3 Plant-Based Side Dishes for Your 4th of July Grill Outs

Tattooed Watermelon Salad

Believe it or not, watermelon takes to grilling surprisingly well. The grill-inked stripes from the grate look beautiful and wild adorning the deep pink flesh, and they also nicely complement the seasoned arugula. Oftentimes guests, as I do myself, prefer two slices of the watermelon, to make the juicy joy of this fun in the sun rebel last as long as possible, so plan accordingly. Also, for a change, a sprinkling of smoked sea salt adds a whole other dimension to the dish.

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Heat the grill to medium-high.Grilling Vegan Style by John Schlimm

Cut the watermelon into eight 1-inch thick slices. Leave the rind on or cut it off, as you wish. Brush the watermelon flesh with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill the watermelon for 2 minutes on each side. Mind the heat; liquid tends to gush out of the watermelon if it gets too hot. When finished, transfer the slices to four to eight plates.

Place the arugula in a medium-size bowl. Toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then with the balsamic. Divide the arugula either under or over the watermelon slices. Sprinkle the watermelon with the smoked sea salt, if desired, and serve.

Yield: 4 to 8 servings

  • 1 medium-size seedless watermelon (about 5 pounds)
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ample cups arugula leaves, or watercress leaves
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Smoked sea salt of choice, for sprinkling (optional; see headnote)

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Pasta Salad with Grilled Summer Vegetables

Screwy pasta gets dunked and splashed with color and gusto when paired with grilled cherry tomatoes, zucchini, red peppers, and green onions. Just remember, this pasta salad is best at room temperature, as chilling it tends to diminish the flavors.

Pasta Salad with Grilled Summer Vegetables John Schlimm Recipes

Heat the grill to medium-high.

In a medium-size saucepan, cook the pasta in boiling water until just past al dente, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, about 8 minutes. Drain and rinse to stop cooking. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, to prevent the pasta from sticking together.

In a medium-size bowl, whisk the remaining olive oil with the red wine vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, and green onions. Pour the olive oil mixture over them and toss to coat well. You can also separate out the vegetables for coating, as they will be grilled separately momentarily. And, if desired, you can skip grilling the tomatoes and simply add them to the salad.

Transfer the zucchini and bell peppers to the hot grill rack. Grill for 3 minutes, turning once. Add the green onions to the grill rack and, using a grill basket if necessary, grill the tomatoes alongside the other vegetables for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove all the vegetables from the grill and let cool slightly.

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Chop all the grilled vegetables into bite-size pieces and add them to the pasta bowl with the olives, oregano, basil, and any remaining marinade. Toss thoroughly and serve at room temperature.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

  • 1⁄2 pound dried fusilli or gemelli
  • 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup cherry or pear tomatoes
  • 2 medium-size zucchini, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 2-inch strips
  • 8 green onions, root ends trimmed, white and light green parts only
  • 1 cup black olives, preferably kalamata, pitted
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves

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Grilled Tomato Suns

This side dish is the ideal way to add a pop of color and interest to any meal. When tomatoes rise into their peak season, around August, lunge for this recipe! Just be sure the cherry red orbs aren’t too soft, though, or they’ll collapse from overheating (dramatic little divas, aren’t they?).

Grilled Tomato Suns John Schlimm Grilling Vegan

Over your kitchen wastebasket or compost bin, use your little finger to wiggle out the tomato seeds and pulp from the pockets inside the tomatoes.

Heat the grill to high heat.

Season the tomatoes well with the kosher salt and pepper, and rub the cut sides with the olive oil. Using a fine grill grate (if possible) or grilling screen, place the tomatoes, cut side down, over high heat. Cover the grill and let the tomatoes cook for about 4 minutes, checking for doneness after 2 minutes. (The rate of cooking will depend on the ripeness of the tomatoes, among a few other factors.) Lift the tomatoes off the grill with a thin metal spatula.

Place the tomatoes on a serving platter, cut side up. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and sprinkle on a bit more salt and pepper. Finish with a showering of basil chiffonade.

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Yield: 4 to 8 servings

  • 4 ripe but fairly firm tomatoes, halved crosswise
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade (see note)

Note: To cut basil leaves into a chiffonade, place the leaves in a single stack and roll them up like a cigar. Hold them in place and slice them thinly with a sharp paring knife.



Recipes and photographs from Grilling Vegan: 125 Fired-Up Recipes to Turn Every Bite into a Backyard BBQ by John Schlimm. Published by Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2012. 

About the Author

author image

John Schlimm is a Harvard-trained educator, artist, activist and award-winning writer. His newest book is an inspirational memoir titled “Five Years in Heaven: The Unlikely Friendship That Answered Life’s Greatest Questions.” John’s other books include “Stand Up!: 75 Young Activists Who Rock the World, And How You Can, Too!” and a series of plant-based cookbooks, including “The Tipsy Vegan,” “Grilling Vegan Style,” “The Cheesy Vegan” and “The Ultimate Beer Lover’s Happy Hour.” He has traveled the country speaking about inspirational/motivational topics, cooking, entertaining and public relations, including his “Embrace Compassion, Change the World” keynote address on Capitol Hill, and has appeared on such national media outlets as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, NPR, Martha Stewart Living’s Everyday Food, The Splendid Table, QVC and Fox & Friends. John also recently debuted his participatory art piece THE SMILE THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (is yours) with installations in Canada and Washington, D.C.In June 2016, THE SMILE installation will open at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

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