There are plenty of reasons to love the Fourth of July—gathering with family, friends and neighbors, firing up the grill, relaxing poolside, and showing appreciation for all of the freedom and luxuries we have as Americans. But the celebration of the Fourth is also heavily accentuated on enjoying the flavors of the season. Ripe berries, bright citrus and crisp peppers are readily available this time of year and are sure to make any Fourth of July spread into one that is as satisfying to the eye as it is to the palate.
Grilling meat is what immediately comes to mind when thinking about cooking for the Fourth, and there are plenty of delicious vegetarian dishes that can be prepared on the grill as well. Since most restaurants are closed and potluck get-togethers tend to be the way to commemorate this special holiday, it’s nice to offer guests a little bit of everything, no matter what they’re feasting preferences.
Fruit is surprisingly perfect for the grill, bringing out its sweetness and adding a char/smokiness that gives depth and flavor. a dish that looks and tastes like summer, is Grilled Watermelon, Tomato, and Goat Cheese Salad from Chef john Besh’s cookbook, “my new Orleans.” Large slices of ripe watermelon are brushed with sambal-spiked pepper jelly vinaigrette (recipe also in the book), marinating the melon, as the grill gets hot. The watermelon is grilled over direct heat for several minutes, until grill marks appear, then diced into and arranged on a serving platter, to be tossed with a bright Balsamic vinaigrette, cherry tomatoes, herbs, mixed greens and crumbles of tangy, fresh goat cheese. The taste and texture combination is incredible.
BBQ tempeh (cooked and slightly fermented soybean cake) has the heft of meat, without the… meat, and tempeh is a phenomenal sandwich filler. marinate strips of tempeh in homemade or store-bought barbeque sauce, overnight to give the tempeh time to soak up the flavors of the sauce, then put the sliced tempeh and sauce in an ovenproof skillet and cook it right on the grill.
Serve on Kaiser rolls and top with Donald Link’s mint Coleslaw (Napa Cabbage, mint leaves, carrot, seasonings and a dressing of regular or vegan mayo, red wine vinegar, and lime juice) from his “Real Cajun” cookbook.
A colorful, healthy and trendy side to bring to a Fourth of july cookout is quinoa salad. This is a personal take on the ancient grain, that’s been a winner!
Cook two cups quinoa according to package directions and allow to cool completely.
In a large bowl whisk together:
• ½ cup grapeseed oil
• 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
• 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
• 2 tablespoons of agave nectar.
To the dressing add:
• 1 cup chopped celery
• 1 cup cherry tomatoes
• ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon of drained capers
• 3 green onions
• Some chopped parsley.
Add the cooled quinoa, some fresh lemon juice and toss to combine. Serve the salad at room temperature. Vegan and gluten-free, a perfect side for plant or meat eaters!
When the time comes for something sweet, and it always does, it’s back to the grill with fruit. Slice ripe peaches in half, remove the pit, and grill them over direct medium-high heat for two to three minutes. Once the sugars have caramelized and grill-marks have formed, they are done, ready to be sliced as a topping for NOLA ice Cream Company’s Vanilla Bean ice cream, with a garnish of toasted coconut, a drizzle of honey, and fresh whipped cream. Berries are great on the grill, sprinkled with sugar, and lemon juice, then tucked into little foil packets, and cooked until bubbling. Cool slightly, pour over pound cake and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.
The Fourth of July can be a stress-free cooking holiday, with delicious food cooked conveniently and easily on the grill, satisfying all types of diners with a feast that is simple and classic, meat-filled or meat free.
* You can find the above-referenced cookbooks, along with a well-curated cookbook selection, at Octavia Books—513 Octavia St. Also, check out the blog, www.fleurdelicious-nola.com (hey, that’s me!) for more vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free recipes.