As a carnivore whose foodie philosophy is "make things as delicious as possible, whatever it takes," I used to see vegan dinner guests as something I had to work around, and for that, I apologise. Vegan foodies can go on about how delicious soy bacon is, but as a cook who eats meat, I tended to think they were using a different measurement stick for "delicious."
I was selfishly aggravated at having to "dumb down" dishes and sacrifice taste for accommodation.
But I was wrong, my friends. I was SO wrong. A few alterations is all it takes to make my vegan friends look forward to dinner at my home, and given all we have to work with today, there's no sacrifice. Swearsies. To make room at your dinner table for your vegan friends, survey your sides and decide if they can be split — to make half vegan and half non — or just veganize the whole pan. It's not as hard as you think; in most cases it's simply a matter of replacing one or two items.
Embrace Coconut Oil
If there is one ingredient I wish I had seized on earlier in my life, it's coconut oil. I just refused to accept the truth of its awesomeness (probably because butter is my reason for being), but now it's in my regular rotation. It's so full of flavour, it's become my go-to for popping popcorn, sauteing vegetables, even for searing meat. Rub coconut oil under raw chicken skin before cooking it and tell me I'm wrong. Veggie side dishes you were planning to prepare with butter can be made with coconut oil to fantastically delicious, vegan-friendly results. Perhaps your pan of stuffing can use coconut oil to saute instead of butter. Coconut oil doesn't have the baking qualities of butter, but for stovetop dishes, it's ideal.
Accept Veggie Stock Into Your Heart
As always, the Better than Bouillon folks have come to our rescue. Their dark, rich and not overly salty vegetable stock is so good it's a seamless replacement for blond or dark meat stocks. For soups, for stuffing, for gravy, it's a great consideration. I promise, you're not losing anything. I use it voluntarily all the time, even though the beef and chicken stock sits next to it in the fridge. It has a distinctly rich, roasted veggie flavour that everyone will love.
Roast Your Nuts
Incorporating nuts into your cooking solves so many problems, and doing so can add protein to dishes that wouldn't otherwise have it. Pecans can create a fulfilling, hearty crust in pies both sweet and savoury, and they will most likely taste better than a vegan crust recipe that tries to replicate pastry. Pistachios can replace breadcrumbs to create breaded, crunchy coatings, and soaked, blended cashews can create creaminess instead of, you know,cream.
Caramelize to Create Richness
A well roasted root vegetable is a glorious and unique taste you can't reproduce with meat. It's savoury and sweet. Dehydrating or roasting concentrates flavours down to a truly intense tasting delight - try dehydrating plum or cherry tomato halves; they're candy. If you feel like vegetables can't shine on their own the same way as a roast, you're wrong. Give them the same attention you would give meat and they will stand up for you.
Vegan Cheese Doesn't Suck
I'm not a fan of soy products, and I've never met a Tofurky I didn't despise. Too often they just remind me of the food they're poorly imitating. I'd rather find ways to let vegetables shine, but vegan cheese might be the exception. When whipped into something like mashed potatoes, or as melty cap atop a soup or a roasted tomato, shredded vegan cheese is almost perfect.
Putting it All Together
What would I serve at a dinner party to make my vegan guests feel welcome?
- Crudite, obviously, but remember a vegan dip such as hummus or a vegan green goddess dressing
- Simple sauteed or steamed vegetable sides with coconut oil instead of butter
- A supplemental pan of vegan mashed potatoes, using lots of roasted garlic, coconut cream and some vegan cheese and get a real toasty top on it under the broiler
- Pistachio crusted squash. Just season it well, crumb one side and roast it
- A really colourful, varied roasted vegetable tart with a reliable crust and a base layer of vegan yogurt and tapenade. This one looks promising.
- A mushroom croustade — I've always relied on this recipe, swapping the butter and sour cream for vegan substitutes.
This is a great item to ask your vegan guests to contribute, because vegan baking is finicky and they're more likely to have a recipe they love or a baker they think does a great job. I have no doubt there are legions of readers who can kick in suggestions, these are just mine.