Summer Cookouts and Picnics
Summer Cookouts and Picnics

The idea of a summer cookout generally conjures a vision of meat on an open fire, but the joy of cooking and sharing food outdoors can be enjoyed by vegetarians as well. Among my fondest childhood memories of my village is that of farmers sitting around an open fire roasting freshly picked corn in the field.

Summer picnic basket
Summer picnic basket

Summer’s a perfect time to get together with friends to enjoy food that is cooked outdoors on a grill. The host need not feel isolated within the kitchen at home; instead all guests can help with cooking outside, adding to the feeling of communal sharing. Plan a varied menu that includes complementary dishes. It helps to familiarize yourself with your grill ahead of time, so you can avoid surprises at the event. Since grilled food is very hot, keep some oven mitts, potholders, towels and tongs handy. In your picnic basket, you can include
* water, juices, soda and root beer
* organic wine and micro-brewery local beer
* for the grill, purchase vegan deli items like firm tofu, tofu dogs, soy burgers and veggie burgers in addition to homemade deli items such as Tabbouli and Baba Ghanooj (recipes below).
* a variety of local and imported cheeses
* freshly baked bread, crisp-bread or crackers, with some gluten-free options
* gluten-free chips
Here are recipes for three Middle Eastern dishes that are perfect for your outdoor party.

Tabbouli is a visual feast, a beautiful salad of bulgur and vegetables made with aromatic mint leaves and fresh olive-oil dressing. It can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to a week.

1½ cups bulgur (cracked wheat)
4-5 cups warm water
1 large bunch (2 cups) curly parsley, (remove stems)
1 cup fresh mint leaves (remove stems)
1 bunch scallions, chopped finely,with some of the green tops included
1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into very small cubes (1-1½ cups)
1 red bell pepper or a fresh tomato, cut into very small pieces (½ cup)
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon or lime juice, freshly squeezed
¼ teaspoon crushed oregano leaves, dried or fresh
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
In a bowl, cover the bulgur with warm water and let it soak for 30 minutes.
Wash, drain and mince parsley and mint leaves; combine the leaves and vegetables in a large bowl. Drain the soaked bulgur completely by wrapping in a cheesecloth and squeezing out the water or take a handful of bulgur at a time and squeeze most of the water out. Add the drained bulgur to the bowl of leaves and vegetables. Toss all the ingredients gently to mix.

Combine the dressing ingredients in a covered jar and shake or whisk until thoroughly blended. Add the desired amount of dressing to the bowl of tabbouli and mix thoroughly but gently. Serve right away or chill to serve later.
Makes about six to eight half-cup servings

Variation for Gluten-Free Tabbouli
Bulgur is made from wheat, but a gluten-free version of tabbouli can be made with rice and quinoa. Instead of using bulgur, use rice and quinoa. All other ingredients remain the same as above.

1½ cups water
¾ cup basmati rice, rinsed and drained
¾ cup white quinoa, rinsed and drained

In boiling water, add rice and quinoa. Cover and simmer over moderate heat for 15 minutes. Then, keep covered for 5 to 10 minutes. Prepare vegetables and dressing as discussed above. Cool the cooked grains by spreading them out on a platter. When they are cool, combine the grains with the vegetables, add dressing and mix thoroughly but gently. Serve right away or chill to serve later.
Makes six to eight servings

Grilled Vegetable Kebabs

Grilled Vegetable Kebabs
Grilled Vegetable Kebabs

Ingredients for marinade
.¼ cup balsamic vinegar, or rice vinegar for a milder flavor
.½ cup olive oil, or peanut oil if using rice vinegar
.¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
.4–6 cloves garlic, minced
.2 tablespoons fresh, minced herbs, such as oregano, basil, and thyme
Ground pepper, salt or soy sauce

Ingredients for kebabs
2 zucchini, cut into 1-inch slices or into long thick strips
2 gold-bar squash, cut into 1-inch slices or into long thick strips
2–3 yellow-fin or red potatoes, washed and cut into thin slices
1 or 2 Japanese eggplants, unpeeled, cut into long strips
12 large mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
12 cherry tomatoes
16–20 oz. firm tofu, drained, dried, and cut into 1-inch cubes

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients except for the salt or soy sauce. Add vegetables to the marinade bowl along with the tofu. Stir gently to be sure that everything is coated with marinade. Cover and set aside for an hour, or keep in the refrigerator overnight.

First, add the soy sauce or salt to the kebab bowl. Next, thread the vegetables onto skewers and place the loaded skewers on a platter. Save the leftover marinade. Just before grilling, baste the vegetables liberally saving the leftover liquid.
Place the skewers on the grill and turn them frequently so that all sides cook Drizzle the cooked kebabs with the remaining marinade and serve immediately.
Makes approximately 12 servings

Baba Ghanooj
Baba Ghanooj is a dip made from fire-roasted eggplant and tahini (sesame paste). You can roast the eggplants on an open fire outdoors, or cook them above the stove-top flame in your kitchen. However, cooking the eggplant in an open fire adds a special flavor and aroma that is hard to replicate indoors.

1 pound (about 4 to 6) small whole eggplants, preferably Japanese eggplants, washed or 1 large whole globe eggplant, washed, dried and top knobs removed

3 tablespoons toasted or raw tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon parsley leaves, minced

Prepare the dressing ahead of time by whisking together all the ingredients except for the parsley and refrigerate.

If you are roasting the eggplants by the open fire, cook directly over the flame or glowing coals (without covering them with a foil). Turn the eggplants frequently using tongs, roasting to allow the skin to blister all over and crack. Remove from flame when the flesh is softened completely. Set them aside in a platter or a cutting board to cool.

After the eggplants have cooled down, remove the charred skin with your fingertips and mash the pulp. Add few tablespoons of the dressing at a time, stirring with a fork until a creamy consistency is formed. Garnish with the parsley and serve with bread or crackers.
Makes eight to ten servings.

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine is co-owner of Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco.

First published in August of 2017.