Entertaining during the holidays can be tricky business… especially if you have guests with diets you’re not familiar with!
Each month FBC member and nutritionist, Sondi Bruner, takes a favourite dish and shows you how to adapt it to be allergen-friendly, as well as delicious and healthy. But in this special Holiday Entertaining edition of the Allergen Friendly Remix she walks you through how to entertain vegetarian and vegan guests so everyone is full and happy. And it’s really not that hard!
You’re having a dinner party and discover one of your guests is vegan. Do you:
a) Retract your invitation, explaining your cat is sick and needs your undying attention.
b) Pretend like it’s cool. Then, when the doorbell rings, you shush all the other guests and turn the lights off until the hapless vegan wanders away.
c) Serve your famous paella, and instruct the vegan to simply pick the meat out.
d) Plop a chunk of iceberg lettuce onto a plate, drizzle with olive oil and lemon, and call it a day.
e) Hopefully none of the above?
People who follow plant based diets are, despite the pesky rumours, incredibly easy to feed. Many vegans and vegetarians get a bad rap as picky eaters who live off raw carrots and birdseed and lecture you about the evils of factory farming while splashing red paint all over your chicken dinner. Vegans and vegetarians eat a wide range of foods. They just don’t eat animal products.
So what do they eat? First, let’s define the difference between vegans and vegetarians. There are many labels, including lacto-ovo, ovo, and lacto vegetarian, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll divide them into two categories:
Vegan: Vegans don’t eat any animal products or animal byproducts. This includes red meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy, honey and gelatin.
Vegetarians: Vegetarians generally stay away from red meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, but will consume foods like eggs and dairy.
This leaves a lot of culinary possibilities on the table: every vegetable under the sun, fruits, grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds (all of which contain protein, by the way).
Here are a few recommendations for how to feed vegans or vegetarians.
Ask them what they do or don’t eat.
Some vegans might eat honey, and some vegetarians might eschew cheese. Let your guest define his or her diet for you, so you’re both on the same page. Don’t be afraid to ask for meal suggestions – I’m certain your guest will be happy to provide ideas.
Don’t serve salad.
And by salad, I mean a plate of greens, chopped raw veggies and a vinaigrette.
Salads like this are boring, and are definitely not satiating. As a card-carrying salad hater, it’s frustrating when this is the only plant-based option at a party. If you’d like to make a salad, then bulk it up with tasty items like cooked grains, roasted vegetables, beans, smoked tofu, or seasoned nuts and seeds. There are many delicious and creative ways to prepare plant-based foods, so use your imagination!
Prepare a dish that everyone can enjoy.
No one likes to be singled out as a crazy weirdo who must eat a separate meal from everybody else. If possible, try to create a dish that all guests can eat together.
If you’ve got some die-hard meat fans that won’t go without animal protein, consider how you can make your meal ‘flexitarian’. There are many ways to do this without having to whip up two meals. Could you cook the meat separately and add it to individual bowls before serving? Earlier this year, I co-hosted a dinner where we dished up ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Pho’ . We simmered a delicious vegetable-filled broth and provided both salmon and tempeh, along with a ton of garnishes. Everyone walked away full and happy!
How about having a taco night? Offer an array of fillings, like ground meat, rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, avocado and salsa. Or host a pizza party, where everyone can choose their own toppings. Mediterranean tapas is also a great theme: you can include a range of veggie options like hummus, babaghanoush, tahini, pickles, olives, stuffed grape leaves, tomatoes, cucumber and pita in addition to the meat and cheese.
Adapt a favourite recipe using plant foods.
Many meaty recipes can be easily transformed by substituting plant-based options. For example, beans can replace meat in a wide variety of foods, including pasta dishes, stir-fries, shepherd’s pies, curries, stuffed peppers, casseroles, soups, stews, burritos, chilis, burgers and more. (For how to adapt burgers, check out July’s allergen-friendly remix column).
High-protein grains like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and wild rice can also be used to add substance to vegetable-based meals.
Be mindful of cross-contamination.
Do the best you can to avoid having your meat come into contact with your plant dishes, as this can gross out many vegans and vegetarians. If you’ve just seared a steak in a skillet, don’t remove the meat and then toss vegetables in the pan without washing it. If you’re throwing burgers on the grill, use a separate, clean area for the veggie burgers, or wrap them in foil.
Also, ensure you have enough serving spoons, so your guests don’t heap their plates with bacon-laced baked beans, and then use the same spoon to dish out the carrots.
Ask your guest to bring a dish.
Most vegans and vegetarians are thrilled to bring something to share. It’s a win-win: they know they’re eating something safe, and they’re also able to cook a delicious recipe for the people they love.
What have I missed? Please share any tips you’ve got for feeding vegetarians and vegans!
Check out more of Sondi’s Allergen Friendly Remixes for great ideas on how to adapt favourite recipes to fit different diets!
Sondi Bruner is a holistic nutritionist, freelance writer and food blogger. She educates people who follow allergen-friendly diets about how to eat simply, deliciously and safely, allowing them to rediscover the pleasure of food. When she’s wearing her writer’s hat, she works with natural health brands to create content that will help their customers live fulfilling, healthful lives. Find out more at www.sondibruner.com. Or you can follow Sondi on Facebook or Twitter