Labor Day, the holiday with the name that never fails to confuse scads of recent immigrants, is upon us yet again. So kick off your shoes, enjoy not working, and celebrate.
If you're a human, that is. For cows, chickens and pigs everywhere, Labor Day is a murderous nightmare. Livestock all over the country hunker down and clench their gaping wet nostrils to avoid inhaling the stench of their brethren's charred flesh wafting from barbecue grills. It's a truly barbaric ritual. No wonder PETA president Ingrid Newkirk's will requests that the "meat" of her body, "or a portion thereof, be used for a human barbecue, to remind the world that the meat of a corpse is all flesh, regardless of whether it comes from a human being or another animal, and that flesh foods are not needed."
You can stop this history of genocide by choosing to grill things that don't slobber or take dumps. (Even putting ethics aside, doesn't that sound like a good idea?) Have a vegan barbecue with little to no preparation and barely any culinary knowledge, just like we did. We picked Oleta River State Park as the site of our green grilling -- just $6 for a carload of veg heads, with plenty of picnic tables and grills to go around.
Start in the produce aisle of your local grocery store, and pick up any of these items: red or green peppers, corn, large portabello mushroom caps, plantains, zucchini, eggplant, and small yellow onions. Buy some extra firm tofu, a light and tangy salad dressing or marinade (we chose Bolthouse Farms' Asian Ginger Vinaigrette), or if you prefer, a barbecue sauce (many are vegan). If you like the meat substitutes, buy some Boca Burgers or some Gardein Chik'n Scallopini patties, but we skipped these this time, in favor of less processed comestibles.
Finally, scoop up some hummus, olive oil, and some healthy wraps. Obviously, you'll need to tote standard barbecue tongs, natural charcoal and charcoal fluid, and aluminum foil. Got all that? Then you're ready to start your own truly guiltless grill.
Slice up the zucchini into long strips and soak them in the dressing, marinade, or barbecue sauce. Drizzle olive oil on thin slices of eggplant and sprinkle on a generous dose of salt and pepper.
The portabellos barely need any seasoning. Once on grill (preferably the plate portion, not the bar portion of the grill) they tend to stew quite nicely in their own juices, although a smidgen of olive oil doesn't hurt. Cut the peppers into halves or quarters and pour some of the marinade into the hollows of the interiors to soak in a bit while you prepare the charcoal on the grill.
Cut the tofu into one-inch cubes and pepper the heck out of each one. Tofu has basically no flavor until you add some, so if you have the time, it's even better to marinate the cubes in your favorite sauce for hours before you start grilling. We didn't do this, and you don't have to either, but it would make for a more flavorful result.
Skin the small onions and cut them in half. These don't need to be seasoned; they will sweeten as they grill.
Peel your ears of corn and your ripe plantains (not green ones!) and then wrap each piece individually in aluminum foil, adding a little water to each foil packet and sealing tightly. You don't have to do anything else to these items, other than throw them on the grill and let them cook for a good 30 minutes. It's a good idea to start cooking these first, as they take the longest.
Second, place the onions on a corner of the grill. These will also need to sit for quite a while (about 25 minutes before they reach their full flavor potential) but be sure to turn them over every five minutes or so.
Next, place the portabella caps on the plate portion of the grill. These can cook for about ten minutes on either side. They will shrink and start to appear wet as they cook.
Place the red or green pepper pieces upside down on the grill bars and cook them for five minutes to let the marinade steam in. Then flip them over and do the same for the other side.
Arrange the tofu cubes on the plate side of the grill, along with the zucchini strips and eggplant slices, if you have space. Flip frequently until each piece is golden brown on all sides.
Meanwhile, prepare a wrap by smearing some hummus in the middle of it. When the tofu and veggies are done cooking, stick a variety of pieces into the center of the wrap. Roll it up, and you've got a healthy, flavorful, portable meal you can eat with one hand while you throw a Frisbee or hug a tree with the other. The corn and plantains, you can simply unwrap and dig into as yummy side dishes.
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