Photos by ANGELINA MARIE

When you fire up a grill in the Texas Panhandle, it’s not unlikely that some sort of beef is on the menu. Here in the Beef Capital of the World, no one would dare criticize the choice of steak or hamburger sizzling on a summer evening on a backyard cooker.

But some of the most mouth-watering dishes you can prepare on the grill don’t involve steak at all, and we’re always fans of culinary expansion. From the smoky sweetness of fruit to the satisfaction of seafood, outdoor grilling adds texture and flavor that make dishes come alive in surprising ways.

We spoke to Brick & Elm food contributor Ruthie Martinez, a personal chef and the caterer behind Black Fig Food, who shared her beyond-beef grilling tips. “It’s a summer staple,” she says of firing up the grill. (She prefers charcoal to gas.) The smoke, she says, adds an element “you can’t replicate using an oven,” and she loves that grilling forces individuals to abandon a passive approach to cooking. 

“Get outside and connect with the food in any way possible,” she says. 

Pay attention. First things first: Never turn your back on an outdoor grill. “Don’t walk away from it,” she says. It’s not just a fire-prevention issue. Maintaining temperature, monitoring char and actively managing the grill ensures food will cook evenly, especially since different parts of the grill surface may have different temperatures. 

Give veggies a try. Brush portobello mushroom caps with olive oil and grill them 8 to 10 minutes a side. Cut peppers in half, lengthwise, brush with olive oil and grill skin-side down for 6 to 8 minutes, with 3 to 4 minutes on the other side. 

Grilling can transform corn-on-the-cob from a side dish into a highlight. Pull down the corn husks, remove the silk, and then tie the husks back. Soak the cobs in water for 15 minutes and then grill at 350 degrees for 18 minutes, turning frequently.

Embrace kabobs. Ruthie prepared chicken thighs for us, topped with a zingy lemon gremolata (top photo at right). “For a picnic or backyard party, it’s easier to use a skewer,” she says. It turns a traditional plated meal into more of an hors d’oeuvre. She prefers the juiciness of chicken thighs on the grill. 

And almost any cut vegetable works well on a skewer. “Toss your favorite cut veggies with marinade, olive oil, salt and pepper,” Ruthie says. “Grill each for 5 to 8 minutes, turning frequently.”

Get crusty. Grilled pizza is amazing, she says, and an ideal way to get a perfectly crispy crust. “A lot of people tend to cook their grilled pizzas on the grates, but I like to cook mine on a baking sheet,” she says. “I put cornmeal on the bottom so it gets that crusty bottom—it doesn’t burn but it’s still crispy.”

Watch the temps, too. “You want to get it at least up to 500 or 525 degrees,” she adds. And if you want to cook on the grates rather than a pizza stone or baking sheet, move the pizza off the direct flames to avoid burning.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with ingredients, like the dates and grapes on the pizza Ruthie grilled for us. 

Go fishing. Grilled seafood is also delightful. Ruthie prepared a cedar plank salmon accompanied by grilled Brussels sprouts and radishes, and topped with a zesty guava barbecue sauce (bottom photo at right). The plank infuses a smoky, woody flavor while providing even heat distribution and helping to retain moisture. Plus, there’s no need to flip it and watch the fish flake apart. 

“Soak your wood first for about 30 minutes before you put your salmon on. You want to cook it at 325 [degrees],” she says. “Don’t go above that or your wood will catch fire.” With salmon, aim for an internal temperature of
145 degrees. The resulting flavor is beautifully smoky. 

Pizza Dough

2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast 
½ cup warm water 
4 cups bread flour 
2 teaspoons kosher salt 
1 cup cold water 
¼ cup olive oil 

Add yeast, warm water and ½ cup bread flour to the bowl of stand mixer; set remaining 3 ½ cups of flour aside. Mix well with a small whisk and let sit for 30 minutes until bubbly. 

Whisk together remaining 3 ½ cups bread flour and salt in separate bowl. Once the yeast mixture looks foamy, add 1 cup cold water and olive oil. Using a dough hook, turn the mixer on and add flour in increments. Mix dough for about 5 minutes, until it starts creeping up the dough hook and comes away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough feels too sticky, sprinkle a bit more flour onto the counter, add the dough, and knead until you can shape into a ball. 

Place dough in a large bowl lightly greased with olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch the dough down, and let it rise another hour. Divide dough into 4 equal disks. Lightly flour a work surface. Using your fingers or heels of your hands (and a rolling pin, if you prefer) stretch the disks out to a 10-inch round. Repeat with the remaining 3 pizza dough disks.

Makes 4 medium pizzas 

Arugula and Basil Pesto

1 cup fresh basil 
3 cups fresh arugula 
⅓ cup pine nuts 
2 cloves fresh garlic 
½ cup nutritional yeast or 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, shredded 
¼ cup olive oil 
2 tablespoons lemon juice 
Freshly cracked pepper to taste 
1 teaspoon salt 

For No-Oil Pesto 

Swap the olive oil for ¼ to ⅓ cup aquafaba (liquid from
canned chickpeas) 

Heat a small pan over medium heat. Lightly roast pine nuts in the pan to help release their natural oil. Set aside to cool for 1 to 2 minutes. Place arugula, basil and pine nuts in a food processor and blend to combine. Add Parmesan, garlic, lemon juice and black pepper to processor. Blend again. Open the top of processor and slowly add oil or aquafaba with processor running. Blend until slightly smooth. Smear on homemade pizza dough or toss with pasta or roasted vegetables. Or store in an air-tight container for up to 5 days in the refrigerator or 6 months in the freezer.

Dressings and Marinades

A huge misconception regarding plant-based foods and cooking is that it is bland and uninteresting. I’m here to tell you: that’s complete BS. Cue the dressings and marinades! 

Without these two fabulous culinary gifts, we’d for sure be proven wrong. Let’s face it, we love flavor! Granted, some people don’t need bells and whistles when it comes to fueling their bodies. But I know better. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t need bells and whistles. 

Whether you want a rich and creamy blended dressing, whisked rustic dressing or shaken vinaigrette, all of these can be used to dazzle up any vegetable dish. 

The beauty of making your own dressings and marinades is that you know exactly what’s going into them. Fresh ingredients and a little know-how is all you need to create your very own. 

Dressings

Vinaigrette or dressing?
These are both emulsions where two “unblendable” ingredients are combined. Dressings are stable emulsions, whereas vinaigrettes are unstable (tougher to mix, i.e., oil and vinegar). If left to sit, vinaigrettes will separate. So, be sure to shake or whisk them before serving over salads. 

What about oil?
Olive oil is a nice and robust oil to add to your dressings, but for a more neutral flavor, grape seed, safflower, or canola will work perfectly. Nut oils can be used to add more distinctive flavor to your dressing. Be sure to store your nut/seed oil in the fridge to prevent them from going rancid. 

Key acids
Mild vinegars like champagne, rice wine, white wine or even just lemon juice will give your salads a light and zippy quality. Sharper vinegars include red wine, apple cider and sherry. Play around with these and discover what you like best. 

The oil to acid ratio is typically 3:1. That’s three parts oil, one part vinegar or acid. However, feel free to modify that ratio to fit your preference. Match a full-flavor oil with a full-flavor vinegar, or a mild oil with a mild vinegar, so one flavor doesn’t overpower the other. It’s all about balance. 

Enhancements 

Aromatics
Garlic, shallots, citrus zest or green onion can kick up your vinaigrette to a whole new level. Fresh ginger, crushed spices, and herbs like dill, thyme or rosemary are also great additions to enhance vinaigrettes. For sweetness, use maple syrup, honey, or other sugars. 

Greens
Dressings and vinaigrettes should never overpower a salad, so choosing mild greens to pair with a mild vinaigrette/dressing is a great rule of thumb. For instance, milder butter lettuce will go perfectly with a lemon and light oil dressing, whereas sharper greens like bitter arugula or radicchio will work with sharper dressings (olive oil and red wine vinegar.)

The 5 Elements for No-Oil Dressings

Add one from each category and whisk together to create a signature dressing or marinade.

Whole Food Fats 

  • Puréed avocado
  • Nut or seed butter 
  • Soaked nuts or seeds (raw or toasted)
  • Tofu
  • Olives 

Sugars 

  • Coconut water
  • Dried fruit or fruit pastes
  • Fresh fruit (smashed or diced)
  • Fresh fruit juice
  • Agave
  • Maple syrup
  • Beet or carrot juice 

Acid

  • Fresh citrus juice
  • Mustard
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tomatoes
  • Vinegar
  • Wine 

Spices

  • Condiments (mustard, etc)
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Herbs (fresh or dried)
  • Diced hot peppers
  • Nutritional yeast 
  • Onions (chives, red, yellow, shallots)
  • Spices (fresh and dried) 

Salt

  • Braggs liquid aminos
  • Capers
  • Miso
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Sea salt
  • Seaweed
  • Tamari 

Marinade Cheat Sheet 

Building a Marinade
For a badass marinade, you’ll need sweet, salty and acidic components. Spices and aromatics can also be added for more layers of flavor. 

How long should it marinate? 
Sturdy and starchy veggies as well as tempeh and tofu need longer marinating times than 

more delicate veggies. Thirty minutes to a few hours is a good rule to follow. (I recommend only 10 minutes for delicate veggies.) 

Fat or no fat?
There’s nothing worse than a dried out piece of tempeh. Added fat will help keep the food moist during cooking. (Exceptions do exist with no-oil cooking.) 

Sweetness
Fruit purées like pineapple, mango, or kiwi are great additions to marinades. Coconut milk or plant-based yogurt can be used for tandoori tempeh and the like. 

You can reuse marinades multiple times and for multiple dishes. However, they should still be handled and stored safely—when in doubt, throw it out. 

Storage 
Cast-iron or aluminum pans are reactive metals that can leach metal ions into the food, which can create off-flavors or discolor the food. Use glass or plastic containers.




Vegetable Grilling Guide 

Memories of summers past are why I love gathering in the backyard with family and friends. Although I don’t 

particularly like the heat, I enjoy an evening meal with an awesome conversation, a good cocktail, music, and ambiance like no other. 

My father grilled all sorts of tasty food outside as I played near our pond with my Barbies as a child, waiting for a delicious grilled meal. Let me help you build your own memories with a few new ideas to grill up some summer fun! 

What to Grill 

  • Portobello Caps:  Brush with olive oil and slice after grilling 8 to 10 minutes per side. 
  • Eggplant: Cut in half lengthwise or in circles and brush with olive oil. Grill 4 to 5 minutes per side.
  • Peppers: Cut in half lengthwise and brush with olive oil. Grill skin side down 6 to 8 minutes and 3 to 4 on the other side.
  • Leeks: Cut in half lengthwise and brush with olive oil. Grill 4 to 6 minutes per side.
  • Corn, Squash Or Zucchini: Pull husks down, remove silk. Tie husks back, soak cobs in water for 15 minutes before grilling at 350 degrees for 18 minutes. Slice in half lengthwise and brush with olive oil. Grill on each side for 5 to 8 minutes.
  • Onions or Artichokes: Peel and cut into ½-inch rings. Brush with olive oil and add salt and pepper. Grill for 8 to 10 minutes, turning frequently. Cut in half, press down to spread leaves, brush with olive oil, and season. Grill 15 to 20 minutes per side.
  • Asparagus or Veggie Kabobs: Roll in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for 5 to 10 minutes, turning frequently. Toss your favorite cut veggies with marinade, olive oil, salt and pepper and grill each for 5 to 8 minutes, turning frequently. 
  • Veggie Burgers (see below)
  • Avocado (see below)

 

Make a Veggie Burger

In my opinion, you cannot go wrong with a homemade veggie burger. There are so many recipes online in which you can try. The info I provide in this grilling guide works perfectly for oven-baked burgers. You can also cook them in a skillet or in a grill-safe pan. Without one, you’re likely to have them stick to the grill grates and fall apart.

Choose one ingredient from each category and you’ve got one fantastic veggie burger! 

Grains 

Whole, frozen, puffed, or rolled: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, farro, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, sorghum, spelt, teff, wild rice

Legumes, Nuts, Seeds and other Concentrated Plant-Based Proteins 
Adzuki beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, navy beans, great northern beans, soybeans, lima beans, split peas, black beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, lentils, nuts and diced, ground, or minced, faux meat products, seitan, tempeh, or tofu 

Non-Starchy Vegetables or Non-Sweet Fruits 
Roasted, lightly steamed or raw (shredded, diced, minced or cubed), artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, daikon, fennel, hearts of palm, jicama, mushrooms, onions, radishes, snow peas, sugar snap peas, avocado, bell peppers, cucumber, eggplant, tomato, zucchini 

Fresh Herbs, Spices and other Toppings 
Fresh herbs: basil, chervil, cilantro, dill, mint, parsley, chili, chives, garlic, ginger, green onions, ground raw flax meal, nutritional yeast, nuts & seeds (raw or toasted), spice blends, Bragg, citrus, hot sauce, tamari, vinegar

Binder 
Cooked grains, cooked with extra water, or blended with a small amount of liquid, mashed or “riced” potato or sweet potato, yam or potato (any creamy variety), pumpkin or any hard winter squash, mashed beans, oatmeal, tofu (blended), flour and starches (use in small amounts) 

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine grain, protein and vegetables; mix well. Add binder and mix until the mixture forms a patty. Season with herbs and seasoning;  mix well. Form patties and place on non-stick sheets or a well-oiled pan. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until patties are a bit crisp around the edges. Remove from the oven and flip. Continue to bake for 8 to 12 minutes more, or until the center of the patty feels firm. Cool any leftover patties to room temperature, place a piece of parchment paper between each one, and freeze. To reheat, pop in the toaster. 

To grill burgers, cook in a grill-safe pan or cast-iron skillet. Add a small amount of olive oil to the heated pan, careful not to ignite the oil from the grill flames. Add the burger patty and let fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the burger and fry for another 2 to 3 minutes or until the burgers are ready. 

Looking for the best plant-based hot dogs to try? 

Grilled Avocado 
Another option: Grilling avocado to add to beautiful salads is the best thing since sliced bread, ya’ll. The firmer, the better. And, creating a gorgeous platter for your backyard shindig will be a hit! 

Slice them, gently brush with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Once your grill is hot, carefully place each slice on the grate so that it doesn’t fall through; let char for about 2 minutes. Using a metal spatula, gently lift from the grill and flip to the other side. As they cook, they’ll become softer but shouldn’t fall apart. Grilled avocado adds a lovely, creamy textural component to any salad. I promise you, it’ll be your new favorite thing. 

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