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Entertaining has gotten complicated. Lately, it seems that everyone has strong feelings about the food they eat, what's in it, and where it comes from. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, but it can be hard for a host or hostess to navigate the waters of our spirited food dialogs and the preferences they create.
As a vegan, I have strong feelings about food, too. But I also feel strongly about creating dining experiences that are stress-free, both when I’m hosting and when I’m a guest. As divided as our food culture might sometimes seem, all food lovers can unite over simple, seasonal, and nourishing dishes.
When I was first cooking and entertaining as a vegan, I quickly realized that a lot of my favorite foods -- salad, guacamole and chips, pasta dishes, hummus, curries -- were already vegan. I’ve kept that awareness close to me, because I think it’s important for vegans and non-vegans alike to remember that the disparity between plant-based and omnivorous eating is not nearly so large as we might think it is. If you’re about to host a vegan or vegetarian for the first time, and you’re a little nervous, I promise you that the process can be completely stress free.
Let's start with appetizers. Here are a few of my favorites, sure to appeal to everyone in the room:
Chips and dip. Guacamole is vegan. So too are most corn chips. Enough said.
Veggie burger bites. Mix some of your favorite beans (chickpeas work well) with toasted nuts, some sautéed onion, flax meal, and tomato paste. Shape into little balls, crisp in some olive oil, and serve with a toothpick.
Bruschetta. With fresh tomatoes, garlic, and basil, this is a classic recipe that transitions seamlessly into the vegan realm. Be sure to purchase a loaf of bread that’s egg and milk free.
Wraps and rolls. Wrap fresh veggies (carrots, cucumber, red cabbage) in a rice paper wrap and serve with a good dipping sauce -- I like to whisk together 1/4 cup peanut butter, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of sesame oil, a tablespoon of maple syrup, and about 3/4 cup of water.
Hummus. It may be a stereotypical vegan dish, but that doesn’t change how delicious hummus is, or how quickly it will disappear at your party. If you’re looking for something a little different, try my spring pea hummus.
Bite-sized street food. Try making mini falafel for your guests, and serving them in endive or radicchio leaves. Forgo the traditional tzatziki sauce and drizzle them with some tahini instead.
And if none of these ideas appeal, perhaps these delicious little polenta squares will.
Polenta is a favorite here at Food52. It’s versatile, comforting, and so easy to prepare. The large batch used in this recipe is well worth it if you’re cooking for a crowd, but you can easily cut the recipe in half and use an 8 x 8 pan instead of a baking sheet. As for the tomato and walnut tapenade, prepare to become addicted -- though I think fresh, oven roasted tomatoes would be a lovely alternative in the summer.
For the polenta:
6 cups vegetable broth (low sodium if possible)
2 cups polenta
1 teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 batch sun-dried tomato and walnut tapenade
For the tapenade:
3/4 cups sun-dried tomatoes (not oil soaked)
2 cups water
2/3 cups walnuts
2 small cloves garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Phtoos by James Ransom