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Revamp your summer cookout menu with healthy, meat-free recipes

Tuesday - 6/10/2014, 6:28am  ET

Angela Liddon, author of 'Oh She Glows,' offers recipes and ideas to make summer cookouts healthier. (Courtesy Angela Liddon)

WASHINGTON -- Summer isn't complete without spending a few warm afternoons by a grill, cooking out with family and friends.

But summer's traditional pastime doesn't have to stick to a traditional menu of meat and mayonnaise-laden dishes.

"So many times you go to a barbecue in the summer and it's all about the meat -- the burgers and the hot dogs," says Angela Liddon, author of The New York Times bestselling cookbook "Oh She Glows" and creator of the food website

"But there are so many great, easy options that you can create for a cookout that will please the meat-eaters as well as vegetarians and vegans."

Liddon turned to cooking with whole, natural foods when she launched her website in 2008. Since then, she's revamped her summer cookout spread to include plant-based dishes, packed with flavor and nutrition.

The Burger

Those who still love to serve a burger at summer gatherings can do so without ground beef. One of Liddon's favorite things to make in the summer is her portobello burger with sun-dried tomato and kale-hemp pesto.

First, take a portobello mushroom cap (or several) and marinate it in a balsamic vinegar, garlic and herb marinade.

"They just get so much amazing flavor infused into them," Liddon says.

Throw the mushrooms on the grill for five or six minutes. When they're done, put them on a bun with Liddon's sun-dried tomato and kale-hemp pesto. (See the recipe below.)

"You just slather that all over the burger. Add some lettuce and tomato, and it's just fantastic. And so many meat-eaters rave about these burgers," she says.

Chips and Dip

If guacamole is a staple on your summer table, Liddon has a way to give it a summer twist with fresh, seasonal fruit: Her summer guacamole incorporates chunks of strawberries and mango.

"Strawberries are in season right now, and they're just so juicy and sweet, and it adds an amazing and nice flavor in the guacamole," she says.

To make the dip, fold bits of strawberries and mango together with lime juice, avocado and red onion. Serve with the guacamole with corn chips or pita.

Potato Salad

Potato salad is a classic cookout side dish, but the classic recipes are often packed with fat and void of nutritional value.

"I think all of us remember those potato salads that we grew up with. They're basically mayo coating some mushy potatoes," Liddon says. "I like to roast the potatoes. It gives them a nice texture."

Then Liddon makes a mayo-free sauce using avocado, which she purees in a food processor with herbs, spices and seasoning.

"It creates this amazing, creamy sauce for the potatoes in the potato salad. And you don't even need to use a lick of mayo at all," she says.

Ice Cream Cake

There's nothing better than winding down a summer barbecue with a cool, sweet treat. Liddon draws inspiration for one of her favorite summer recipes from Dairy Queen's frozen ice cream pizzas -- a dessert she remembers from childhood.

"This is my healthier alternative to one of those," she says.

Instead of using ice cream, Liddon purees frozen bananas and a little almond butter to create a soft-serve-like banana ice cream. She then spreads the "ice cream" over a gluten-free crust, which is a mixture of a crispy rice cereal, a little bit of cocoa powder and a little bit of sweetener.

Toppings such as melted dark chocolate, coconut and spiced almonds add a bit more texture.

"It's a really nice low-fat, low-calorie dessert option," Liddon says.


Grilled Portobello Burger with Sun-dried Tomato Kale-Hemp Pesto

For the portobello caps:

  • 2 medium portobello mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 1⁄2 teaspoons (37 mL) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) fine-grain sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) freshly ground black pepper

For the sun-dried tomato kale-hemp pesto:

  • 1 cup (250 mL) lightly packed destemmed kale leaves
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) hemp seeds
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) fine-grain sea salt

Optional toppings:

  • Caramelized onions
  • Avocado slices
  • Kale or lettuce leaves
  • Sliced tomatoes

1. Remove the stems from the mushrooms by twisting each stem until it pops off. Discard the stem or save it for another use, such as a stir-fry. With a small spoon, scrape out and discard the black gills. Rub the cap with a damp dishcloth to remove any debris.

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, oil, garlic, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Add the portobello caps and toss to coat them in the marinade. Marinate the mushrooms for 30 to 60 minutes, tossing them every 15 minutes. (You can also marinate them overnight.)

2. Meanwhile, make the sun-dried tomato kale-hemp pesto: In a food processor, pulse the garlic until minced. Add the kale leaves, sun-dried tomatoes, hemp seeds, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and 2 tablespoons (30 mL) water and process until smooth, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

3. Preheat a grill pan or an outdoor grill over medium-high heat. Grill the portobello caps for four to five minutes per side, until lightly charred and tender.

4. Serve the portobello caps on a toasted bun or sliced up in a lettuce wrap topped with a generous amount of the pesto, and additional toppings of your choice. Any leftover pesto will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least a week. It's great on sandwiches, wraps, pasta and more.

Reprinted by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Glo Bakery Corporation, 2014.

Glowing Strawberry-Mango Guacamole

  • 2 medium avocados, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 1/2cup (125 mL) finely chopped red onion
  • 1 fresh mango, pitted, peeled, and finely chopped (about 1 ½ cups/375 mL)
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) finely chopped hulled strawberries
  • 1/2 cup (60 mL) fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped (optional)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 mL) fresh lime juice, to taste
  • Fine-grain sea salt
  • Corn chips, for serving

1. In a medium bowl, gently mash the avocado, leaving some chunks for texture.

2. Rinse and drain the chopped onion in a strainer to wash off the sulfurous compounds. This makes the taste of the raw onion more pleasant. Fold the mango, strawberries, onion and cilantro (if using) into the avocado. Season with the lime juice and salt to taste.

3. Serve immediately with your favorite corn chips. Avocado tends to spoil quickly, so leftovers won't keep for longer than 12 hours or so. One more reason to dig in!

Tip: For a spicy version, add 1 diced jalapeño to the mix. Omit the seeds for a just-a-bit-spicy version.

If you'd like to prepare this in advance, combine all of the ingredients except the avocado in an airtight container and keep it in the fridge. Just before serving, gently fold in the avocado and no one will be the wiser!

Reprinted by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Glo Bakery Corporation, 2014.

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