"I Can't Believe This Isn't Roasted Pig!"
By Steven Robert Allen
MAY 10, 1999: Modern technological advancements in the production of fake meat have made it possible for vegetarians to relive precious moments from their carnivorous past with something approaching the realism and intensity of the original experience. Summer's a-coming, and if you anorexic, spinach-eating, asparagus-legged vegetarians don't want to feel left out, you're going to have to think up some creative ways to survive in a social season consisting primarily of barbecues and pig roasts. In times like these, fake meat may be your best and only friend.
My wife Sheila, comrade Juanita and I recently starved ourselves for 48 hours before firing up the coals for a good, old-fashioned stuff-your-face-and-roll-around-on-the-lawn-in-agony-'cause-we-ate-and-drank-way-too-much barbecue. Below you'll find a random survey of the fake meat we sampled as well as recipes for barbecued tofu and vegetables.
But first a bit of advice. If you want to really enjoy your meal, make sure the meat eaters in your party have already cooked some flesh on the grill before you toss on your edibles. This way you can soak up some of those delicious animal juices. Trust me--your meal will taste much, much better.
What're you lookin' at? Grab that spatula and git to cookin'!
There are more frozen, fake burgers on the market these days than you can shake a stick at. You can get several major brands from any ordinary grocery store. For more variety, you might want to check out La Montañita Co-op or Wild Oats. The one thing to remember is that fake burgers cook a lot faster than the real McCoys, so if black, carbon-coated hockey pucks aren't your idea of fine dining, keep a close eye on those flaming patties.
Although I've had luck with other fake burgers from Natural Touch, their "Spicy Black Bean Burgers" turned to mush on the grill. The flavor was spicy and not altogether unpleasant, but I really can't say the same for their consistency.
The original "Gardenburgers," on the other hand, get crunchy on the grill. These actually taste pretty good, but don't expect a meat-like chawing experience--you'll only be disappointed. These things taste like gardenburgers, with little rice kernels and dehydrated vegetable knickety knacks sticking out at all angles. I'm sure they're healthy, though--I don't see how they couldn't be.
Soy Deli's "All-Natural Tempeh Burgers," premarinated in plastic wrappers, are hard to separate from each other when frozen and look extremely disgusting. They don't taste all that great either. Worst of all, they have the texture of soft, silty clay.
Lightlife's "Meatless Lightburgers" ended up being the best of the bunch. Incredibly life-like in their meatiness, these were extremely toothsome and texturally pleasing to the tongue.
Morning Star makes something called "Grillers." I couldn't find them this time around, but I've downed a few in the past, and they're worth a swallow. "Grillers" are meatless patties made specially for barbecuing. They cook up well, taste delicious and are almost alarmingly meat-like.
For most people, fake hot dogs seem to be a less promising prospect than fake burgers. Then again, real hot dogs are kind of repulsive anyway, so I guess it's only reasonable that their fake brethren would mimic some of their least attractive traits.
We only tried two different brands. On the grill, Lightlife's "Smartdogs!" developed nasty looking tumors on their rubbery skin. Once inserted into the mouth, they were excessively chewy and tasteless. Yves's "Veggie Wieners" worked out much better. These look pretty much like hot dogs and have a deliciously meat-like flavor and texture. As Juanita shouted just before we whisked her off to the hospital to have her stomach pumped, "That shit fuckin' rocks!"
One excellent vegetarian barbecuing stratagem is to marinate some slices of tofu (about a quarter inch thick) overnight in the delicious marinade of your choice. Pepper Ranch's "New Spicy Honey Teriyaki" worked well for us. When they're ready to go, just toss the slices on the grill and wait till they've got those attractive barbecue lines branded into their flesh.
Make sure you don't get the soft, mushy kind of tofu. In my opinion, the best brands are White Wave (made with transitional soybeans), and even better, Soy Deli's "Nigari Tofu." These are dense, porous, meaty tofus that hold together nicely on the grill and have a more pleasing texture than that squishy silken crap you often find in cheap Chinese restaurants.
Take note that Sheila makes a simple sauce with mayonnaise, ketchup and onions that will bring out the best in your grilled tofu. Just come on by our house, and for a mere $19.95 and the keys to your car, we'll give you a pint.
As everyone who lives in this state ought to know by now, the best way to barbecue corn is to roast it husk and all. You'll have more success if you use corn that isn't all dried out and ready to burst like a pine cone in a forest fire. You can also wrap up pretty much anything--potatoes, squash, sneakers--in tin foil and cook it on the grill.
For something a little more exotic, try marinating a bunch of vegetables for a few hours in a mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary and spicy brown mustard. Mushrooms, onions, zucchini, peppers and cherry tomatoes work very well. Skewer the little buggers on spikes, kebab them over the coals and laugh out loud as you listen to them scream for mercy.
You'll never eat a more satisfying meal.
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