Last month, my daughter’s friends came to a casual prom …
… And the planning was dizzying. Two of her friends are vegans. One is dairy-free. The second is both gluten-free and dairy-free. Most of them are vegetarians, except for one guy who loves meat so much that he calls himself “me-gan” (rhymes with vegan).
In the old days, if I had people at dinner, of course I thought about allergies and generally what people liked and what they didn’t, but I also believed in rules like Emily-Post a good guest: You’ll eat what’s served. Nowadays, this seems like such outdated advice. I know how serious these limitations are when you live with them day-to-day, and I want to make sure I project this with an appropriate menu for everyone who eats at my table.
But this is a lot it’s easier said than done, especially when you’re cooking for a large group. (And in theory I’m a professional! I write about food for life!) It took a while, but I came up with what I considered a pretty good lineup for everyone, mostly make-forward. I have tried to do this so that, regardless of the limitations, you have at least three dishes. Here is what I offered:
Delicious biscuits (vegetarian)
I love biscuits – they feel pliable enough to anchor a plate, and most of them are delicious at room temperature (meaning you can prepare them in advance). For my daughter’s party, I made three leek biscuits, but this one tomato tart (currently perfect for tomato season) or these baked vegetable cakes it would also work great.
Baked tofu salad with vegetables (vegan and gluten free)
This is doubled both as a main course for vegans and as a nice side dish for everyone else. What I made was basically a slaw: In a large bowl, add one small chopped red cabbage, 2 cups of chopped spinach or kale, then top with roasted tofu, fresh mint, cilantro, chopped peanuts, toasted sesame seeds and sesame soy vinaigrette. (Replace soy sauce with gluten-free sauce or tamarind.)
Brothy beans (vegan, gluten free)
I’m so addicted to this bean, not only for fun, but also for a regular old lunch on Tuesday night. I generally put a large pot of beans (stewed with onions, herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper) straight on a spreading mat, and then surround that pot with various toppings: Store-bought Romesco sauce (vegan, gluten -free), burrata (vegetarian) and pesto (vegan or vegetarian options). Something like baked potatoes, but with beans.
Mac and cheese (vegetarian and “Me-gan”)
Okay, there’s no meat in this, but I feel like a super compliant, baked, Mac with three cheeses (like Martha Stewart cult recipe) a dish that leaves no room for carnivorous complaints. I like to complete my help with a cherry tomato salad chopped on plants to reduce the wealth.
Beautiful fresh farm salad (vegan, gluten free)
I didn’t make it for this party, but I think it’s always a good move to have something green and fresh on the table. In addition, salads are by definition the simplest dishes for gluten-free and vegan meals. I almost always make a kale salad with almonds and pomegranate, but it could also be your own attempt, perhaps with a shot of the spicy nuts from Merchant Joe’s Pass (check the sticker!) to make it feel special.
I was thrilled with this set-up — more important, and so with the kids — and I plan to call it a general formula for the future. But what about you? Since we all cook for people with different allergies, restrictions and tastes more and more, I would love for everyone else to share successful menus. What worked? What failed? What would be a good dessert?