Simple but Elegant Ways to Accommodate Vegetarian Dinner Guests
Hosting a dinner party with one or more vegetarian guests? Try these tips and suggestions.
If you've discovered that vegetarians are among your dinner party invitees, don't sweat it. Even if you feel initially apprehensive about serving a guest list that includes both vegetarians and omnivores, you'll be surprised at how painless it can be to accommodate a variety of dietary preferences.
Start by familiarizing yourself with the restrictions of your specific guests. As a general rule, lacto-ovo vegetarians are those who eat eggs and dairy products, pescetarians eat dairy, eggs and seafood, and vegans don't eat food made with any animal products, sometimes including honey. Even within these common categories, vegetarians often play by their own unique rules. If you lack the info you need to proceed with your menu, consider calling or shooting guests a quick email inquiry into their restrictions. This can serve the dual purposes of answering your questions and letting the guests know that they'll have sufficient options at your party.
Starting to Plan
Planning your vegetarian appetizers and side dishes shouldn't be too daunting. Just think of grains, fruits and vegetables as your base ingredients, and serve meats (and possibly cheeses, when vegans are present) separately. Planning sides and appetizers with fresh, colorful vegetables can make for elegant presentation with stress-free preparation. Add flare to vegetarian appetizers, sides and salads by including unique seasonal vegetables like heirloom tomatoes in the summer or butternut squash in the fall.
There are a number of ways to please everyone with your main course. There's no need to break your black planning two entirely separate meals, nor to uncomfortably single out vegetarian guests. Possible approaches include (1) serving a vegetarian main dish to all your guests, (2) serving a hearty vegetarian side dish that could double as a main course, and (3) preparing dishes that can be served with or without meat, such as pasta with both meat and vegetarian sauce options.
The menu suggestions in this article are made with lacto-ovo vegetarians in mind, but the tips can be adapted to serve guest with a variety of restrictions.
Approaching Your Main Course
(1) Consider serving a vegetarian main dish to everyone at your dinner party. Vegetarian dishes can be so flavorful and beautifully presented that your guests may not even notice that the meal is meat-free; they'll just notice that it's tasty. Vegetarian main dishes can include rich pasta dishes like spinach-stuffed ricotta or sun dried tomato ravioli, rice-and-vegetable-stuffed roasted squash or eggplant, curry dishes or grilled portabella mushrooms. By serving everyone a vegetarian dish, you save on prep time and avoid making a show of feeding your vegetarian guest something special.
(2) Think about offering a vegetarian side dish to all your guests that is hearty enough to serve as a main course for vegetarians. Make sure to prepare enough of it to meet everyone's needs - especially if you anticipate that guests might want seconds. This could include anything from a heavy mushroom risotto to a nice spinach salad with nuts, cheeses and avocado. The truth is that most vegetarians are accustomed to making full meals out of various side dishes when eating with others, and most will be quietly content with your selection of side dishes.
(3) Consider planning a main course that you can serve easily with or without meat, such as a pasta dish with a choice of meat or vegetarian sauces, salads with and without meat, or stuffed peppers with ground beef alongside rice-stuffed peppers. This can be a seamless way to incorporate vegetarian cuisine into your menu without keeping your other guests from enjoying meat dishes, and, if planned well, shouldn't mean too much extra work. Just remember that many vegetarians require meals that aren't cooked with the same oils used in the preparation of meat dishes.
Sample Dinner Party Menu - Simple but Elegant Vegetarian Options
• Appetizer: Many favorite appetizers are vegetarian already. For plates that look nice but don't require extensive prep work, try the Chavrie Goat Cheese Roasted Red Pepper Quesadilla and Bruschetta.
• Main Course: Many pasta dishes make for sophisticated but relatively simple dining. Make preparation easy on yourself by serving a dish that requires only a minimal variation for vegetarians, such as Stuffed Pasta Shells with Spinach and Ricotta (perhaps alongside Stuffed Pasta Shells with ground beef).
• Dessert: If needed, serve a vegan desert option such as a Watermelon Sorbet.
As you plan your dinner party, keep in mind that the fun of good company matters more than the menu. By taking simple steps to ensure that your vegetarian guests have options, you will help everyone forget about their individual restrictions and just enjoy the fun of eating and drinking with friends.
For more menu ideas, search BigOven's Vegetarian recipes, or look for the "Vegetarian" notation in your other searches.