, a poached or fried egg, but you don’t want to be faffing around with eggs here.)
You can use whatever greens you have lying around – I like wilted kale, spinach and wild garlic at this time of year. Just wilt them down in a pan, spritz with lemon juice, and serve on a bed of thick yoghurt. (We make our own cashew yoghurt.) Then drizzle some chilli-and-garlic-infused oil or melted butter over the top, and scatter with fresh herbs (dill or parsley are good).
No doubt we’ll discover new barbecue obsessions over the course of this summer, so let me know down below if you’d like to hear more on this. And do tell what you’ll be barbecuing this year. Have you already started?