When I lived in Austin, Texas, in the 1970s, I never passed up a trip with friends to The Salt Lick or one of the other local barbecue joints, even though I was a strict vegetarian. I liked the company, and I always found enough potato salad, beans, coleslaw, and Texas toast to keep me happy.
I think of those meals every time I plan a cookout. You don't see many vegetarians keeping away from barbecue festivities, but sometimes those traditional side dishes can feel limiting. After all, when the centerpiece of the meal is meat, the sides play second fiddle-sometimes there's just not enough variety, or they can be rather plain. At my gatherings, there's always meat for the meat-eaters, but the menu that I focus on-and have the most fun with-is vegetarian.
I don't buy a slew of vegetarian burgers and hot dogs. Rather, I feature local, in-season vegetables. From the grill, there's corn on the cob with a pungent and creamy chipotle sauce, and a lemony grilled medley of marinated yellow squash and zucchini. I make substantial, beautiful salads with the best summer vegetables, and lately, a baked bean dish that includes red bell peppers, tomatoes, and mint. There's potato salad, of course, but because I can get such an array of colorful potatoes at the farmers' market, mine is a patriotic red, white, and blue (well, OK, it's really pink, white, and purple). I make a crumble for dessert-a no-fuss, all-American dish that can be filled with just about any fruit at market. Plum crumble is my current favorite, but next year I might make the same dish with peaches or nectarines.
With this menu, the dishes can all serve as sides, or combine for a meal with the beans as the entrée. Either way, everyone is bound to be satisfied.
Martha Rose Shulman's most recent vegetarian cookbook is The Best Vegetarian Recipes.