Now that we are well into July, it is officially summer in the Northern Hemisphere, where barbecues have long been considered the epitome of summertime fun. Here in tropical Jakarta it can feel like summer all year round, but many of us forget to take advantage of the warm weather by eating and cooking outdoors.
Classic barbecues are often a fairly meaty affair, with the focus on burgers, hot dogs, chicken, ribs, or beef tenderloin — not to say that that is a bad thing. But have you ever considered having a purely vegetarian barbecue?
If you think vegetables are only second-best, think again. By adding fresh herbs, spicy sambal, salsa, pesto, dressing and natural seasonings, these barbecued treats can have the same magic as any old slab of meat. Corn and whole baking potatoes are well-established barbecue staples, but why stop there?
In the past 10 years, I am pleased to say that there have been massive developments in terms of locally grown vegetables here in Jakarta. The variety and quality of fresh local produce that we see today is wonderful. Here is a list of locally grown vegetables that are perfect for throwing on the barbecue.
Long-cooking (around 20-25 minutes)
Whole potatoes and sweet potatoes
Beetroots (choose baby beetroots for less cooking time)
Medium-cooking: (around 10-12 minutes)
Sliced pumpkin (around 1.5 cm thick)
Tofu (preferably firm)
Onion (in 1.5 cm slices)
Portobello mushrooms (whole)
Short-cooking: (around 5-7 minutes)
Shiitake or button mushrooms (whole)
Red peppers (seeded, quartered and flattened)
Asparagus (discard the tough end part)
The preparation can be as simple as you wish. Marinating the vegetables for 30 minutes to one hour is a great way to improve the flavor, but is not necessary.
Each vegetable has its own natural sugar with a distinctive flavor. Flavoring can be added after cooking, with different varieties of dressing, salsa or sambal. But it is important to lightly season the vegetables with salt and black pepper and brush them with oil to give a fresh look and good texture.
Tempeh and tofu should be marinated in a mixture of freshly ground coriander seeds, garlic, shallots and salt. This seasoning combination is the same as that used in the traditional tempe goreng recipe, but by barbecuing instead of frying, this method is even healthier.
Halfway through cooking, turn the vegetables over. When the food is done, drizzle with your favorite dressing. For an Italian dressing, simply mix lime or lemon juice with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. From this basic dressing, you can add honey and mustard, or honey with sliced chilies for a different flavor. For a Thai-flavored dressing, simply mix lime juice, fish sauce and chilies. For an Indonesian flavor, add rica-rica (Manadonese sambal), sambal matah (Balinese sambal), or balado (Padang, West Sumatra sambal).
You can also combine fruit with vegetables for contemporary dishes and tastes. Barbecued pineapple is perfect with any vegetable, to give a tangy and sweet flavor. I also found that barbecued watermelon is delicious with chopped cucumber, feta cheese and plenty of fresh mint leaves and a simple Italian dressing.
Who would have thought that humble fruits and vegetables could offer so much?