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  • Jim Hacha

VBQ on the BBQ

Nine years ago we tried an experiment to become vegan after watching the film Forks Over Knives, a documentary highlighting plant-based diets. We were very disturbed to find out that many health problems, such as blocked arteries, diabetes, and obesity, were caused by the Standard American Diet (SAD) and could be alleviated, and even reversed, by a plant-based diet. In the film, Dr. Campbell from Cornell University and Dr. Esselstyn from The Cleveland Clinic, both prominent physicians, produced fascinating studies on how a plant-based diet is easier on the body and more healthy in the long run. My wife and I decided that we could try being plant based for 3 weeks to see what it was like.

We had been vegetarian for years, eating no red meat or chicken, and we consumed only limited amounts of fish, dairy, and eggs, so the transition to plant based was easy-ish. To our surprise, we experienced what I started calling “an unusual sense of well-being.” It is hard to explain this sensation, except to say that the body hums with a different feeling of energy. Now, we are going into our tenth year of a plant-based diet and are feeling fine.

One of my concerns was that I would have to pack in my Weber grill because being vegan, what would there be left to grill? One of my favorite meals to grill was fresh salmon basted with a buttery, spicy sauce Barbara would whip up in the kitchen, homegrown potatoes finished on the grill, and maybe asparagus or other suitable green vegetable. However, I discovered a whole new world opening up in healthy eating.

One of the first meals we made on the grill was an Asian wok-grilled vegetable Lo Mein. Weber makes a cast iron wok and it works great. Tofu was the protein, with shitake mushrooms, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and bok choy and onions. These ingredients were stir fried in my brand new wok. When that was finished, I added the cooked lo mein noodles and stirred it until everything was well coated and hot. We added homemade wine to the menu and enjoyed a great meal, followed by that unusual sense of well being.

Since that first run at vegan grilling, we have been adding to our menu, and I think I grill more now than I did in the past. This summer we grew San Marzano tomatoes, which are nice plump, pear-shaped tomatoes, and prepped them for the grill. Over a medium charcoal fire with added hickory chips, they made tasty fire-roasted tomatoes with a smoky flavor. We still have some in the freezer and they are a great addition to recipes. When we add them to a winter meal made in the kitchen, the release of the savory, smoky flavor puts a smile on our faces, and we begin wishing for warmer weather to return.

Fajitas have taken a new taste because we use soy curls instead of animal protein, and we grill everything in a zesty mesquite sauce. Plus, there are several substitute burgers for the grill, as well. Portobello mushrooms are fantastic grilled. We make an aluminum foil pocket for the mushrooms and leave the top open so they can absorb the flavor of the smoke. We have substituted baked tofu for scallops for grilled tofu skewers. Grilled pineapple or peaches makes for a satisfying dessert.

Barbara has also found new spices that enhance grilling and eating, and she is always experimenting. Sometimes as a result, she makes a one-off meal, and tells me with a smile to enjoy it because she won’t be able to duplicate that particular dinner again.

I am happy that Barbara and I are on the same path with our diet because it is so much easier to plan meals. I am sure I make people in the neighborhood hungry when I fire up the grill to cook portobellos or fajitas or even a meatless burger. I’m getting hungry now!

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