The vegan grill: Spicy, smoky peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, zucchini and peppers with dill

by Terry B on August 3, 2011

Homemade Strawberry Jalapeño Jam adds a grown-up kick to the classic kid food, PBJs, and dill gives grilled vegetables a fresh, summery finish in this satisfying vegan grilled meal. Recipes below.

Peanut butter sees almost daily action at our house, often as a simple spoonful scooped from the jar for a quick snack while dinner is cooking. And we’re not alone in our love of the stuff—Americans eat almost three and a half pounds of peanut butter a year per capita, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. (Given our consumption, I have to admit that sounded low to me.)

Still, I was more than a little surprised when peanut butter and jelly sandwiches started showing up in restaurants, not on the kids’ menu, but as grilled entrées adults were expected to pay grown-up prices for. Seriously? Of course, I had to try my hand at it and see what the fuss was all about.

I do not fire up the grill lightly. Living in a second floor apartment turns backyard grilling into a StairMaster workout, with multiple trips up and down—to start the coals, check on the coals, recheck on the coals, bring down various tools and plates of food… Usually when I do this, meat is involved. I mean, the fire and smoke just do amazing things to it. So if I was going to invest all that time and effort into grilling peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I wanted to make sure they were more than kids’ table fare.

That meant starting with some grown-up jelly, with a little kick and character. With beautiful strawberries now in season, homemade strawberry jalapeño jam sounded like what I was looking for. And that meant my first shot at making jam. After reading various accounts of jam/jelly/preserves making, most aimed at trying to make it sound easy, but mostly making it sound scary, I patched together various techniques and threw in some ideas of my own and came up with some seriously good jam (he said modestly). Sweet, but not overly so (many dire warnings about jam not setting without enough sugar), and with some fire to it. And beautiful to look at:

I did not, however, properly can my jam. There’s something about boiling water and sterilizing jars and metal implements that sounds more like midwifery than cookery to me, and I just can’t make myself do it. Yet. But the jam was good enough that I may have to get over myself while there’s still good seasonal fruit to be had. So now, we’ve got (had) two cups of fresh strawberry jalapeño jam to be eaten in the next few weeks. I think we’ll manage.

If you’d like to try actually canning this strawberry jalapeño jam (or any other summer produce, for that matter), there’s plenty of information available on the subject. One great place to start is Marisa McClellan’s wonderful canning blog, Food In Jars.

Next, the peanut butter. Restaurants charging good money for a grilled PBJ probably use locally sourced organic peanut butter made from free range peanuts. For this sandwich, use whatever you usually like to eat. If you like it on a plain sandwich, you’ll like it even more on this. We’re liking Smart Balance Rich Roast Peanut Butter these days. It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, has no trans fats, and you don’t have to stir it. I don’t stir peanut butter.

Finally, the bread. I recommend thick slices of a good, flavorful, chewy white bread. You want something with a good crust to stand up to the grill, but not too assertive in flavor. The smoke and the fillings will add plenty of taste. I used a nice crusty sourdough.

A little something on the side. To turn these sandwiches into a meal (and justify firing up the grill), I grilled some zucchini and peppers and topped them with fresh dill as a side dish. You can make this first and serve it warm or room temperature with the sandwiches. A recipe of sorts follows the jam and sandwich recipes.

Strawberry Jalapeño Jam
Makes 2 cups

4 cups hulled, sliced fresh strawberries
2 cups sugar, divided
4 jalapeño peppers, finely chopped (see Kitchen Notes)
the zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 package dry pectin (see Kitchen Notes)

In a large bowl, mix strawberries with 1 cup of the sugar. Stir to thoroughly combine and let macerate for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. This will draw a lot of the juices from the strawberries and help them begin to soften. (You can let the strawberries macerate overnight, if you wish—refrigerate them, if you do.)

In a large saucepan or a stockpot, combine strawberries, jalapeño peppers, the remaining cup of sugar and the lemon zest and juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, and cook for 15 minutes. The mixture will produce lots of liquid as it cooks. You want the fruit to soften and the liquid to reduce and thicken slightly.

WATCH IT LIKE A HAWK. Some jam recipes say the mixture will foam up when you add the pectin; mine foamed like crazy long before I added the pectin. I stirred it almost constantly and reduced the heat to low; after several minutes, it calmed down.

Remove from heat and, using an immersion blender, partially purée the strawberry mixture. Leaving some chunks in it will give the jam a nice texture. Alternatively, purée half the mixture in a food processor (being careful that it doesn’t splash up on you—it’s very hot and very sticky at this point).

Return to a full rolling boil and slooooowly stir in the pectin, so it doesn’t clump. (Some recipes suggest mixing 1/4 cup of your sugar with the pectin to avoid clumping—a good tip I may try next time.) Cook, stirring frequently, especially at first, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and ladle into clean jars (or if you’re doing actual canning, follow the instructions for that and ignore the rest of this). Let jars cool for about 20 minutes, than transfer to the fridge uncovered and let them cool completely before covering with lids. The jam is at its best for up to a month, if kept refrigerated. But at the first sign of mold, toss it.

Kitchen Notes

Heat things up. Or not. For this recipe, I used the seeds and ribs of all four jalapeño peppers. For whatever reason, the ones we’ve been finding this year just haven’t packed a lot of heat, and I wanted the jam to have some kick to it. It did, especially while cooking. It calmed down some after cooling, but still has a nice spiciness. Depending on the level of heat you want—and the fire of the jalapeños where you are—you can reduce the heat by discarding some or all of the seeds and ribs in your peppers. But do use four peppers, to get the taste. Even with four, it’s subtle. If I make this again, I may use more peppers, but remove the seeds from some of them.

So many kinds of pectin. It was baffling as I read recipes and scanned store shelves. I opted for Sure-Jell dry pectin (the regular kind, not the low or no sugar variety). A half package of this is equal to one pouch of the liquid. To measure a half package, I used my digital scale, one of the greatest inventions ever. There are pros and cons to each kind of pectin, or so I’ve read. Use whichever one works best for you.

Grilled Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches

thick slices of a crusty white bread (see above)
peanut butter
jam (if not my Strawberry Jalapeño Jam, something else interesting)
olive oil

Prepare your grill for direct grilling. When the coals are nearly ready (or the gas grill plenty hot—don’t have one, so that’s the best I can tell you), make your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Don’t be overly generous with the peanut butter, or it will melt out the sides.

Just before putting the sandwiches on the grill, brush the outsides with olive oil, as if you were making crostini. Place the sandwiches on the grill, cover and cook for about 2 minutes. Check to see if the sides facing the grill are sufficiently browned and grill marked. If not, leave for a moment longer, then flip. Cover the grill and cook for another 2 minutes or less. Transfer to a platter. Let rest for 5 minutes or so to avoid burning the bejesus out of the roof of your mouth. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

Just one—you want smoke. With a charcoal grill, using the cover will impart a nice smokiness to it. With a gas grill, use wood chips and close the lid to achieve the same result.

Well, one and a half—how was it? Delicious. I was skeptical about the whole idea, but curious, as you probably picked up from the opening. So much so that, with the first bite, I thought, “Well, it’s not bad.” But as I continued to eat it, the campfire smokiness, the heat from the jam and the savory richness of the melty peanut butter just won me over. It was satisfying too. Combined with the side of grilled zucchini and peppers, it created a vegan meal that hit all the right savory/smoky/sweet taste notes and didn’t leave me hankering for a piece of steak or a chop. That was the biggest surprise, I think.

And now, about those grilled vegetables. This is less a recipe than a description, not unlike Mark Bittman’s famed and sorely missed “101 something-or-other” lists. Many vegetables lend themselves beautifully to grilling. For this dish, I sliced two bell peppers (a yellow and a red) into thick strips and sliced some zucchini diagonally into half-inch thick disks. I tossed them with some olive oil and, just before grilling, seasoned them generously with salt and pepper. I grilled them for 3 or 4 minutes, turning once and closing the grill in between to impart some smokiness to them.

The zucchini got some nice grill marks; the peppers charred on the outside in some spots, some pieces alarmingly so. No matter. They were delicious, especially when sprinkled with some fresh dill.


{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamie ( Eat.Love. and Be Merry) August 3, 2011 at 8:24 am

This looks awesome. What a fun “grown up” twist to PBJ! Can’t wait to try it.

Rich M August 3, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Are you kidding me?! I was literally drooling before I even got to the Kitchen Notes.

Laura [What I Like] August 3, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Terry I’m totally with you on the peanut butter thing. At the moment I’m having sort of a nut butter love affair…I’ve been spreading almond/flax butter on my morning toast, sunflower butter for a snack and even cashew butter if I’m feeling crazy. The jam looks great!! I grew up in a household where canning took over the kitchen in the summer. I have to admit it’s harder in my tiny apartment than it was in my parents’ kitchen but I enjoy it all the same. You have to check out the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. The recipes are incredible, and will have you canning enthusiastically all year round!

Terry B August 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Thanks, Jamie! Hope you like it.

Rich—You know, this one surprised me. I mean, I had to try it when I started seeing it turn up various menus, but I wondered how much better a PBJ sandwich could get. Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Laura, any one of those butters would be awesome as a grilled sandwich. And regarding the book, I had it from the library once and didn’t get to spend enough time with it. I just went to the library website and ordered it again. Thanks for the reminder!

Emilie August 3, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I am a meat lover who couldn’t help but drool at the photo and description of this vegan option! Bravo.

altadenahiker August 3, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Timely, indeed. I’m a huge peanut butter fan, too. Love the Dutch/Indonesian peanut butter and meat combo, but this sounds like a delicious substitute.

Terry B August 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Thanks, Emilie!

Speaking of meat/peanut butter combos, altadenahiker, NPR recently did a piece on a peanut butter, cheese and bacon-topped burger being served at a place in Skokie, Illinois that I thought sounded gross from the outset. Apparently so did the employees of the restaurant.

Marisa August 4, 2011 at 3:52 am

Terry, that sandwich (and your jam) look wonderful! And thanks so much for the kind words, I am flattered.

altadenahiker August 4, 2011 at 4:37 am

I’ll skip that burger, but peanut butter pie is my absolute favorite.

cathie August 4, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Gonna try that jalapeno/strawberry jam. Sounds divine!

Emilie August 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm

We are just near Skokie! I am curious now…

Terry B August 4, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Marisa, I was glad to do it. Food In Jars is an informative, beautifully photographed resource for all things canning. When I finally decide to boil jars, your blog is where I’m going for guidance and inspiration.

Altadenahiker—And peanut butter cookies are just about the most noble form of that doughy art, I think.

Hope you like it, Cathie!

Emilie—It was Grecian Kitchen Delight, on Dempster. Not sure if they still serve it, but if you click on the burger mention in the comment above, you’ll find the NPR story with the amusing employee reactions.

Cynthia Fox-Giddens August 5, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I love PBJs and this recipe sure kicks it up a notch. The sides add a yummy touch too. Delish!

Shauna August 6, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Sounds wonderful, Terry. I’ll surely have to try it.

On a side note, I did my senior thesis in college (waaay baaack in the ’70’s) on community canneries….the research involved canning adventures which were great fun. Still wish I could find a community cannery close by as it makes canning a simpler, though bigger, process!!

Terry B August 7, 2011 at 12:42 am

Thanks, Cynthia!

Shauna, I’ll bet you could find classes that give you a hands-on canning experience, along with some guidance and/or reassurance.

love cooking August 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

I love homemade jam. It always better than the one purchase from markets. The sandwiches and vegetables look so delicious, but I am always too lazy to start a fire. So, probably will try to do it in oven. The outcome might be different, but hope it is still delicious. :)

Andrew August 10, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Just wondering if anyone has doubled this recipe and if that have jarred it? Food In Jars recommends processing for 10min for her normal jam, so I’m wondering if this would be good. Also any ideas for how long it should take to set?


Terry B August 11, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Love Cooking—If you don’t want to fire up the grill, try a grill pan on the stove. You won’t get the smokiness, but you will get grill marks and toasty bread. I wouldn’t bake it in the oven—that would yield something altogether different. You could try the broiler, though.

Andrew—Normally jam recipes recommend against doubling because of problems with it setting. This recipe, though, is actually based on some that I halved, so double away. And I don’t know if it was all the citrus in my recipe or the freshness of the strawberries (fresher fruit contains more pectin), but it set very quickly, being pretty well on its way before I even stuck it in the fridge.

Todd August 11, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Terry the sandwich does look and sound great. I only have one question. What kind of bread is that? I have never eaten or seen a “VEGAN” bread that looked as good as that one.

Andrew August 12, 2011 at 2:14 am

I ended up just keeping the recipe as is and processed it for 10min. Most other strawberry jam recipes were around that for processing. It tastes magnificent so far, can’t wait for a few weeks when it has finally set.

Terry B August 12, 2011 at 3:28 am

Todd, it turns out most bread is vegan. Just check the ingredients carefully; if there are no eggs, butter or other dairy, you’re good to go. This particular bread was a San Francisco sourdough, but purchased in Chicago. I doubt it was shipped across country—probably baked in or near Chicago according to the company recipe.

Andrew, 10 minutes is probably closer to the mark. Mine just seemed to be thickening up so quickly that I reduced the time. Let me know how it turns out.

Brighton Restaurants August 17, 2011 at 12:35 pm

The smoked peppers are looking gorgeous. Nice recipe.

Marge Brown April 7, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Am I missing something, the beginning of the recipe says to add 1 cup of the sugar to strawberries to macerate. I don’t see where you add the second cup of sugar as the recipe calls for 2 cups of sugar in the ingredients.

Terry B April 7, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Good catch, Marge. You add it to the pot when you cook the strawberries and other ingredients. I’ve fixed the recipe. Thanks!

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