Mixed-diet dinners

A pro offers suggestions for the cook

December 10, 2009

Editor’s note: We asked Ivy Manning — whose new book, The Adaptable Feast, tackles the challenges of feeding vegetarians and omnivores at the same table — to give us some ideas for adaptable dinner parties. Just in time for holiday entertaining, here’s Ivy.

Dinner parties are a great time for everyone, including those of us who like to cook. That is, until one of your guests announces that he’s a vegetarian, or a vegan. Suddenly, your best-laid menu plans have ice water thrown on them. Should you make a separate tofu thingy for the veg folks, or just feed them starchy side dishes and hope they don’t say anything?

Cookbook author Ivy Manning is an omnivore who married a vegetarian, Gregor Torrence. They’ve combined their talents — hers for cooking and writing, his for photography — in ‘The Adaptable Feast.’

The solution doesn’t have to involve making a separate (and often disparate) meal for your vegetarian or vegan guests, or shortchanging them with a plate full of pilaf.

I should know; I’m a cookbook author who married a vegetarian. After a few years of marriage cooking many separate meals, I’ve sorted out a way to cook satisfying meals that feed both vegetarians/vegans and omnivores.

Take the eight dinner party dishes listed here. You simply make a base recipe, separate some of it out, and keep it vegetarian. Sometimes you can add a vegetable-based protein, like tofu or seitan. Finish the rest of the dish as you would normally, adding sustainably raised meat or seafood. Et voilà! You have an excellent meal for everyone.

  1. Grilled Caesar salads. Make a quick vegan dressing using roasted garlic and another quick blender dressing with eggs for omnivores. Grill heads of romaine to give them a smoky, almost meaty quality. Dress each salad separately, adding shaved Parmesan and anchovies for omnivores.
  2. Tomato-fennel soup. Sauté sliced fennel bulb, onions, and garlic. Add top-quality chopped canned tomatoes, a pinch of saffron, and a bay leaf, and simmer. Set a few portions aside and add canned garbanzo beans for your vegetarian friends. Add shrimp, mussels, and halibut to the rest, and you have cioppino.
  3. Individual lasagnas. Baked in individual gratin dishes, lasagnas can be customized to each diner. Use your favorite jarred tomato sauce and no-boil noodles. Layer with mashed tofu and fresh herbs for the vegetarians/vegans, or with browned Italian sausage, ricotta, and mozzarella for the omnivores.
  4. french onion soup
    French onion soup. Caramelize onions slowly, deglaze them with vermouth, and add canned mushroom stock (I like Pacific brand). Set aside some for the vegetarians, then add a good-quality cube of beef bouillon to the omnivores’ portion for beefy flavor. Top with toasted baguette slices and grated Gruyère cheese, then broil until bubbly.
  5. Stuffed chicken breasts or portobello mushrooms. Make a moist breadcrumb stuffing. Mound some of it into a few portobello mushrooms for the vegetarians/vegans. Slip the remaining stuffing under the skin of bone-in chicken breasts. They bake at about the same rate!
  6. Shepherd’s pie. Make a base stew of sautéed vegetables, including mushrooms and mushroom stock. Spoon some into a baking dish and mix with cooked French lentils. Spoon the remaining stew base into a separate dish and add cooked ground lamb. Top each casserole with cheesy mashed potatoes and bake.
  7. Thai mussaman curry. Make a mussaman curry using canned coconut milk, curry paste (check the label; some contain shrimp paste; I use vegetarian Maesri brand), potatoes, carrots, and peas. Heat a portion separately with tofu. Add sliced chicken thighs to the remaining curry. Season with tamarind concentrate to taste.
  8. Roasted butternut squash, kale, and chorizo pasta. Roast the cubed squash. Sauté the torn kale in olive oil with the garlic in a hot pan. Toss the veggies with hot spaghetti and Parmesan cheese. Set aside portions for the vegetarians. Quickly sauté slices of Spanish chorizo, and toss them with the remaining pasta.

Ivy Manning is a cookbook author and food writer in Portland, Oregon. Her new book, The Adaptable Feast, featuring photography by Gregor Torrence, has recently been published by Sasquatch Books. For more of Ivy’s recipes, check out her blog, Ivy's Feast.

Related recipe: Shepherd’s Pie; recipe: French Onion Soup; recipe: Grilled Caesar Salads with Anchovies or Not

There are 4 comments on this item
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1. by Kathy Gehrt on Dec 13, 2009 at 10:25 AM PST


These recipes sound yummy. I will be making the Grilled Ceasar Salad today. Grilling romaine, easy and delicous, is especially nice on a cold day. The tomotao fennel soup would also be great when ice and snow are in the forecast. Thanks for sharing.

Kathy Gehrt

2. by molly hays on Dec 14, 2009 at 7:26 PM PST

Mmmm, the butternut squash + kale pasta sounds perfect, with or without the chorizo. Great pairing.
Thx, Molly

3. by Lexi on Apr 2, 2010 at 1:13 PM PDT

No boil noodles aren’t vegan, use regular noodles (make sure they don’t contain egg) and add a little extra water so they can cook in the oven

4. by anonymous on Jul 31, 2012 at 6:06 PM PDT

what is a mixed diet?

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