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July fourth, the day of the year when everyone in America temporarily turns into Sean Hannity, is bit of a minefield for vegetarians like myself. According to our critics (read: grandmothers) we aren't just the usual malnourished, misguided hippies; on this day, we lack patriotism as well as protein. On the great American landscape of grated iron, burgers are the stars and hot dogs the stripes.
Most vegetarians will, reasonably, just bring a bit of grillable meatless product for themselves. But showing up with a veggie burger tucked under your arm can send unintented messages: it sets you apart from the burger-chomping celebrations, declaring you as unwilling to take part.
The good news is that just about everything tastes good cooked over a grill, and some things taste so good they may make a few meat-eaters forget about the burgers altogether.
A vegetarian on the Fourth of July has got to do better, and that means bringing something everyone can enjoy, not just you and the significant other you guilted into sharing your dietary lifestyle. Potato salad doesn't count: Independence Day is about grilling, and it certainly isn't about salad. The good news is that just about everything tastes good cooked over a grill, and some things taste so good they may make a few meat-eaters forget about the burgers altogether.
If you're willing to cross the border to our brother among independence-winning new world nations, Mexican food can save the day. Tamales, doughy treats grilled in a corn husk, are perfect for a barbecue. (The shell, which is discarded, also saves you the trouble of wondering if your meat-free dinner just spent twenty minutes stewing in a layer of greasy cow fat.) My recipe uses a grilled pepper salsa so good you might consider making enough to let other guests spread it on their burgers and hot dogs.
But if you're adamant about enjoying great American food on this great American day, it might be worth dipping into the library of tofu-based imitations. The meat will be fake, but the clamoring of health-conscious guests eager to try your veggie burgers and dogs will not, so bring plenty to share. I recommend Morningstar Farms' black bean burger, which seems custom-made for the grill and has the added benefit of tasting like actual food--roasted corn, chipotle pepper, and onions all come through clearly--rather than formed protein. Amy's California burger is also great. Made with chopped walnuts, it has rich flavor and a chewy, almost crunchy texture lacking in every other veggie burger on the market. Light Life's veggie sausage performs well as a hot dog substitute, although it makes the mistake of trying to just taste like a hot dog, at which it of course fails without the meat, rather than having a wholly original flavor.
Do bring extra. I'm always amazed at how many people, friends as well as strangers, who express a health-based interest in joining me. It won't just make you a generous guest: by allowing more people to share in your meatless meal, it helps to reinforce the communal experience so important to a great Fourth of July.