Doing Vegan Spice Rubs the Right Way

Grilling season doesn’t mean that non-meat eaters need to feel left out. With the right grilling spices and variety of produce that’s fresh off the farm, you can grill up a meal that will please any palate at your next cookout.

The Science of Spices

Unlike sauces or oils, rubs penetrate the outer layer of food to infuse the flavor throughout. You’re creating a work of art, with your portobello, tempeh or veggie as the canvas. To do it properly, every part of the outside should be evenly coated with the rub.

Rubs can have as many different spices or herbs as you want, but they should incorporate the three main flavors: salty, savory and sweet. There are also different categories of seasonings:

  • Herbs, like rosemary, thyme and oregano
  • Capaisins, which are oil-soluble spices that give foods a rich, smokey flavor; these include paprika, cumin and chili
  • Barks, like bay and cinnamon
  • Savory seeds, like mustard and cardamom

It’s all about finding the right balance and combination from there. Start with the spices you know best, one from each category. Then, try to incorporate something unfamiliar into the mix. Remember not to overwhelm your food. Use more intense flavors sparingly and build from there. You want to enhance the flavor of your base food, not smother it.

An Easy Rub to Start You Off

This rub is a sweet and smokey one that goes great on grilled peppers, tofu or black bean burgers. It uses a little something from each category, provides a classic barbecue flavor and it’s a good make-ahead. Note the proportions.

Mix these ingredients:

3/4 cup of brown sugar

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Rub gently over the surface of your protein or vegetable, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour; the longer you let it absorb, the more intense the flavor. Allow your food to come to room temperature before grilling. This rub can also be made in large quantities and stored jars in a cool dry area of your kitchen.

Vegan or vegetarian cooking needn’t be bland or boring. All it takes is a little imagination, a basic knowledge of spice science and a certain degree of fearlessness.