Hey man, my name is Tree and I helped head up the grilling team for the 2009 PRF BBQ and its successor, the 2010 PRF BBQ. The food at these BBQs was something to be proud of and very representative of the PRF’s lack of willingness to engage in the store-bought/prepackaged/cheap. There were dozens of sausages from Chicago’s stellar Paulina Meat Market, even more sausages from the state of Wisconsin, homemade sausages, burgers hand-formed and seasoned with love and topped with a variety of cheeses, chicken parts, fish, and even pork shoulder. “You Eat Well or You Go to Hell” was our motto*.
For both of these events, I made the decision to handle the vegetarian grilling duties. I am not a vegetarian, far from it, though I tried it for about six months in 2003 until my wife became pregnant with our second child and was ravenous for meat. Since it turned out the baby was mine, I figured I should start eating meat again as well. I am a vegetarian sympathizer, and as an avid griller, it pains me to attend/host a cookout and see the meatless folks show up with frozen veggie patties, or even worse, tofu dogs. There are actual vegetables to be consumed and many of them are delicious when grilled, so allow me to talk about the items that I made for these BBQs.
In 2009, I made eggplant appetizers. It’s pretty simple, I just took a few eggplants and sliced them into half-inch-wide coins, then sprinkled coarse salt and set them aside. I then took a couple of red bell peppers and cut them into slices that were roughly the size of the eggplant slices and coated them in olive oil. Back to the eggplant slices, I dipped them in a mix of two parts olive oil/one part balsamic vinegar and seasoned them with freshly ground pepper.
With a charcoal grill preheated to medium high (more than likely “high”, really, as some of those eggplant slices were burned to a “still think smoking is cool?” degree), I grilled each side of the vegetables for a few minutes, then threw a slice of bell pepper between every two slices of eggplant and tossed goat cheese and some spinach in between until the cheese formed enough of a mortar to keep it all together. I think they went over well. Also in 2009, the lovely Sandra played along and brought some vegetable kabobs, made up of zuccini, yellow squash, and mushrooms, I believe. Those also went over well.
The menu for PRF BBQ 2010 was not much different, just put into sandwich form. One of my favorite things to grill at home is eggplant sandwiches, so I made some of those, along with portobello mushroom burgers. Let’s take a second to talk about the portobello, Meat of the Vegetable World. These grill up nicely. Just remove the stems, brush ’em with olive oil, and get a little minced garlic on there. That fire will loosen up those juices like some sort of Juice Loosener and you’ll have a meaty treat. I did this, topped them with provolone cheese, and grilled some buttered buns. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Back to the eggplant: for sandwiches, I cut them into Washington Monument-style slices, took a couple red bell peppers and cut them into about-twice-as-thick-as-julienned slices, got more Italian cheese, pesto, sliced mushrooms, and rolls. The bread for this BBQ came in the form of baguettes from a Vietnamese bakery, which brings me to my next detour…
My Grill Bitches. Good friends Beth and Jodi offered to be grilling assistants. One thing to note about this job is that everybody is horrible at it. If you’ve ever grilled for a group of people at a place where things are going on inside or any other part of the property, you’ve seen somebody who offered to help do just that for about fifteen minutes, only to disappear into the revelry, leaving, at best, a plate set aside for you, the griller. It’s okay, having get-together times is more fun than listening to some knob talk about two-zone fire and heat adjustment. Beth and Jodi, however, were nothing less than stellar, preppping like champs. Beth even brought homemade arugula pesto and Jodi brought pineapple for grilling, with Sriracha (oh yes).
The sandwiches were pretty simple: we slathered the eggplant slices with pesto and grilled them, coated the bell pepper slices with olive oil and grilled them, then coated the mushrooms and grilled them on a grilling wok. We sliced the baguettes and buttered the inside, then grilled the inside until lightly toasted. The eggplants, bell peppers, and mushrooms were placed into the baguettes and the fillings were topped with the cheese. The sandwiches were set on the grill and pressed down with something heavy until the down sides were well-toasted, the same was done with the other side.
That’s about it; nice and savory, I’d like to think. I wasn’t on my A game for either BBQ, so hopefully nothing was too gnarly. Like I said, the PRF has a built-in distaste for the pre-package and lame, and I believe the vegetarian grilling portion of the first two BBQs was representative of that spirit.
*not actual motto