How to eat vegetarian when travelling and Grilled summer vegetables with couscous 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 in restaurants but somehow it is not. Now, I am interested in food and culture and 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 in Europe a couple of years ago (3 months in Paris and Spain) I preferred 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 vegetarien, Soy vegetariano), 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 before you go 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 food that I know is available because I have been to their markets. I have seen the vegetables, grains, beans and legumes in their local markets, so 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 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? hummm, 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? I have, recently to Italy and Israel, but what about seeing the world?
You can even buy a vegan passport, a passport size 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 a couple of years ago 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 eat that is not 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), a Catalan specialty that you now find all over Spain.
One item that was always available in restaurants, 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.
Now that I got that out of the way, here is my grilled vegetables with couscous recipe.
If you don’t mind standing for a while by the grill you will be rewarded with a beautiful platter of grilled vegetables that you can then serve with couscous for a lovely mediterranean style dinner on the patio. Once grilled, drizzle the veggies with the dressing and pile on top or alongside the couscous with a little more dressing on the side. You can serve this warm or at room temperature.
Use the best fresh vegetables you can find: shiny and heavy eggplants, crisp yellow and green zucchini, thick skinned red and orange sweet peppers and whatever else you may have on hand. Slice the vegetables vertically into long, thin slices and brush with olive oil. The grill needs to be hot and when it’s ready, lay the vegetables directly on the grill or on a cast iron grill pan and let them brown and get the grill marks on each side. Remove to a side plate until you finish with all the vegetables.
1 or 2 zummer zucchini, green
1or 2 summer zucchini, yellow
1 red pepper
1 orange pepper
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
A couple fo twists of fresh pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
Combine all the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake to emulsify.
Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
Cut the eggplant and zucchini into long slices (1/4 inch).
Cut the peppers into segments.
Brush the vegetables with olive oil.
Place on a hot grill and grill, turning once, until they are cooked and the grill marks show.
Pile them on a platter as you cook them. this will soften them a bit.
When all the vegetables are cooked drizzle with some of the dressing and with your hands or wooden spoon mix them to distribute the dressing. I wear thin kitchen gloves to do this.
Taste and sprinkle with more salt and pepper as needed.
To make the couscous:
1 1/2 cup couscous
2 cups boiling water
2 teaspoon coarse salt
A twist or two of fresh pepper
3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
Place couscous in a pot with a lid.
Pour boiling water, salt and oil over the couscous and stir to combine.
Cover and let stand 10 minutes until all the water is absorbed
Remove lid, fluff with a fork and add the parsley.