Among our friends and family, we have all variety of eating preferences: omnivores who eat everything, "meaters," (meat and potatoes, no veggies please!), some who eat chicken but no red meat, pescetarians, vegetarians and vegans. How to feed everyone at the same table? 'Tis a puzzlement!!! I've developed some practices to ease these situations. Before guests come to my house for the first time, I always ask if they have any dietary restrictions. As a general rule, I always make two different entrees at every dinner party so my guests have a choice. Because I want all my guests to experience the same dinner, I never single anyone out by serving them a dish that was clearly made for them alone (like plopping a veggie burger on a plate when everyone else is eating Chicken Marsala). Instead I plan menus where I can make two versions of the same dish--one that suits meat eaters and one that will be palatable to my meat-free guests.
For instance, I may make 2 versions of chili, one with meat, and one that is chock full of vegetables, beans, brown rice and tempeh. We can all enjoy some crusty bread and flavored dipping oils. Or I'll make sweet and sour chicken, along with sweet and sour tofu. Everyone can share in the brown rice. Another good technique is the "make your own" scenario. I've done this with pizza. Just make (or buy--I'm not judging!) a batch of pizza dough, roll out individual portions of dough (around 6 or 7 ounces each) on non-stick aluminum foil squares and have bowls of toppings laid out on a large table or counter. Be sure to have lots of veggies, vegan cheese and some meat free sauce as well as bowls of meat sauce, pepperoni, anchovies and mozzarella and everyone will be happy! Let your guests design and build their own pizzas, then bake them for 10 minutes while you enjoy a drink. I've also done a pasta bar, where I cook up a large pot of pasta and offer 5 or 6 different sauces: plain tomato sauce, bolognese sauce, Alfredo sauce, vodka sauce, clam sauce, pesto, and maybe even an uncooked fresh tomato sauce laden with basil and raw garlic. Everyone chooses their sauce and we all share some herbed focaccia and the dinner experience.
Another good option is Pad Thai. This recipe is unique in that each protein is cooked separately and it is left to each diner to customize their meal.
Serves: 4 to 6
1/2 lb. fettuccine-width rice stick noodles
1 Tbs. peanut or canola oil
For the sauce:
4 Tbs. tamarind paste
1/2 cup fish sauce (nam pla)
2/3 cup honey
4 Tbs. rice vinegar
Choice of 1 or more protein:
1 lb. chicken breast, cubed OR
1 pkg. extra firm tofu, patted dry & cubed OR
1 lb. shrimp, cleaned & deveined OR
1 lb. any firm fleshed white fish, cubed
For the stir fry:
2 Tbs. peanut or canola oil
1/4 cup scallions, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 eggs, beaten (optional)
1 small head Napa cabbage, shredded
12 oz. pkg. mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, chopped
2 limes, quartered
Cover noodles with boiling water in a large bowl. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes or until barely tender. Drain, toss with one tablespoon of oil and set aside. Simmer tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey and vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat for 2 minutes and set aside. Press on tofu (if using) with paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible. In a small frying pan (or several pans if making more than one protein), sauté chicken, tofu, shrimp or fish in one tablespoon of oil over medium heat until lightly brown; stir in some of the heated sauce, simmer covered 2 minutes or until cooked through and set aside. Sauté scallions and garlic in a large skillet in one tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the beaten eggs to the pan and scramble until just done (if your guests are vegan, you can easily leave this step out). Add cabbage and bean sprouts and continue to cook until cabbage begins to wilt, then add drained noodles to pan along with the remaining sauce. When noodles are warmed through, serve noodles topped with your choice of protein, garnishing each dish with the chopped peanuts, cilantro or parsley and lime wedges.
Notes & Pointers:
This recipe requires a few items that you may not find in your local grocery store, but they are worth tracking down at an Asian market. The recipe gives quantities for one kind of protein. If you make more than one, you will need to use a tablespoon of oil to cook each protein and increase the quantities for the sauce.