Since turning vegetarian during her university stint abroad, Wanja Wahoro refuses to let her dietary preferences get in the way of a good barbecue.
Growing up as a meat eater in a family of carnivores, barbecues were a regular, happy event in my household. Some of my earliest food memories take place by the grill or the open flame. Smoky embers, the smell of marinated chicken, a creamy potato salad, the happy novelty of eating under a clear blue sky. It is really hard to fault a good nyama choma session surrounded by the people we love.
Returning home from university as a vegetarian, it seems easy to conclude that I would have decided to skip barbecues altogether, refusing to participate due to some kind of ethical aversion. This was not, however, the case: I still loved the communal feeling of cooking outdoors, whiling away the hours talking by the fire late into the night, hovering sticky marshmallows over an open flame.
In every aspect of my food life, vegetarianism has forced me to be creative, including at the barbecue. Today I am inspired to create my own menu of favourites to enjoy with my family and friends. There are literally hundreds of delicious plant-based recipes out there, turns out being a vegetarian is not a good excuse just to eat jacket potatoes when at a barbecue. From grilled vegetarian patties, veggie and tofu marinated kebabs, roasted garlic-chilli corn, portobello mushroom steaks and grilled halloumi, there is such a long list of cool things to stick on the grill out there that we could easily do a whole vegetarian barbecue issue on the subject and still have stuff left over to say.
Perhaps the more pressing concern for those with plant-based diets, is attending barbecues outside your family unit. Thankfully in Kenya, many of the sides at barbecues are vegetarian and vegan friendly. Think kachumbari, pilau, potatoes and even bean stews. However, if you’re like me and your appetite only needs the faintest whiff of food to get whipped into a frenzy, barbecues can be a tricky situation. I recommend experimenting and preparing beforehand something you love to grill that can be shared amongst everyone. Add sauces and sides that can ramp up simple vegetables and elevate flavour. My personal favourite is a simple vegetable skewer—paired with this Kenyan adaptation of the classic Italian Salsa Verde, this easy, quick and smokey skewer can be the perfect addition to any day spent by the barbecue.
Vegetable Skewers with Kenyan Salsa Verde
Skewer Ingredients (all cut into large chunks)
- Sweet potato
- Yellow bell pepper
- Red onion
- Button mushrooms
- Oil for brushing (ideally Extra Virgin Olive Oil but vegetable will do)
- Sea salt and Black Pepper to taste
- Boil potatoes in a large pot for 10 minutes to soften slightly before adding to the skewers.
- Assemble skewers by adding the vegetables in layers, leaving enough room at the top and the bottom to help with flipping and to prevent vegetables from falling off.
- Evenly brush vegetables with a light coat of oil, salt and pepper. Place on grill and turn regularly to avoid burning.
Kenyan Salsa Verde
- 2 large bunches of dhania (coriander)
- 6 Large Garlic Cloves (12 small)
- 2 Jalapeno chilis
- One hard boiled egg
- Olive Oil
- Take the dhania off the stems and chop finely.
- Roughly chop the garlic, jalapeno and egg. Whiz everything in the food processor or blender, adding a drizzle of olive oil if it is too thick. Season with salt.