Being careful of our eating habits is perhaps one of the biggest commitments we can make towards caring for our environment, and choosing ethically produced food gives us, as consumers, more control over how our food is grown, harvested, and prepared. Organic food is a rapidly growing market as more and more people are choosing to eat organic for health reasons, or because they have concerns about our impact upon the environment and the spread of unethical farming practices.
Organic farming encourages biodiversity on and around farmland – which is particularly important for those species threatened by modern farming methods – and does not rely upon pesticides which might leach into nearby watercourses. It’s also much less intensive than conventional farming and is kinder to the soil, which will result in a more reliable and productive farmland in the future. Many people who choose organic do so, however, due to the quality of organic fruit and vegetables when compared to conventionally produced varieties.
However, storage time and transportation also have a big impact upon the quality of the fruits and vegetables we buy. The obvious advice here is to buy as fresh as you can. If you’re lucky enough to live near a farm shop which sources from local organic growers, a farmer’s market, or organic co-op, you should be able to pick up fresh, tasty, and reasonably priced organic fruit and vegetables. Try to buy in season, and local where you can to minimise food miles, which is great for the environment, and to minimise storage time, which is great for your taste buds!
The benefits of cooking over an open flame
And what better way to make the most of the best fruit and vegetables than getting the grill on? Grilling seals in the flavours and retains the character and crispness of the vegetables, and also lets you experiment with marinades. The smell and flavour of slowly grilled or roasted vegetables mingled with the exotic tang of spices or herbs and the subtle smokiness of the barbecue is always a real treat, and the added benefits of being more in touch with your food can make the meal even more rewarding.
Veggie barbecue basics
The old veggie stand-in, the vegetable kebab, can be brightened up with a marinade. For the most basic marinade, mix olive oil with a little lemon juice, then add fresh herbs, chilli, or crushed garlic. Soy sauce or balsamic vinegar are nice additions, as is harissa (try brushing a small amount over aubergine slices!). Flavourful oils, such as walnut, are great drizzled over a green salad as an accompaniment.
Try different combinations of vegetables and serve with a salad and warm bread with a hummus dip. For extra flavour, you could try replacing skewers with stripped sprigs of rosemary. Good vegetables for grilling include: sweet pepper, aubergine, courgette, tomato, mushroom, red onion, asparagus, corn on the cob, and sweet potato. Be aware that some vegetables, such as aubergines and mushrooms, tend to soak up a lot of marinade while other vegetables won’t soak up so much, so limit time these vegetables spend in the marinade.
Or try these ideas for fun vegan barbecues:
- Find a few large flat field mushrooms and brush them liberally with some good quality olive oil, a little soy sauce, and some torn herbs or fresh crushed garlic – or spread a little pesto, or olive or tomato tapenade over them before grilling. Or you can make your own garlic butter with roasted garlic and a quality organic margarine – simply spread this lightly over the mushrooms as they cook, adding more as necessary. Serve in warmed buns with rings of red onion and some fresh organic salad leaves.
- You can also skewer parboiled new potatoes and brush them liberally with olive oil and chopped herbs (rosemary really shines here) before grilling, or bake a potato or sweet potato in foil for a side dish.
- Stuff sweet peppers with cooked rice or cous-cous mixed with cooked Mediterranean vegetables, a home-made tomato sauce, and basil. Secure the pepper stalk with a skewer or cocktail stick and turn it on the grill for 20 minutes.
- For an extra-special treat, you could stuff some onions with cooked chopped onions, breadcrumbs drizzled with organic vegetable stock, cooked mushrooms, and ground or chopped hazelnuts, and caramelise over the fire.
- For the best corn on the cob, peel back the husks, remove the silk, then rub the corn with margarine and tie the husks back in place. Cook the corn around the outside of the grill for between 20 and 25 minutes. To cook it faster, try soaking it in cold water for thirty minutes, or blanch it before putting it on the grill.
- Tofu is always a good idea, but it should be the star of the show. Choose a good, firm, organic brand, and marinade well before grilling. Great threaded onto skewers with vegetables.
And for dessert? Try wrapping bananas or plantains (choose plantains with black skin) in foil, or cook them directly in their skins. You can also thread fruit onto skewers and grill it – pineapple, peaches, pear, and apple all work well, and you can sprinkle these with a little mixed spice or brush them with agave nectar (a natural substitute for honey) for an extra burst of sweetness. Or you can simply halve a peach or nectarine and put it on the grill as it is and serve with a scoop of sorbet or a drizzle of agave and mixed spice.
So there is every reason to fire up the barbecue, cast iron chiminea, or firepit this year. As long as you have the time for a little preparation, and as long as you can source the best fruit and vegetables, you’ll be able to get the family and friends around a barbecue and enjoy a delicious, home-cooked meal alfresco. Just don’t forget the drinks!
Laura Phillips is a vegan and outdoor living enthusiast, and writes for www.chimineashop.co.uk