Sunday, 24 March 2013

A how to guide to vegetarian dinner parties

I'll be completely honest -  whenever we've had a dinner party in the past my heart has always sunk a little bit when I've realised that we've got a vegetarian guest making their merry way to ours to quaff our wine and avoid our meat. It's not that I don't love my veggie friends - I do - it's just a bit of a faff to cater separately for an animal loving mate.

However, if meat free March has taught me anything, it's that there's a lot of really exciting vegetarian cookbooks and ideas out there - and catering for a veggie at a dinner party needn't be tricky. From Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall to Kaushy Patel, Yotam Ottolenghi to Nobu Matushisha, there are a lot of brilliant chefs doing great things with vegetables right now. In fact, some of the veggie food I've cooked this month has been so delicious I'd happily serve it to my sausage loving friends, and to be honest I doubt they'd even notice that the meat was missing. 

Last weekend Ash's parents came to stay. To finish the weekend off in a memorable way, Ash and I decided to go all out and cook a feast set to wow. As three out of four of us eating were veggie, we went the whole meat-free hog and drew up a completely vegetarian menu. A main course of fresh raviolli stuffed with roasted butternut squash and walnuts, homemade garlic bread and salad, followed by creme brulees (hello blowtorch!) and a cheese board went down an absolute treat - and I think it's fair to say that meat wasn't missed by anyone.

So, what are my top five tips for holding a vegetarian dinner party or catering for a vegetarian guest?

1. Just cause it's veggie, there's no reason to be too heavy on the carbs 

We recently went to a tasting evening at a local restaurant where every vegetarian dish - although delicious - was accompanied with a heavy load of carbs. Potatoes, bread, chips, pasta - sometimes more than one of the above per course, all taking the place of something meaty. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a massive lover of carby accompaniments - but you need to think about your guest's stomachs. Bloatedness does not a happy dinner party go-er make.

2. Think of the veggies first, and pick a recipe with a meaty alternative

There's lots of gorgeous veggie dishes that can easily be tweaked to make a meaty alternative if you're catering for both herbivores and omnivores. For instance, the barley, tomato and garlic risotto that I blogged about the other day could easily welcome some last-minute fried chorizo for your sausage loving guests. If you're thinking of going down the fresh pasta route, ravioli is perfect for both meat lovers and rabbit foodies alike - simply whip up two different fillings and cook separately.  It's a lot easier to think veggie first and then adapt to meet the needs of your meat eaters than it is to do it the other way round!

3. Timings, timings, timings. 

If you're going all out veggie, it's still important to think about your timings. OK, so you might not have a massive hunk of beef to get just right, but there's not much worse than an overcooked carrot. If I'm cooking something complicated or a meal that's spread over a number of courses, I always sit down with a piece of paper beforehand and work backwards with the recipes from the time that I'm intending to serve. If there's an element of the dish that can be made in advance, crack on and do it. It's not rocket science!

4. Leaf? With everything? Be inventive!

If I had a tenner for the amount of veggie dishes I've had at restaurants etc this month that have been hidden under a pile of leaf, I'd be a very rich lady. Just because a vegetarian isn't a fan of meat, it doesn't mean they want to hang out in a lettuce patch all day either. If you want to serve salad as part of your menu or as a garnish that's fine, but be inventive with it! Think fresh beetroot, fruit, nuts. The world is a salady-oyster.

5. The proof is in the pudding

As long as you're catering for a veggie and not a vegan, thinking of a pudding to perfectly compliment your main course should be a doddle. Just remember to avoid gelatin and rennet and check your guest's attitude to eggs. The same goes for a cheese board or dishes that contain that hard cheeses such as Parmesan - it may be best to scour out a vegetarian alternative.

My attitude to cooking for my veg loving friends has changed considerably over the past few weeks, and my attitude to dinner party dining will never be the same. Have you had problems being creative with the veggie food you serve at dinner parties? Do you find veggie guests a difficulty or do you relish the challenge? And if you're a veggie, have you ever been made to feel unwelcome at a foodie gathering? I'd love to know your thoughts!

1 comment:

  1. My mother is a vegetarian so I've grown up eating quite a lot of vegetarian food.

    A large majority of people assume all vegetarians eat is salad or pasta but this simply isn't true.

    There is almost an vegetarian alternative to every meat dish out there even Sunday roasts. Granted as a meat eater they sometimes don't compare but I find it very easy to cater for a vegetarian.

    Love From Kelly