Chances are, you became vegan to simplify your life for health, vitality or respect of all living things (or a combination of all three!). However, actually practicing what you feel can sometimes feel more complicated when you find yourself taking time to read labels, looking for alternatives to the foods you used to enjoy and explaining your choices to others. Turning to the same foods over and over again can get bland, so how do you switch up your normal routine?
It’s almost summer, and it’s time for a little sweetness. Syrupy sweetness, that is! Maple syrup is simply the vegan griller’s best friend. Adding a little smokiness to your favorite foods with your grill—be it fruit, veggies or even tofu—is an easy way to inject flavor and variety into summer cooking. Toss in a little maple syrup before hitting the hot grates, and you get an added bonus of natural sweetness that deepens the flavor and makes the whole meal taste more complex.
Before you get to the grill, however, you need to make sure that you are using 100 percent maple syrup, not something labeled with “maple” and full of fillers, corn syrup or other processed ingredients. Here’s a hint: Typically, pure maple syrup is more expensive than the other syrups on the shelf. However, a little goes a long way in terms of intensity of flavor, so the splurge is worth it.
Since syrup has a lot of natural sugar, it can cause the grill to flame up. If you are not looking for a deep char, it’s best to grill over indirect heat. For that same reason, you can either toss items in the syrup before getting near the heat, or brush the syrup on, since a drizzle of syrup straight from the bottle will have most of your sweetness going up in flames instead of adding flavor. Experiment with method and these three flavor profiles:
1. Go savory. Although the syrup is sweet, consider using it on bitter vegetables to provide contrast. Cabbage, cauliflower or endive are all delicious when grilled with a little maple syrup.
2. Go spicy. Spice up the syrup by adding a shake or two of your favorite hot sauce, a sprinkle of cayenne pepper or a swirl of pepper paste before adding in your grilling items for a toss. Two easy successes are tofu and asparagus, which take well to this sweet-and-spicy combo.
3. Go sweet. Don’t forget about dessert! Peaches and bananas are both great on the grill, and adding a brush of syrup before the heat can really bring out their subtler natural flavors as the heat and the syrup meld.
No matter what you decide to grill, maple syrup can add that extra edge of flavor you crave. It’s the perfect plant-based solution to a delicious vegan summer dish.
Stephanie Burt is a food expert for Home Depot and the host of the weekly podcast The Southern Fork, where she not only gets to interview some of the most interesting voices in the culinary South but also learns great tips for cooking on the grill from them.