6 Tips for Throwing The Mother Of All Vegetarian Dinner Parties
As a lifelong vegetarian and committed extrovert I learnt early that if I wanted friends to come over for dinner, I’d need to keep them happily fed. I’m not here to tell you why eating less meat is good for the world, but this month thousands of people are joining me in saying no to steak as part of No Meat May, a global campaign to encourage people to go vegetarian for 31 days.
No Meat May offers 4 big reasons for giving vegetarianism a go: health, the environment, animal welfare and food equity. Now in its fourth year the campaign raises funds for non-profit organisations that align with their causes: Greenpeace, Animals Australia, Cancer Council Australia and Oxfam Australia.
Convincing the world to give up meat sounds like an impossible task, but convincing people to eat less of it should be doable. Giving big lectures has never been my style and I hate it when people share horrifying videos online about animal welfare. I believe the best way to convince people that meat-free food is still is to cook for them.
So this No Meat May (or indeed any day of the year), why not throw a delicious vegetarian dinner party with these top tips?
#1 Do not serve mock-meat
Whatever you do, skip the not-bacon, vegetarian sausages, mock-duck and Quorn burgers. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not purchase gluten in a can (this is an actual thing I was fed as a child).
A lot of committed vegetarians love meat replacements and they’re a staple at a lot of Asian restaurants, but if you serve them at your party the conversation stops being about how delicious your food is and starts focusing on the various ways your mock-meat doesn’t taste like real meat. Besides, there are enough amazing dishes that are designed to be vegetarian so these products just aren’t necessary.
#2 Theme it
Select a theme or food region for your dinner party. My friends lost their minds over a veg-mex meal I served last year. Finding quality smoked, dried chipotles gave my black beans a delicious smoky quality not normally found in vego food. Indian cuisine has an amazing array of vegetarian options, or go the Middle Eastern route (who doesn’t love falafel?). But there’s so much more, too: serve a tagine, salads, mountains of bread and all the dips you can fit on the table.
Italian is a classic, and most vegetarians worship at the altar of Ottolenghi. If you don’t want to stick to regional cuisine, work your way through his recipes and pick your faves. You don’t even have to buy a new cookbook because heaps of the best Ottolenghi recipes are online.
#3 Dazzle them with options
If you’re cooking meat, it tends to be the centerpiece, but don’t apply the old meat and three-veg thinking to vegetarian dinner parties. I always go for a banquet-style meal with three to six complementary dishes (and accompaniments like pickles, condiments, nuts or olives). Your dinner table will look opulent; laden with colourful mountains of food.
Veg-Mex? Serve tacos with beans and slaw, corn on the cob with parmesan and herbs, roasted root vegetables with smoked maple glaze, guacamole and polenta chips with queso fundido. Indian? Make sure there are a few curries, a starter, a rice dish and a tray of chutney and raita. Vietnamese or Thai? A curry, a stir-fry, a salad and rice.
If this is sounding like a lot of hard work and money, remember that cooking vegetarian food is much cheaper and chopping vegetables is a lot easier than deboning a fish (so I’ve heard).
#4 Don’t skimp on the carbs and fat
You’re throwing a dinner party not opening a health retreat. Vegetarianism has long been burdened with images of super healthy yet ultimately boring meals. A little indulgence by way of the world’s tastiest food groups will go a long way to keeping your guests happy.
Roast juicy field mushrooms with olive oil and garlic. Serve buttery, herby steamed potatoes; flaky roti or naan bread; mac and cheese; crispy, deep-fried tofu. Don’t serve soft or barely-cooked tofu to bean curd newbies (buy the pre-fried crispy stuff). Trust me. A little indulgence goes a long way and reminds guests that vegetarian doesn’t mean bland.
#5 Surprise them with technique
When I was growing up, technique was something I learnt at violin lessons, but the Masterchef generation is all over this buzzword. It basically means doing difficult stuff in the kitchen. Never fear, I’m not going to tell you to make flavoured foams or chocolate soil. You can fake technique by making things other people would just buy at the shops.
Serve quick pickles, make flatbread from scratch or make your own labneh and hummus. This isn’t strictly ‘technique’ but finely chopped fresh herbs will go a long way to lifting any dish. Toss parsley through your rice, mint through your salad and top your curries with coriander. Plating up with beautiful herbs and garnishes will lift your dishes to the next level and leave your kitchen smelling delicious.
#6 Never forget dessert
Remember, dessert is almost always vegetarian. That is all.
Don’t forget to #foodstagram your dishes with #NoMeatMay and if you want more tips, just ask me on Twitter.
Maeve Marsden is a freelance writer, director, producer and performer, and the creator of Sydney cabaret act, Lady Sings it Better. You can find her on Twitter here.
Lead image: Bella Los Angeles