Summer is here, and that means one thing for your cooking routine: it’s time to grill.
But while plenty of red-blooded dudes can’t turn down a good steak on the grill, the fat and calories that come with a slab of meat don’t always fit into your training diet. Solution: These protein-packed vegetarian options, which are perfectly good lower-calorie alternatives to the traditional meat-centric grill items.
Add them to your weekly meal plan to stay lean—while still getting your protein fix.
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1. Paneer Tikka
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If you like Indian food, you’ll enjoy this classic Indian take on vegetarian kebabs. Paneer tikka is an Indian veggie skewer, made with chunks of paneer cheese infused with aromatic Indian spices. “Add some veggies to the skewers for a flavorful and nutritious protein-packed grilled dish,” says Roxana Begum, R.D.
Paneer contains about 12g of protein per ½ cup.
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2. Bean Burgers
There are a ton of veggie burger options around, but the best kind for grilling contains hearty pulses—aka chickpeas, dried peas, beans, or lentils. This simple black bean burger is a substantial meal with a ton of flavor. You can also use any other pulse as the base of your burger. Both chickpeas and lentils are protein-rich vegetarian options that can withstand the heat of the grill. With 15g of protein in a cup of black beans and 18g in a cup of lentils, you can’t go wrong with a pulse-based burger.
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This Mexican staple can be made to order with a variety of different vegetarian fillings, like beans, cheese, and veggies. “Bean and cheese quesadillas not only create a protein-packed meal, but whole grains and veggies add fiber, vitamins, and minerals,” says Kathy Siegel, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. Plus, they cook quickly on the grill without dirtying a pan.
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Love it or hate it, tofu is a protein-rich vegetarian staple that can be cooked in a variety of ways. Marinate a slab in your favorite hot sauce or dry rub and throw it on the grill. Alternatively, get a bit more creative and “put it on skewers with chunks of red onion and multi-colored bell peppers,” suggests Christy Brissette, M.S., R.D. A cup of tofu has 22g of protein—the same amount as 3oz of chicken.
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5. Portobello Mushrooms
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An often-overlooked fact about Portobello mushrooms: They contain ample amounts of protein (almost 9g per mushroom). They’re also easy to grill. “Marinate portobellos in a mixture of olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, then throw them on the grill,” suggests Angie Asche, R.D. “Drizzle balsamic and other diced up veggies on top.”
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Often referred to as “grilling cheese,” halloumi cheese is a traditionally Cypriot protein. (It’s called hellim in Turkey.) This soft cheese is similar to tofu or paneer, and holds up well to the heat of the grill. You can marinate it and serve it with just about anything. And just 1oz of halloumi has 7g of protein, which is comparable to many types of meat.
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Just like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans. Unlike tofu, tempeh is fermented, making it a natural source of gut-healthy probiotics. Tempeh is somewhat flavorless, so it’s a great vessel for your favorite delicious, healthy grilling marinades. “Marinate tempeh in homemade peanut sauce (peanut butter, lime juice, a bit of honey and salt, and crushed red pepper flakes) and throw it on the grill,” suggests Brisette.
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Not all vegetarians eat shellfish, but many do—and clams are one of the easiest kinds of seafood to cook on the grill. Just place the whole clam on a hot grill and wait for it to open—about 8 to 10 minutes. Then drizzle with lemon juice, garlic, and herbs, and eat it straight out of the shell. Just five clams will deliver 10g of protein and not much else.
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9. Stuffed Peppers
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Although stuffed peppers are generally filled with meat and veggies, they are also a great vessel for vegetarian proteins like crumbled tofu, quinoa, beans, or lentils. Plus, they’re an automatic form of portion control. To make stuffed peppers, sauté veggies with your vegetarian protein of choice, spoon the mixture into a pepper, and grill for 8-10 minutes.