If a vegan comes to dinner

Ideas for a guest who avoids meat, eggs, dairy

Staff WriterNovember 25, 2009 

Here's a clue: the vegans or vegetarians coming to your house for Thanksgiving aren't expecting much; they've been burned too many times before.

This is what awaits them: the carving of a dead bird in their presence; side dishes mistakenly made with chicken broth or dairy products, which they can't eat; and jokes about their diet.

As a host, no one wants a dinner guest to have such low expectations, let alone have them fulfilled. So here are a few suggestions to make your vegan or vegetarian guest feel truly welcome at your table. Plus, we share three recipes from Dilip Barman, president of the Triangle Vegetarian Society, which organizes what is believed to be the nation's largest vegan Thanksgiving.

First, you should know the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians don't eat meat. Vegans don't eat meat or dairy products. So when cooking, you want to steer clear of using such ingredients as chicken broth, butter, cheese, milk and eggs.

Don't worry! It is easy to adapt recipes for those who don't eat meat or dairy, says Robin Robertson, the Virginia-based author of "1,000 Vegan Recipes." Use vegetable broth or bouillon for dressing or stuffing, or to flavor vegetables. For the stuffing or dressing, use sausages made with soy. (Both Morningstar and Boca brands offer such products.) Instead of milk for mashed potatoes, use soy milk or soy creamer. Offer Earth Balance vegan spreads, instead of butter. Make a mushroom gravy using vegetable broth and Kitchen Bouquet. And don't do what Robertson's family once did: Offer her spinach salad with bacon dressing.

Remember that vegans and vegetarians need protein as part of their meal, says chef Will Hall, a vegan for six years who teaches for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle job training program in Raleigh. Hall suggests a bean succotash or a tofu dish. Tofu, he says, is versatile. The firm variety can be sautéed, pan-fried or roasted and takes on the flavor of the seasonings you choose.

If you really want to go fancy, Robertson says, you could offer a simple vegan entrée: Fill a roasted buttercup squash with a meat-free stuffing. "The vegan will be thrilled," she says.

"Don't out yourself to everyone else," says Gayla Bonke, the chef/owner of the Chatham Street Café in Cary. If you do serve vegan dishes or use meat substitutes, don't inform everyone at the table because the meat eaters will likely turn up their noses, she says. Share the information with the vegans or vegetarians but what the rest don't know won't hurt them.

Carve the turkey in the kitchen away from the view of your dinner guests. You'll spare the vegan and meat eaters because let's face it: A turkey carcass is not a pretty sight.

And as for those jokes at your vegan or vegetarian guests' expense, that's nothing a withering look from the host can't handle.

andrea.weigl@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4848

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