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These days having a vegan, vegetarian, or dairy-free guest at the holiday table is more of a norm than an exception. So, if you’re preparing a meatless, cheese-less, or butter-free holiday meal for the first time, don’t worry about reinventing the wheel. Here are my favorite tips for making vegan entertaining a breeze.
Trust What You Know
Just as with vegan cooking in general, vegan entertaining is easiest when you start with what’s familiar. Make a mental inventory of your favorite meals, and think about which of them are vegan already. Pastas, stews, soups, and grain salads are all easy contenders. If the dishes contain dairy or egg, think about what you could use to easily replace those components: I like to use cashew cream in pasta dishes, and tofu can come in handy as a savory alternative to eggs.
It’s easy to create a stellar vegan or vegetarian meal with legumes, grains, and vegetables, but don’t think you have to make everything from scratch. There’s a slew of incredible, artisanal vegan nut-based cheeses on the market these days—I love Miyoko’s Kitchen, Treeline, and Kite Hill—so consider putting together a plant-based cheese plate as your appetizer. If a recipe calls for yogurt, check out the many authentic non-dairy yogurts out there (almond and cashew yogurt are my favorites). If you’re hoping to veganize cobbler, cake, or pie, try vegan buttery sticks for authentic flavor and results.
Go Beyond Salads and Sides
It’s easy to count on leafy salads and vegetable side dishes to do heavy lifting for your vegan guests. But vegans enjoy a hearty entree or centerpiece along with everyone else, especially at a holiday table. If you’ve got a vegan or vegetarian coming to dinner, consider serving a grain or legume-based entree that all of your guests will enjoy. You can also whip up a dish—like a hearty winter soup or a hefty grain salad—that’s substantial enough to offer as a main dish to your vegetable-centric eaters and as a starter or side dish to everyone else. I’m partial to soups and stews because I can make and freeze them in advance, thawing them before guests arrive (and giving myself time and energy to finish other dishes).
Main-Dish Worthy Vegetables
If you want to prepare a vegetable-forward meal with a stunning centerpiece, try whole roasted cauliflower or hasselback potatoes or squash. Both are filling, beautiful to look at, and (in my experience) as appealing to omnivores as they are to vegans. Stuffed eggplant and mushrooms also make good centerpieces, but tend to be controversial members of the vegetable kingdom. Check to be sure that none of your diners has an aversion before planning a meal around them.
Dips, Spreads, and Breads
If you’re worried about vegan-friendly hors d’oeuvres, look no further than your favorite dip or spread. Hummus, babaganoush, romesco, tapenade, and mujaddara are all vegan-friendly and easy to serve up with pita or flatbread. Other simple vegan finger foods include summer rolls, bruschetta, crostini, falafel, edamame, and mixed olives. When all else fails, everyone loves guacamole and chips.
No matter what, it’s wise to follow the same advice offered to all hosts: keep the meal simple, and stick to dishes you know and have made before.
These days, my dinner party strategy is as follows:
- Starters: Dips, pita, nuts, and olives, or roasted bell peppers.
- Mains: A grain salad and soup combination or a pasta and salad; sometimes, herbed and lemony couscous with Moroccan spiced chickpeas and vegetables. If it’s a small crowd of close friends, a hearty soup or chili and cornbread does the trick. If I want to prepare something in advance, stuffed vegetables or enchiladas are crowd-pleasers, and they’re easy to reheat right before folks arrive.
- Dessert: Cake (or maybe pie).
Funnily enough, these are the same sorts of meals I’d have wanted to make for friends even before I was vegan. Turns out cooking for a mixed crowd of eaters may be more within reach than you think, so long as most everyone can get behind vegetables (and when they can’t, baked cauliflower alfredo to the rescue!).
What tips do you have for a successful dinner party?