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Getting that Thrill Without a Grill — Fired up about Barbecue Sauce
It’s Memorial Day and the air is scented with lighter fluid as everyone in our neighborhood fires up their grills. Memorial Day, lest we forget, honors the many brave men and women in the military who died service to our country. But since it falls at the end of May, Memorial Day is also the unofficial start of summer. This must be marked, don’t ask me why, with fire. Happily, people have to come to realize plantbased options can not only take the heat, it makes them caramelize and become even more luscious. Heck, you don’t even need a grill.* You just need a bitchin’ barbecue sauce. And honey, have I got a recipe for you.
With a wall of commercial barbecue sauce brands in the aisle of your local grocery store, why make your own?
Many brands are pricey
Others contain Worcestershire or fish sauce. This adds a smack of umami but is vegan unfriendly
Some just taste weird — oversweet, chemically, harsh
But the biggest reason for DIY barbecue sauce is because girl, you’ve got to be authentic. Barbecue sauce is where even chill folk take a hard stand, where they’re do-or-die loyal to their own, whether it’s creamy Alabama barbecue sauce or Carolina vinegar-based.
Florida’s own Zora Neale Hurston, novelist, anthropologist, and legend, wrote the origin of barbecue sauce came from Africa by way of the Caribbean — a tart, potent mix of citrus and chile. I added mango to the mix because it’s mango season in Miami. I’m a fool for seasonal, local produce. I love mangoes and I’m not the only one.
Mangoes are the world’s best-beloved tropical fruit, with over a thousand varieties and a pedigree dating back to 5 BC in Asia. Buddha, it is said, meditated in a grove of mangoes, and hey, he was the Enlightened One. In India, mangoes are a symbol of love.
Here in Miami, they’re as much a part of summer as humidity and mosquitos. Mangoes go splat on your car or get pecked to pieces by birds and possums. Overmangoed friends and neighbors can’t hand them off fast enough. This is how I lucked into mine.
Florida was the first state in the union to grow them, starting around 1830. Horticultural hottie David Fairchild considered them “one of the most delicious fruits in the world.” Mango evokes the tang of peach, a tinge of carrot and the tartness of citrus, with a sweet, juicy stickiness all its own.
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Barbecue Sauce Backstory
There’s a difference, by the way, between traditional grilling and barbecuing. Grill means high heat, quick cook time. Barbecue means low heat, slow cooking. But vegetables, tofu, tempeh and plantbased meats rewrite the rules. They take the heat and cook quickly, resulting in the best kind of fast food out there, especially if you treat them to some sauce before they hit the grill.
No local mangoes in your ‘hood? Frozen or canned will do, preferably just the fruit, no sugary syrup. Another option — a dollop of mango chutney. But don’t feel married to mango. Many summer fruits can step in and do the job.
Bryant Terry’s barbecue sauce is peach-infused.
We think of tomato as a vegetable, but botanically speaking it’s a fruit. Tomato, specifically ketchup, that beloved condiment, is the medium Derek and Chad Sarno of Wicked Kitchen use to make their barbecue sauce.
Peach, tomato, mango, they all add an element of sweetness. That’s characteristic of most barbecue sauces we go for. Using fruit means you don’t have to use sugar. Apple cider vinegar adds a sparkle of acidity, tamari adds umami, and slow simmering brings it all together for a sexier, more nuanced barbecue sauce, Once you taste homemade barbecue sauce, you’ll never go back to bottled.
Mango Barbecue Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped fine (about half a medium onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon jalapeno (2 teaspoons if you’re feeling bold), minced
1/2 cup mango purée (or 2 or 3 slices fresh ripe mango)
1-1/2 cup tomato purée
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon tamari, soy sauce or liquid aminos
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook it slow, stirring, until the onion mellows, softens and turns translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add minced garlic and jalapeno. Cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes, just until the garlic and jalapeno soften. The lower heat keeps the vegetables from burning and adding a harsh note.
Allow the vegetables to cool slightly, then spoon into food process or blender. Pour in the mango and tomato purées. apple cider vinegar, molasses, tamari, liquid smoke chile powder, smoked paprika, and sea salt. Blitz everything until smooth.
Pour everything back into the saucepan. Place on burner on medium heat. When it starts to simmer, reduce to heat to low. Let it cook uncovered for 15 minutes or so. Give an occasional stir. Sauce will thicken and go from bright red to a rich brick tone.
Taste again and add more sea salt if desired.
Looking for a printable version of this recipe? Grab it here.
How to use: Slather on firm vegetables like green plantains, fresh corn, zucchini, onions, cauliflower, jackfruit, eggplant and more, as well as tempeh and tofu. You get the gist.
Throw them on the grill or roast in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until vegetables are fragrant, yield to a fork and have a little char at the tips.
How to keep: Mango barbecue sauce keeps covered and refrigerated for up to two weeks
For a simpler sauce, let lemon, olive oil and herbs work their magic.
For real barbecue tips and techniques, turn to Miami’s own grill guru, Steven Raichlen.
*Roast vegetables instead. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet. Give them a goodly slather of barbecue sauce and roast for about 20 minutes, giving everything a stir halfway through to prevent sticking and charring. Grill if that’s what you love but trust me, oven roasting saves time, mess and reduces stress.
How do I know this? We own a grill, But it hasn’t seen action in years. It just stands sentry in the backyard. I have given up asking what my husband wants to do about it. Though our grill doesn’t, you know, grill, nature abhors a vacuum, so it serves as occasional plant nursery, bird roost or staging area for food photography. Everybody wins.
ICYMI It was my pleasure to speak at ISGA conference last week. Thank you all for giving me such a warm welcome. You guys are are the Guardians of the Galaxy.
It is better to sow the seeds of sprouts than to sow the seeds of hate.
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