Fire Up Your Grill, Fire Up Your Health

The chef/owner of Horizons, our favorite Philly vegan restaurant, shares his secrets for summer cooking that will help fill you up and slim you down

The smell of sizzling steaks may be synonymous with summer, but if you’re looking to drop a few pounds, up your energy, or beef up your overall health, switching to a few veggie-heavy meals this season can make a big difference in how you feel—and how you look in that bathing suit. “Our recipes are pure, clean and simple,” says Rich Landau, chef/owner of the all-vegan Horizons on South 7th Street. “We use good olive oil, salt and pepper, and a little seasoning. There’s nothing heavy or goopy or fatty. If you grill lots of meat, just have a look at that ‘fat drip’ cup under your grill sometime. Then find a vegetarian friend and look at theirs—enough said.”

Of course, tangoing with tofu or braving veggie burgers can be tough for a first-timer, so we asked Landau to share his secrets for mastering the veggie barbecue. And hey, even if mock meat isn’t for you, heart-healthy veggies should be on everyone’s grill! Check out his tips below.  

Watch the clock. “Most soy products literally take two to three minutes on medium-high heat to be ready,” says Landau. “You don’t have to worry about salmonella, so you don’t have to cook them through.”  

Keep things from sticking. “Most mock meat products contain very little fat or no fat at all,” says Landau.  “Brush them with little oil to prevent them from sticking.”

Pick the right tofu. “You should only ever grill extra-firm tofu,” says Landau. “Just leave it out on a plate for about 20 minutes before grilling and let some of the water naturally drain out. Soft tofu will fall apart into the grill—your guests will hate it and they will hate you for serving it, too.”

Make a mean marinade. “Tofu works best with an olive oil-based marinade,” says Landau. His go-to recipe: A half-cup of olive oil, one tablespoon of good balsamic vinegar, two tablespoons of quality tamari (Japanese soy sauce) and fresh-ground black pepper. Cut a 16-ounce block of tofu into three slabs and let it soak in the marinade for 20 to 30 minutes, then grill on both sides.  
Don’t be flip happy. “When you first put something on the grill, leave it alone,” cautions Landau. “I know you’re anxious. You have your hat and apron on, and your giant spatula ready in hand.  But leave it alone for the first two minutes—if you try to turn it too early, it will stick, fall apart, and make a mess.” And if you’re grilling tofu, make sure to use a spatula, not tongs, as it will keep your tofu steaks in one piece.

Bigger is better. “Peppers and onions should be left in large chunks, not thin slices or they’ll burn or fall through the grates,” says Landau. “Vegetables like corn and portabella mushrooms grill very easily whole, and zucchini and eggplant can be sliced into planks and are amazing on the grill.”

Go heavy on herbs. “For garnishing summer grilled vegetables, nothing is better than fresh basil, but flat leaf parsley and sorrel work great as well,” says Landau. “And if you grow your own herbs, anything that looks freshest from your own garden is always best.”