Eating vegetarian when travelling – and Roasted Vegetables Recipe
There is an art to travelling as a vegetarian. You would think that with the abundance of gorgeous produce in the markets, especially around the Mediterranean, it would be easy to find vegetarian dishes on restaurants menus but somehow it is not. Now, I am interested in food and culture and certainly will try other things even if they are not vegetarian, especially the local and traditional. I am certainly not going to travel without experiencing local foods. But, on an extended stay (3 months) I prefer to eat mostly vegetarian and was on the lookout for non-meat-chicken-seafood items on the menus. You can master saying “I am a vegetarian” in any language (Je suis vegetarian, Yo Soy vegeteriano), that’s not the problem. However, asking for something vegetarian at a restaurant is a lost cause, it’s just not how they think over there. “You are vegetarian? “nous avons fish and chicken” at best or “no, no tengo” (“no, we don’t have”) at worst.
Of course you can go prepared with a list of vegetarian restaurants but to be honest, it’s not my style. Often vegetarian restaurants just miss the mark with the food. Everything has tofu or strange flavour combinations. Doesn’t work for me, or it rarely does. I want to eat where local people eat but choose the kind of things that I know are available because I have been to their markets. I have seen the vegetables, grains, beans, legumes in their local markets, they must be on some menu out there. I am also not going to tell you to rent an apartment and cook your own food. I love to cook and do it when we travel but what is travelling without experiencing their local eateries? This is where you see how people live, how they eat, what they wear, how they converse. It’s very intimate. You have to eat out.
I have looked around the internet to see what other people say. Pack nutritional bars? never. Check out health food stores? why? there are the markets. Pack a lunch in your bag? ummm, probably not regularly. Eat in ethnic restaurants? I didn’t travel to Paris and Spain to eat Thai food. Travel only to vegetarian friendly countries? What about seeing the world? You can even buy a vegan passport, a passport sized book describing your vegan preference in 50 languages. Why don’t you just stay home? You get the picture. I am very agreeable and extremely easy to please:). But, the right food is out there and I think we should be able to find it.
So what do you do? First you need to inform yourself about local foods. Know what foods are in season in the area you are travelling to and learn something about the cuisine. Before leaving for Spain I knew that artichokes, asparagus green peas and calcots were in season. I read about tapas and found out which were vegetarian. I read about their foods in the various regions and found out what they serve without Iberian ham or seafood. Once there, I learned to read the menus and figure out how to order what I wanted from what they had to offer. Besides the vegetarian paella and rice with vegetables dishes I found asparagus, artichokes, patatas bravas, tortilla de patatas, Ensalada Rusa, lentils, beans, eggplant, peppers and other items that became my favourite dishes while travelling. And if all else fails there is always their most fabulous pan con tomate (bread with tomatoes – post coming up), a Catalunyan specialty that you now find all over Spain.
One item that was always available in restuarnts, especially in Spain, was grilled vegetables and they were beautifully done. I would get a plate with a stack of gorgeous grilled vegetables drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt. There was zucchini, eggplant, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, potatoes, onion, mushrooms, pepper, tomatoes etc., all grilled to perfection and glisten with a little (well, a lot really) local olive oil that goes over EVERYTHING it seems. The vegetables were full of beautiful flavour and with another order of rice or potatoes it was a wonderful local culinary experience. While everyone around me were enjoying their thinly sliced cured acorn fed Iberian ham I was quite happy with my vegetarian selection without having to even mention the word.
So here is my way of simply grilling a few vegetables and serving them like they do in Spain. I am offering a little dressing suggestion to drizzle over if you wish but you can also just drizzle the cooked vegetables with a flavourful olive oil, sprinkle with an interesting salt and freshly ground pepper and add a few chopped herbs. You can grill the vegetables in a grill pan on top of the stove or on an outdoor grill if you have one, or in the oven. Quantities are according to what you are serving: only a few vegetables for a couple of servings or a large amount for entertaining your friends. You can serve them warm or at room temperatures. Then pictures yourself sitting at a Spanish urban or seaside restaurant, watching local life parading in front of you. I can’t wait to go back.
Choose any combination from the following in the quantities you need:
zucchini, cut on the diagonal into thick slices
eggplant, cut into rounds
red peppers, cut into sections, veins and seeds discarded
asparagus, cut in half diagonally
small onion. sliced in thick rounds
Cauliflower, sliced into flat segments (or florets)
Tomatoes, sliced thickly
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary and thyme, chopped
Flat leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary and thyme, chopped
1 garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Whisk the ingredients together until combined, taste and correct seasoning, adding more oil if necessary to balance the flavours.
Cut each vegetable into not too small pieces.
To prepare in a grill pan on top of the stove:
Toss the vegetables with a little olive oil until they lightly glisten.
Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Grill each vegetable separately in a ridged grill pan turning once to grill both sides.
Don’t be tempted to flip them over too often. Grilling takes patience as you are caramelizing the surface.
As the vegetables are cooked place them on a plate until they are all done.
To prepare in the oven:
Heat oven to 400F
Place all vegetables on a foil lined roasting pan in a single layer. If you make a large amount you will need two pans.
Drizzle with olive oil, enough so the vegetables glisten with it.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little of the rosemary and thyme.
Depending on your oven, cook until done, about 40 minutes. You will need to turn them over once or at least mix them with a wooden spoon so they get grilled on all sides.
If you use more than one tray then you may want to rotate the trays once during the cooking.
You can’t put them in the oven and forget about them. You need to check them every now and then. If some of the vegetables look cooked while others are not you can remove them earlier and set aside.
Stack or pile a few vegetables on each plate. or, alternatively pile them all on a large platter, then serve drizzled with the dressing or just olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped fresh herbs.