POSTED: Monday, September 3, 2012 - 5:50pm
UPDATED: Monday, September 3, 2012 - 5:51pm
(CNN) -- Vegetarians are (mostly) not here just to ruin your good time. Really. I swear. I was one, myself for seven years and all I wanted at a cookout was to hang out with my friends, and not have to worry that the omnivores would gobble up all the meat-free sides before I got to the table.
These days, while I'm likely to smoke up a brisket, a rack of ribs or some animal innards when company comes over, the non-meat options surely don't get short shrift.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to celebrate the bounty of the season and make sure all my guests leave full and satisfied - no matter how they choose to chow down.
Chef Akhtar Nawab of La Esquina restaurant in New York City shares this take on a Mexican street food classic - elotes callajeros (grilled corn) with lime mayonnaise, cotija cheese and chile piquin.
He says, "Get the freshest corn you can, peel, and grill them until the kernels are slightly charred and start to pop. Use a thick wooden skewer to create a handle for eating. Brush with some lime mayonnaise, generously dust with cotija cheese and finish with a little fresh chile piquin. Remove from heat, remove the skewers, sprinkle lightly with lemon juice if desired and serve."
More at our Grilled Corn 101 guide
Meat eaters can keep their patties, dogs and chops. It's tomato season for just a bit longer and that's the very best season of all. For an easy Caprese salad, grab a few really luscious tomatoes -- heirloom if you've got 'em. Slice thickly, sprinkle lightly with kosher or sea salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper, stack with slices of fresh mozzarella, layer on a few fresh basil leaves and anoint with the nicest olive oil you can get your paws on. Flick with a bit of balsamic and serve.
If your guests don't eat cheese, just slice up the tomatoes, sprinkle with a little salt and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil. A good tomato needs no more embellishment than that.
More on the supremacy of the tomato and mayonnaise sandwich, or dive a bit deeper into Caprese technique
Wash fresh, young pods and trim the stems, while leaving the tops intact. Thread the pods onto skewers side by side, but not touching. If you're using bamboo skewers, soak them for at least 30 minutes beforehand so they won't burn.
Brush or spray the pods lightly with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Your favorite barbecue rub will add an extra layer of flavor, as will powdered, okra-friendly spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika or cayenne pepper.
Heat the grill to medium, oil the grate and cook the skewers for 2-3 minutes, then flip over for an addition 2-3 minutes. The pods should be slightly crisp and pick up grill marks, but shouldn't be charred.
Squash, Beans, Radishes, Cauliflower and other sturdy vegetables
Marco Canora serves a sublime summer vegetable salad at his New York City restaurant Hearth; the key is to dress ingredients while they're warm. In my at-home adaptation, I boil about two cups of skin-on new potatoes (I like salt potatoes, but any variety will do) until they're fork tender, drain and then cut them into quarters.
Then I add halved strung beans and cauliflower florets (raw or lightly blanched in the potato water), chunks of raw squash and radishes, a few pinches of capers, and some ricotta salata cheese and a sliced, hard-boiled egg (if I know I'm not feeding vegans), mix them in and pour in a dressing that's equal parts lemon juice and olive oil. I add salt and pepper to taste and serve. This is one of those salads that actually improves the longer it sits in the fridge, but if you take that route, add the egg and cheese later.
My husband Douglas whipped up this celery-crunched herb-kissed potato salad on a whim about six years ago. Now our guests demand it.
3 lbs red potatoes
1/2 cup mayonnaise (vegan mayo works just fine)
1/2 cup dijon mustard
2 stalks fresh celery with leaves
1/2 white or yellow onion
3 fresh green scallions
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 fist full kosher salt
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh thyme leaves
Quarter and boil the red potatoes for about 20 minutes, until tender to a fork or paring knife. Finely chop the celery, onion, scallions, and thyme leaves, and mix together with mayonnaise and mustard in large mixing bowl. Add salt, pepper and paprika.
When potatoes are cool to the touch, dress them in the mixture and cover. Let ingredients set up together for an hour. Eat.
Chef Nawab also celebrates with grilled Hen of the woods mushrooms cooked with mojo de ajo, epazote, and Fresno chilies and cebollitas (green onions)
He says, "Carefully break the mushrooms into large pieces, brush with the mojo de ajo and grill over medium heat. In a separate pan quickly sauté the sliced shallots and chilies. When the mushrooms are tender, add the peppers and onions and cook for a few minutes until the mushrooms are coated with the peppers and mojo de ajo."
"The mojo, like the dry rub for the steak, is easy to make and has so many different uses, so take a little extra time and make a big batch! Great with shrimp and fish also. To make it, simply mince garlic in a food processor, add to a pot, cover with olive oil, fresh chilies (I like to use chile de arbol), and cook slowly. When the garlic starts to caramelize, add some lime juice and the minced herbs. Cool and use on anything and everything."