If you're grilling this Labor Day, stats from vegetarian research groups put the odds around 1 in 300 that you'll end up with a vegan at your party. Your chances of having to feed a vegetarian are higher: about 1 in 44. And if you live in Seattle, San Francisco, or Portland, Oregon -- the cities that vegans are most likely to call home -- you're practically guaranteed to have a slew of plant-eaters on your Labor Day guest list.
These herbivores might end up going hungry at your outdoor feast if you're not prepared. You'll want to stock up on veggie burgers, dogs, and other grillables that are cleared for vegan and vegetarian consumption, but that's not the end of it. Vegetarians probably won't want to eat Boca burgers that were cooked on top of the charred meat drippings left behind by the last round of cow burgers. And vegans, who don't eat any animal products, won't touch an ear of grilled corn that was soaking in smoke from the Oscar Mayer wieners sizzling downwind on the same grill grate. So how do you accommodate these carni-phobes, egg rejecters, and cheese shunners at your meat-and-mayo-centric celebration? Here are some steps you can take to make sure your veg-head friends are just as happy and stuffed as the meat-heads when the sun goes down on your Labor Day feast.
1. Buy the Right Veggie Meats
Some vegans -- ethical vegans, who don't eat animal products simply out of concern for animal welfare -- will eat almost anything as long as it doesn't contain animal ingredients. Other vegans, who are in it for the health of the diet as much as they are for the animals, avoid even many products that were designed for vegan consumption because they contain artificial ingredients.
If your vegan friends fall into the first category, you're fine buying nearly any grill-ready veggie meats (read the cooking instructions to make sure they can be grilled), as long as you check that the fake burgers, dogs, or chicken patties don't contain eggs or dairy. (Many do! Read the ingredients labels carefully. If your guests are lacto-ovo vegetarian, though, they won't care.)
If your vegan guests fall into the latter category -- the "health vegan" category -- you're best off buying Sunshine Burgers, a brand of delicious, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free veggie burgers that contain whole organic ingredients such as brown rice, raw sunflower seeds, carrots, spices, sea salt, and nothing else. Find them in the freezer section at Whole Foods and other health-food stores. If you can't find them, grilled organic tofu will probably work even for picky health vegans. (I know, the term picky vegan may be redundant.)
2. Designate and Prepare a Vegan Grill
It might seem like a pain in the ass, but if you're really interested in the comfort of your vegan guests, you'll want to set up a separate grill for fare that doesn't contain animal products. This will work even if you have only one vegan guest; you can use that separate grill for cooking vegetable skewers, corn on the cob, and other barbecued vegetables as well, all stuff your nonvegan guests will enjoy as well.
Because vegan foods don't contain the drippy animal fats that typical grilling foods do, spray your superclean grill with some nonstick cooking spray before you begin vegan grilling.
3. Grill Vegetables
Really, you don't even have to buy mock meats to keep your vegan guests happy. Vegetables are plenty of fun and tasty when cooked on the grill. Marinate portobello mushrooms in teriyaki sauce for 30 minutes before popping them on the grill, cooking about four to five minutes on each side and brushing with extra marinade as you go. Serve on whole-grain buns. Soak husked corn on the cob for one hour and then wrap in aluminum foil and grill for 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally. Peel and slice sweet potatoes into quarter-inch slices, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and grill for ten minutes, turning once. Serve with a citrusy vinaigrette. You can even grill kale. Just remove the stems and then coat the leaves in a little olive oil and sea salt. Put the leaves face down on the grill and cook for up to three minutes. Flip onto the other side for another minute or two. Remove, squeeze a lemon on top of the leaves, and serve alongside other grilled vegetables or as the base for a creative salad that includes nuts and berries.
And everyone loves veggie kebabs. Skewer chunks of onion, red pepper, extra-firm teriyaki-marinated tofu, zucchini, button mushrooms, eggplant, and cherry tomatoes. Brush with olive oil or the vegan-friendly marinade of your choice, and grill for about ten minutes or until slightly browned. You can also just grill a bunch of mushrooms for a "meatier" kebab, like the ones featured above (as sold at the Coconut Grove Organic Farmer's Market).
4. Offer Vegan-Friendly Sides, Salads, and Snacks
Potatoes may be the stars of potato salad, but vegans won't fail to notice the gobs of egg- and oil-based mayonnaise that hold the stuff together. It will take some thought to supply your vegan guests with sides to complement the yummy grilled veggies you'll be serving, but only a little.
Simple green salads (don't bother adding croutons, as some of them are sprinkled with parmesan or other cheeses), store-bought or homemade kale chips or vegetable chips, fruit salad, plain corn chips and salsa, and vegetarian baked beans (sans bacon) are all awesome options. Just make sure not to try to push jello or anything with marshmallows in it (that means no ambrosia salad) onto your vegan guests. Both contain gelatin, which is derived from animal tissues.
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5. Serve Vegan Booze
I know, I know, it may seem that this is getting ridiculous, but I'm not making this up. Some beers, liquors, and wines are made using gelatin, milk derivatives, egg, and even stuff from the swim bladders of fish, called isinglass. To be sure your brew is in the clear, check out this list of vegan-friendly swill.
Hopefully this list will not scare you into wanting to uninvite your vegan friends. If it does, don't be afraid to ask your veg-head buds to help you out by picking up some of the items you'll need to accommodate their lifestyle. Like any good "vegan-gelists," they'll most likely be thrilled for the opportunity to prove to you and all the other guests just how yummy vegan eats can be.