This is a short article I wrote for my CSA‘s newsletter. I thought I’d include it here. The audience generally knows what a “vegan” is, but may not have had a whole lot of experience cooking for them. I wanted to come strictly from a food angle and only briefly mention the reasons people are vegan.
It’s summertime and you’ve got a group of people coming over for dinner. It’s stressful, but you’re feeling confident because you’ve got a bagful of CSA veggies and a pile of favorite recipes to serve up to your friends. There’s one problem though.
A vegan’s coming to dinner.
Let’s quickly define “vegan” in case you haven’t come across one of these crazy beasts before. Vegans are strict vegetarians that abstain from meat (which included poultry, fish, game, etc.), dairy, eggs, and honey and also do not wear leather, wool, silk or other animal-derived products. There are ethical, health, and environmental reasons people go vegan, but we won’t go into that here (if you’re interested in more detail, visit http://www.vegblog.org/resources/).
A slight panic sets in. If you can’t serve someone meat, that’s OK. You’ve dealt with vegetarians before. But now you can’t use butter, eggs, milk, cheese, or honey in your meal? This is going to be hard, isn’t it?
Thankfully, no. Here’s a quick guide for ways to deal with those pesky vegan dinner guests:
- Make all your sides vegan. This is easy if you’re a member of the CSA and have a large batch of fresh veggies and herbs. There are plenty of vegan recipes on the web site (vegetarian recipes are marked as such, but you’ll have to look more closely for explicitly vegan recipes) and most public libraries have a vast collection of vegan cookbooks that you can borrow. If you have enough tasty vegan sides, they can mix and match those to fill up their plate. But please don’t leave them with just salad and carrot sticks.
- Ask the vegan if they want to bring a dish. Many times, vegans will bring their own dishes to functions in order to not trouble the host while ensuring that they have something to eat. But if it’s a potluck, let the vegan know you’re looking forward to seeing what they bring and trying something new.
- Make all your food vegan. Believe me, it’s not as scary as it sounds and even the hardest of hardcore meat eaters will rarely turn their nose up at a free meal even if it doesn’t have meat in it. In a lot of cases, you can use familiar recipes just making certain substitutions:
- For meat, replace it with a soy or gluten-based analog. There are so many great faux chicken, beef, and pork subs out there and they’re easy to find. Just check the label to make sure that the manufacturer doesn’t use dairy (like whey) or eggs (Morningstar Farms is famous for doing this).
- For dairy, swap out milk with soy, rice, or almond milk. For cheese, look for a soy based cheese (read the label and watch out for casein, a milk-derived protein) or just leave the cheese out.
- Eggs can be a tad tricky. It’s easy if you’re baking (see http://www.theppk.com/veganbaking.html for great tips for getting rid of eggs in cookies, cakes, etc.) but it may be a bit tough if you’re making an egg-heavy quiche. If that’s the case, Google “vegan quiche.”
- Honey can be easily substituted for with agave nectar (a liquid sweetener derived from cactus that tastes very similar to honey and is very low on the glycemic index), brown rice syrup, or a dry sweetener.
- If trying to figure out exactly how to swap out ingredients in a recipe is a bit daunting, hit Google and search for a vegan version of your recipe. So, if you were going to make fettucine alfredo, search: “fettucine alfredo” vegan recipe
As you can see, cooking for vegans may be a different experience than you’re used to, but it’s by no means difficult. Vegan food is not (or, rather, does not have to be) boring. And when a vegan friend comes by and sees that you’ve prepared a great vegan meal that isn’t spaghetti with marinara sauce, a salad, or a stir fry, their mind will be blown and they’ll be ever so thankful they don’t have to subsist on the snack tray.
Ryan MacMichael is one of those “pesky vegans.” He’s the PVF webmaster but also runs vegblog.org and wrote the foreword for the amazing cookbook Vegan with a Vengeance.