words Al Woods
Cooking for yourself as a recently-vegan diner is one thing, but serving a meal to friends and family can be much more daunting. Whether you’re an omnivore cooking for vegan friends and really want to impress them, or a vegan home cook preparing to feed meat-eaters and veggies alike, figuring out what to make and how to pull it off might seem like a challenge.
Though it’s getting easier and easier to find vegan dishes at the supermarket – aside from the obvious fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice – a quick search for easy dinner party recipes is liable to bring up meats and cheeses galore. Thankfully, serving a great meal with only plant-based ingredients doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re gearing up to throw your very first vegan dinner party.
Keep your dishes simple
Tricky dishes like seitan roasts or aquafaba meringues definitely look and taste impressive, but they’re also notoriously difficult to get right. Rather than trying to tackle an eggless meringue dessert, or the long-winded and sometimes complicated task of seasoning, wrapping and boiling wheat gluten in an attempt to create a meat-like main, focus on more straightforward eating options instead.
Starters like topped bruschetta or rich soups can be put together ahead of schedule and simply warmed or styled on the night, while easy and effective mains like stews, casseroles and pot pies are all good choices if you want to make sure there’s bags of flavour without any fuss.
Substitutes, like vegan cheeses and meats, can be amazing – or they can be pretty dreadful. It’s wise to consider who you’re cooking for, and whether to avoid substitutes altogether as a result. If you’re dishing up a ‘cheeseboard’ for a table full of other herbivores who haven’t eaten the real stuff in a long time, you’re more likely to impress than if you serve the same to a regular real-cheese eater who won’t be fooled by a soya substitute.
Prepare as much as you can in advance
On the topic of putting things together ahead of schedule, any dinner party can be a little less stressful if you prepare as much of your food and drink as possible in advance.
Rather than creating dishes that require you to stand over the stove while everyone else sits back and socialises in another room, think about starters, mains and desserts that can be fully prepared ahead of time and simply heated through if needed once your guests have arrived.
At the very least, preparing sides and nibbles before the main event commences will save you slaving away in the kitchen – and will give you the peace of mind that at least some of what needs to be done is already taken care of, and theoretically can’t go wrong at the last minute. You can also serve vegan chocolate bars to your guests as a dessert.
Double-check your drinks supply
Something that catches a lot of people out when it comes to vegan catering, is the fact that not all of the drinks you might serve at a dinner party are vegan. Wines, beers, ciders and spirits can all contain animal products or be processed in a way that uses animal parts, so be sure to double check before ordering in something unsuitable.
Typically, it’s isinglass that’s the issue in beers and ciders. Isinglass is a type of fish gelatin that clarifies alcoholic drinks, and while it won’t usually cause an allergic reaction in anyone with a fish allergy, products made using it can’t make any claims to be vegan-friendly, for obvious reasons.
In the case of wine, it’s more likely to be egg whites or milk proteins that are used to clarify what’s in the bottle. The upside of this is that in the UK at least, bottles have to list egg and milk as allergens, meaning they’ll be in bold font on the label somewhere.
Isinglass sadly doesn’t have to be listed, and can also be found in some wines. If you’re not sure where to start or just don’t have the time to read the back of a tonne of labels before your event, the simplest thing to do is order online from somewhere you can filter the options by vegan-only. Virgin Wines, for example, have more than 300 vegan-friendly wines that can be ordered for delivery, in just about every variety.
Check if guests have other dietary needs
Last, but by no means least, remember to check whether anyone who is attending has dietary requirements outside of simply being vegan or vegetarian. A lot of vegan protein comes from nuts, beans and other legumes, as well as vital wheat gluten. As delicious as all of these things are, nuts and gluten in particular can cause serious reactions in people who are allergic or intolerant.
Hopefully it’ll be plain sailing, but make sure to check your ingredients for anything that might cause trouble. As well as avoiding meat, fish, eggs and dairy, watch out for things that aren’t bold-font allergens but are also typically avoided by other vegans, such as honey.
While it might seem like there’s a lot to remember, much of what goes into creating a great vegan dinner party is no different to what you’d consider when serving any other kind of food. Keep it simple, prepare things in advance if you can, and make sure that what you cater is suitable for everyone. Past that, all you need to focus on is showing anyone who’s eating that vegan food can be even more flavourful and interesting than dishes made with animal products – which just takes a little forethought and imagination.
Tabby Farrar also writes about travel and sustainability, over at the vegan lifestyle blog JustCantSettle.com